Arts Access and the Homeless

In 2013/2014 Articulture and Our Saviour’s Housing partnered to create a series of visual art classes for emergency shelter residents experiencing homelessness. The program was supported by a $25,000 Partners in Arts Participation grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Instructors Abbey Kleinert and Kyra Schugt led four-week session classes where participants get to experience in-depth, high quality arts education.

Program History

Adults experiencing homelessness struggle with many issues. Among these issues are a disproportionally high percentage of persons with serious and persistent mental illness, chronic health conditions, cognitive disabilities, and traumatic brain injury. Experiencing homelessness can contribute to a lack of self-esteem, and fear of being stereotyped or stigmatized because of the combination of their current living situation and the illness issues they face.

Toni, a resident in permanent supportive housing, described the activities as challenging her to dig deep and really get in touch with herself. She explained, “When you’re homeless, you lose your sense of self; you lose possessions, home, family, and your identity.” 

Because it is difficult to break the cycle of homelessness, this collaborative partnership was created to establish a safe and supportive environment to give participants new ways to cognitively think, explore, experiment and learn that would carry over into other parts of their lives. Students also receive a free art supply with each class they attend, so by the end of the series, they’ve assembled their own kit. Even after graduating from the program, participants can continue to increase their confidence and further their healing.

From artist-instructor Kyra Schugt, “The sense of community and sharing was really amazing. Each participant brought an abundance of creativity and thoughtfulness to the process. It was a joy to exchange meaningful ideas and moments of silence. It was two hours each week to dedicate to ourselves and our inner creators.”

This page gives insight into the project’s process – please read. We also invite you to share your thoughts with us.

The Group:

     Teachers: Abbey Kleinert, Kyra Schugt

     Students: emergency shelter residents

     Project Coordinators: Meg Gaertner from Our Saviour’s Housing, Liz Greenbaum from Articulture 

     Project Support: Deborah Ervin 

 

The Space: in the third floor studio of the yellow house

 

2013/2014 Project Timeline: 

October 22nd-November 12th—Visual Storytelling (led by Abbey)

January 7th-January 28th—Parts of a Whole (led by Kyra)

February 11th-March 4th—Interactions with Color (led by Abbey)

March 18th-April 8th—Community Connections (led by Kyra)

April 22nd-May 13th—Art & Courage: Find Strength & Power through Art-Making (led by Abbey)

May 27th-June 17th—untitled (led by Kyra)

Week of June 23rd—final “intensive” class led by both Abbey and Kyra

 

Want to know more? If you have questions/comments about the project, or would like to speak with us about creating a unique program for your organization, contact Elizabth Greenbaum at egreenbaum@articulture.org.

Photos: On Facebook.

Video:

A student sharing thoughts on the program.

Footage of the yellow house becoming art.

Posts by: Deborah Ervin (Articulture’s Admin Coordinator)

Project 

Blog

Project coordinator, Liz, on art as a tool for healing 8/20/14

At this point, Articulture and Our Saviour’s Housing both have high hopes to continue working together and are in the process of seeking funds for a second year of programming.

Meanwhile, Articulture’s founder and Executive Director, Liz Greenbaum, took a minute to share some of her thoughts on the partnership, art as a tool for healing and social change, and the communication challenges those working in these areas face. From Liz,

“Artists are very good at expressing ourselves visually, but can fall short of verbally explaining how the arts can be a powerful tool for positive change on both an individual and societal level. I believe part of the problem is that we innately feel and understand this, therefore we automatically go under the assumption that everyone else must innately comprehend this too. I realize intellectually that couldn’t be further from the truth, however, when others do actually “get it”, opportunities then come easily.  

Our Saviour’s Housing (OSH) contacted us over a year ago after learning about Articulture’s partnerships with at risk and marginalized populations. They inquired about our possible interest in working with their homeless clients. We were instantly excited about the prospect. Both organizations met, decided it was a good fit and worked on the next step of securing funding. We were able to start our pilot project fall of 2013 

In some respects OSH is in the process of reinventing themselves to help their clients through more progressive and less conventional avenues – they truly understand the bigger picture about the whole person, the mind/body connection, the need for a feeling of self-worth, personal expression on various levels and for the lack of a better term – heart and soul. This is where art comes into play – our art and healing class curriculum offers an outlet for personal exploration, experimentation and often newly found creativity. 

Articulture, at this stage, has been involved in quite a few partnerships – having worked with at risk children and teens, people with physical and mental disabilities, people in rehab, those with mental illness and now with the homeless. The individual stories that start coming out during the progression of these art classes are always poignant – they are often touching, and sometimes devastatingly heartbreaking. The one thread throughout is that the arts create a leveling playing field and enable personal stories and struggles to be shared in a safe and nurturing environment. The arts have the ability to allow the storyteller to look at their past in emotionally manageable ways and begin having a different relationship with their history. By doing so they can be reflective, rebuild, heal, have breakthroughs and begin anew.  

