Hope for Homeless Artists
Lacking stability and homes, the homeless can feel like outcasts in society without purpose in their lives. In the U.S., there are approximately 567,000 people who are unsheltered and more than 17 million living in extreme poverty with jobs that barely pay a livable wage.
Though recent statistics show that the American homeless population is not increasing as quickly as before, it is still estimated that 17 people per every 10,000 people in the United States are experiencing homelessness. With such a significant number, many more financially fortunate people often want to use their privilege to help combat poverty through donations, volunteering, or even creating organizations to take care of the needs of the homeless.
Throughout history, many artists, particularly womxn and/or artists of color, utilized their artistic abilities to escape poverty and gain social mobility. Recognizing the intersectionality between art and economic status, programs like Art From the Streets (AFTS) provide resources for people who want to use art to express their identities, providing homeless people with an accessible creative outlet to explore themselves.
A work by AFTS artist Jesus Polanco (Photo courtesy of Art From the Streets)
Ever since it was founded 12 years ago, AFTS has provided homeless artists with art supplies and an open studio space to help them create profitable art. Artists have the opportunity to sell their art at an annual art show run by a board of volunteer directors, who manage the organization’s homepage and inventory. Initially, artists were only paid once a year for the art they sold at the art show, but now, the program offers prints of the original artwork and other merchandise, along with pop-up shows throughout the year. The main art show still takes place every year at the Neal Kocurek Memorial Austin Convention Center, bringing in upwards of $100,000, all of which is distributed to the artists. As the program has gained traction over the years, many of AFTS artists have been able to gain a consistent, livable income through these shows.
John Trahar, who was recently named president of the board of directors, voiced his determination to de-stigmatize misleading stereotypes against homeless people through art. Trahar expressed,
“[AFTS] provides this opportunity to and ability to interact with society in a way that generates positive feedback, both in terms of what they’ve created — through their own mind and skill — and then financially, [because] people like it well enough to pay for it”.
ILS SUPPORTS ART FROM THE STREETS
Illustrating the impact AFTS had made in his life, an artist named Larry Williams told his story of how he was able to move into his own apartment after earning profits through the AFTS program. Like other homeless artists, he had faced hardships in his life. However, Williams found the strength to use art as a creative outlet to escape his real-life struggles, and he soon found himself joining the AFTS program. Williams had had a passion for art during his youth, but he had not painted seriously for decades. Taking up a paintbrush forty years later, Williams rekindled his love for creating and started painting as much as possible. Williams finds inspiration from Japanese architecture, African American culture, and childhood memories with his mother when painting, making his artworks something truly and uniquely his own.
AFTS artist Larry Williams (Photo courtesy Art From the Streets)
Ultimately, summing up his experience with AFTS and the process of exploring his abilities, Williams concludes that through this phase in his life, he earned “stability, sobriety and a sense of entitlement,” as well as ownership over his life.
An example of many, Williams serves as proof that with hard work, artists can find social mobility through their art. By helping people create meaningful, tangible products from their own experiences or inspirations, programs such as the AFTS pave the way for artists to seize the chance to better their own lives, sparking a sense of purpose in the lives of the homeless.