“The word HealiUm has a big red U, what do you think that symbolizes?” Jim Peera asked. “It signifies you; today is your day. It’s your day to be you.”

Peera is the director and artist behind the local art collective HealiUm Center in Candler Park. He runs the organization with the help of his wife Donna, their children Haseena and Iman, and a team of dedicated volunteers.

Originally from Tanzania in East Africa, Peera and his family fled during the Uganda-Tanzania War to France where they lived as refugees before eventually moving to England. After his father’s death, Peera’s brother in America suggested that he relocate there to complete high school. He later attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and it was there that he met Donna, who was attending The University of Arizona.

“I was a designer, so she was my model,” he explained. “We traveled together, and we’ve been halfway around the world together as a couple.”

After growing tired of living in California, they moved across the country to Atlanta to escape the fog and crowd. “Little did we know…” he trailed off with a chuckle. In the 25 years that followed, they have built a family and a community here in the city.

Peera’s appreciation for America and the city is what led him to come up with the HealiUm Center concept. “It’s for the community, that’s what it is for,” he said. “I’ve been in America for about 40 years now, so the idea comes to me at a time when things are falling apart and for me it was – how do I contribute to a country that has done so much for me and opened their hearts? How can I pay them back? How can I pay it forward?”

“I felt that there was a disconnect in America,” Peera continued. “People were spending a lot of effort and time with their kids, but the adults were being left out. The parents were taking care of kids, making sure they went to art classes in school, but the parents fell short.”

He noticed that most adults could only really let loose at bars or sporting events, and not a lot of spaces dedicated to creativity for people of all ages.

“There needs to be a place where people can come out and express themselves freely, because at the end of the day we are all creative beings, you know.”

The HealiUm Center features an art gallery, art studio, photo studio, event room, Zen room, music and performance space, and a sanctuary. While it may look unassuming on the outside, to step inside is to be transported to another world. Colorful artwork of all types adorns the walls, rows of tables with easels await the next art class, and local musicians play in the basement of the church. The walls are painted bright colors with a specific correlation to colors of the chakra that infuse the different spaces with varying energy.

For just $15, visitors can partake in weekly Open Studio sessions that occur in the evenings. There’s a fully equipped stage for musicians and the fee covers art supplies such as canvases, paints, and brushes. Volunteers can also work in exchange for access to the center, and the space can be rented out for parties and group events.

One of the current, on-going events is the Art of the Heal, a campaign to send over 100,000 pieces of art to the White House by July 4. Inspired by the actions of and controversy surrounding the current administration, Peera intends to provide a creative outlet for coping with the unstable political landscape.

“The idea was to kind of get people to come together and really explore the fact that we all have a lot more in common than what is different,” he said. “There’s a lot more commonality within this society and the people than the guy at the top wants us to believe.”

While the Art of the Heal project hopes to bring artwork to the attention of politicians on a national level, the HealiUm center continues to provide affordable and accessible creative opportunities to their growing community of artists in Atlanta. “A lot of the kids they call us mom and dad, it’s like their home here,” he laughed, “this is their creative home, they come and share their stories with us, so we have built this cool extended family of artists.”

For more information about the HealiUm Center, visit healiumcenter.com.

Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.