Some boutiques collect art to sell. Lori Vafiades collects artists.
“We’ve never gone looking for artists,” she said. “They walk in the door. We just want God to bring them.”
Her colorful new shop, Sanctuary Inspired Goods in Old Colorado City, was a busy place on a Wednesday fall afternoon. A painted “wing wall” outside promises kids a special treat if they can find the hidden Colorado symbols. Through her wide-open door, a woman from New Mexico came looking for souvenirs. A man asked about cloth face masks. A volunteer puttered around the store that’s filled with greeting cards, home décor, paintings, journals, pottery and original art.
Vafiades had her lines down. “We are a group of 26 Colorado Springs artists,” she told customers. “All of it is made in Colorado Springs, except for some vintage things.”
She’s an artist herself, and one of Paraclete’s newest associates. And when she wasn’t busy talking up the shop’s goods, she was advocating, proudly, for the talented people behind it all.
“We welcome artists here that are in process, many in recovery,” she said. “We don’t want art that celebrates dark. But we don’t mind art being about your journey. If you’re going through dark and you’re coming into the light…it’s about hope.”
Some of her artists suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They might be recovering from drug use. They could be victims of abuse. Some are struggling with their gender identity. Others don’t feel like they fit in traditional churches or belong in the neighborhood. Many just need a place to connect in an otherwise solitary craft.
“Being an artist can be lonely,” she said. “We can be an avenue for them to have money and have relationship.”
Vafiades’ faith is a foundation for how she cares for people. She has a team who volunteers their time to just pray for this art ministry. She and her team teach art classes to those in recovery and those seeking healing out of a nearby church. Her team has led healing art encounters for a group of mothers of suicide victims. And she sets out tables and chairs at her shop to offer a place to sit when there’s live music but also if someone just needs a safe place to rest.
And she likes seeing artists meet God as they create. But she doesn’t sell crosses, embroidered Bible verses or devotionals.
“Art is this beautiful language that a lot of people speak,” she said. “Our goal for this space is to not have Christian art at all, but for us to be the symbols, the Christ symbols.”
She’s also had to rely on her faith for the possibility that her shop would never even open.
“My partners, Sarah Joy and Pam Hunt, and I signed the lease three days before the COVID shutdown,” she said. “We heard ‘COVID’ and thought that’s not going to be a big deal.” She shrugged. “But we’ve adapted.”
And she believes in the importance of the dollar in giving her artists a chance at a new future.
“That’s part of the gift we give them, coaching, pricing, packaging, what’s selling, what the market looks like,” she said. “Helping artists make money, that’s a sacred thing.”
Vafiades has experienced her own success. She’s has been a speaker all over the world. She illustrated a children’s book, “Here I am, the One You Love,” that has sold 7,000 copies. She gets invited to do live painting in restaurants and bars. And her art can be seen throughout the city of Colorado Springs including Penrose Hospital, Ronald McDonald house, and at ministry headquarters and churches.
But Vafiades mostly sees art as relationship. On the first day the shop opened, a woman came to her store, looked through the necklaces, then decided she just couldn’t buy one.
“Someone had sliced her neck,” Vafiades said. “There was nothing that could cover her scars because she was really scarred.”
“Lori took one of the necklaces out of the case and made it fit her perfectly,” said volunteer Tomi Rawdon. “I put my hands on her face and told her how beautiful she is.”
“We held her and she cried,” Vafiades said.
She hopes people who come to her store find a special gift, in all its meanings.
“We’ve had people come and ask us to do (Tarot card) readings, but we don’t embrace readings,” she said. Instead she offers “original identity” sayings. “I would say, ‘You are the daughter, made in his image. And all those things that people have said to you that are contrary to that, that is not truth. What I’m saying to you now is truth.’”
To donate to Vafiades’ art ministry, go here. (https://www.paraclete.net/associate/lori-vafiades/ )
To shop online at her shop, go here. https://www.sanctuaryinspiredgoods.com/#/
To try on necklaces in person, have henna painted on your hand or find a one-of-a-kind gift, visit Sanctuary Inspired Goods at 2616 W. Colorado Ave, #19, downstairs from Jake and Telly’s.