We’ve been doing these programs for years now. Our artist/instructors love these partnerships. They love the challenge, they love the realization that what they are doing is making a huge difference in people’s lives, and they get very attached to their students. I often believe our teachers are gaining just as much from these experiences as their students. I know innately what the arts can do—but even so with all our continued successes—every new program that we do and every new personal story that I hear still amazes me and I begin anew …”

Artist-instructor Abbey shares the history of the house 8/14/14

Midway through the partnership’s pilot year, during the dreary months of winter, Abbey began mentioning a desire to turn the studio into a canvas for art when she picked up supplies at Articulture. Internally, the studio’s colorful ceiling has become iconic of the partnership. But most of us hadn’t seen the space first hand.

Recently, Abbey shared footage of the studio’s yard in a brief video, making us curious to know more about where the students were meeting. We asked her to share the story of the studio space in the yellow house. Abbey responded,

“The studio is on the 3rd floor of the yellow house. 

Since we were working with diverse needs and skill levels, I started thinking of my work there as sharing the experience of being creative, of being an artist. Rather than teaching specific technical skills or enforcing any sort of process, we came together to explore our individual practices and support each other as artists.

Building on that instinct, I shared some of the kinds of projects that have made me feel empowered, in hopes that the activities might do the same for the program attendees. We worked on projects that allowed us to both collaborate with each other, and contributed to developing a place that is peaceful, safe, and inspiring for ourselves and others.

I’ve always felt deeply affected by my physical environment and empowered by and ability to shape and change it. This is the first year Our Saviours Housing has used the third floor of the yellow house as a studio. I think having the program participants work on the floor, ceiling murals, and the entryway stake paintings (shown in video) was really special because it allowed them to both grow their understanding of their own abilities as artists, and also take part in creating something concrete that they and future participants can continue to use and enjoy.”

From Instructor Kyra On Year One  7/25/14

As our pilot year of programming with Our Saviour’s Housing came to a close, we invited Instructor Kyra Schugt to share her experience. Here’s what she had to say:

“In reflection of the Art Sessions at Our Saviour’s there are remarkable moments that come to mind. To communicate the experience of a transformational space in words is difficult, so I’ll simply share some memorable mental images:

Joyful noise drifts from the attic space of a rejuvenating house. The old structure holds potential within its framework—of change, growth and community. The possibilities that are created are communicated through artistic expressions. The minute you open the door to the top floor there are positive, reaffirming messages. Literally, art created by kids, inspired by the shelter participants’ story, greets those coming up the stairs. Opposite of a basement, this room is filled with light and color. Immediately artwork captures your attention. The abstract to realistic pieces range from small to large, bold to mysterious. Each project is as unique as the artists’ who created them. 

With stories, smiles and enthusiasm to share, the participants of the art sessions at Our Saviours are nothing short of amazing. A real sense of community has been created because people are dedicated to expressing themselves and respecting others. The 8 steps to success are proudly read and recognized within the flow of each conversation. Those guiding principles such as “dive in deep, embrace vulnerability, and celebrate yourself and others’ success,” create a process much more meaningful than simply art technique instruction. The purpose of this program has been to create a fulfilling artistic experience for participants; their work has been a full-hearted embrace of filling the space.

Facilitating this program has been an absolute gem. It has been a delight to get to know everyone, to hear their stories and witness their expression of dreams and also overcoming challenges. Every class left me with a renewed hope for the possibility of healing—both on an individual and societal level. It was evidence to the importance of supplying tools to empower everyone to be heard. I welcome the development and continuation of this and similar programs, and as a teacher I am even more enlivened by the possibility of this work.”

Meg Gaertner Reflects On Impact 5/14/14

As the project nears the end (although we hope to continue it this fall!), we’re looking back and contemplating what’s happened and what’s been accomplished. Meg Gaertner, project coordinator on the Our Saviour’s Housing end, shares some thoughts:

“Through evaluation surveys and informal conversations, it is clear what this project means to students. The art studio has become a safe haven in which students can let go of the fears, doubts, and stresses of the day. These two hours have become an intentional space for self-care, time in which participants can focus solely on their own emotional well-being and the creativity that is uniquely theirs. Fellow students have become friends and family, a special community of people from three different housing programs, each person at different stages on the journey from homelessness to housing. In this community, everyone is affirmed and honored for her contributions and unique perspective. 

For me, personally, this project lets me interact with clients outside of the structure of a case management meeting. In these classes, we are equals, all student-teachers learning and growing and healing together. The growth seen over the course of a 4-week class is breathtaking. I see people who consider themselves depressed laughing, joking and dancing. I see people who originally swore at every perceived mistake in their work gradually accepting and finding beauty in these imperfections and accidents. I leave each class rejuvenated, energized, and more hopeful than when I started. I look forward to continuing these classes and this partnership.”