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Vicki Rosenthal Takes the Plunge

Vicki Rosenthal is one of three artists currently exhibiting their works in the lobby of Plunge Beach Resort in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. There’s a ceramic artist, a mixed-media artist, and Vicki – whose works consist of painted canvas shoes. With the all-important Election Day on the horizon, Plunge was looking for an artist involved in social impact and community involvement, and Vicki fit the bill.

A Passion for Art, Social Justice, and Shoes

Her interest in art started as a young child, and Vicki sold her first artwork in high school. At Broward College, she received fine arts department honors and afterward continued to develop expertise as a painter of oil and acrylic canvases.

With a social work degree, Vicki set out into the field of macro social work, which investigates large-scale societal problems and tries to make positive changes. Her deep commitment to social justice fueled her work.

The artist has also always “gravitated toward shoes”. She says that when she went to theme parties, she would often paint a special pair of shoes to wear.

A few years ago, her three passions met in an unexpected way, and the brand My Soul My ShoesTM was born.

"Wear Your Soul on Your Shoes"

Vicki sees her shoe art as an extension of her social work – just in a different medium. She asked herself, “What can one person do? It’s such a big world. When I face the truth head-on and do even one thing, the positivity of my action makes me feel hopeful”. By sharing what affects her at a personal level, she feels she creates a ripple effect and winds up affecting other people around her. “A pair of shoes can convey a powerful message that describes the kind of world we want to see”. That world would include individual empowerment, community involvement, and social advocacy.

Her shoe art gives glimpses of people’s stories in order to inspire compassion and empathy. By wearing images and words on their feet, people address issues that affect all of us. “When some people hear stories of marginalization, they want to step back and not deal with them because of their own feelings of having been marginalized in some way. Seeing them this way makes it easier. In other words: ‘Wear Their Soul. Share Their Story'”.

A Three-Part Exhibit

The exhibit at Plunge originated at Broward College North early this year. After its initial run, it was supposed to move to the Central campus until November. But COVID-19 struck, and except for one virtual show, it didn’t see the light of day until it was picked up at its current location. The exhibit is a mixture of actual shoes, photographs of shoes, and statements about them.

There are three distinct parts. The first, Every Voice – Vote 2020, focuses on four populations in our community whose votes have been suppressed. Vicki reached out to community leaders in order to understand their difficulties in voting. The second part of the exhibit, Save Earth, addresses offshore oil drilling and fracking. And the third part, Live Peace, imagines a space in which we all reach out with compassion, wanting to hear people’s stories, with the goal of living in a less-stressed world.

Every Voice – Vote 2020

The four populations that Vicki focuses on in this section of the exhibit are immigrants, indigenous peoples, women formerly incarcerated, and transgender individuals.

She examines the immigrant population through the lens of a Colombian mother who works with grassroots organizations that let people know how important it is to vote, and she includes part of her interview with this woman in the exhibit. Indigenous, or Native American, people have distinctive problems with voting while living on a reservation. Black women in particular, among all former Florida inmates, are still grappling with their ability to vote despite a statewide amendment restoring their voting rights.

Finally, transgender individuals have challenges when they go to the polls, especially if their gender doesn’t match the one on their ID. An organization called TransSOCIAL (transsocial.org) can help them assert their rights to get justice.

Shoe Shopping

Vicki creates some shoes, like the ones at the exhibit, from her own ideas. They become a jumping-off point for people to consult with her and develop their own custom shoes containing words and images that are meaningful to them. Cost depends on intricacy of the art. Shoes in the exhibition start at $175 for children’s sizes, but custom pairs can run up to as much as $3,000. Buyers who are passionate about social justice issues find wearing their beliefs worth the price. In addition, Vicki donates 10 percent of her profits to grassroots causes.

Fortunately, her supplier, an Australian company with ethical business practices that produces environmentally sustainable merchandise, is able to work with her in small numbers for her custom designs. She found it through the app Good On You (goodonyou.eco), which rates ethical and environmentally sustainable clothing manufacturers worldwide.

Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Vicki says she gets her best publicity from social media, which is essential as so many exhibits have been canceled due to coronavirus. The Plunge exhibit, on October 23, was recorded and posted for later watching.

And Vicki Rosenthal will be painting masks too. Another ethical manufacturing company, willing to fulfill small orders, will be her supplier.

Above all, Vicki believes that COVID-19 has brought into focus the way we present ourselves. She hopes more people will want to share their beliefs by wearing them or sharing them at tinyurl.com/MySoulMyShoes.

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