How do you define “artist”? Do you consider artists to be sculptors or painters with works displayed in world-class museums? Artisans and craftspeople who produce utilitarian items like baskets or blankets? Bohemian creatives who make objects and images as artistic representations of their experiences? It turns out that “artist” is a kind of catch-all word we can use to describe a person who envisions, designs, or fabricates things of use and/or beauty…so, an artist can be anyone in any circumstance. Sometimes, the circumstance informs the art. Consider that of homelessness.
“Throughout history, many artists, particularly those who were women and people of color, would have been marginalized and impoverished had they not practiced their craft, and been paid for it. In the U.S., the estimated 567,000 people who are unsheltered or the more than 17 million living in extreme poverty have fallen through the gaps in our increasingly inadequate social safety net. Many have jobs but are not paid a liveable wage. They cannot afford the housing options in their area; they live in cars, tent camps, local shelters, or on the streets. Lack of affordable housing and inadequate income remain the leading causes of houselessness in the US, according to the National Law Center of Homelessness and Poverty.”
~ from nonprofit news organization Next City, “For Whom, By Whom: For People Who Experience Homelessness, Art Catalyzes Economic Mobility and Rewrites the Narrative”
Art classes for transient artists are hard to find. Studio space is scarce. Quality art supplies and materials are expensive. And when these things are available, they aren’t easy to access when you’re homeless. Lack of access contributes to being a “starving artist” who struggles to make a living wage as a creative and is one of the greatest obstacles for many artists, but especially those experiencing homelessness. Too many know the high price of art. But there is hope.
There are many creatives in cities around the world who have or are currently experiencing homelessness. But there are people who want to help. In Austin, Texas, for instance, there are many transient artists. To focus on their art, they seek out resources like those provided by Art From the Streets. This nonprofit organization offers assistance to local transient artists by providing them with a social environment that is non-judgmental and safe. It is a nurturing environment where they can create.
Benefits experienced by many of the Art From the Streets artists include stress reduction and improved physical and mental wellness. Artistic endeavors often help the artists deal with general stress, calming and relaxing the artists as they work. And they improve both psychological and physical wellbeing; viewing and creating art has been found to reduce the experience of pain, as well as decrease feelings of anxiety and depression.
Another advantage of creating art noted by transient artists is a burgeoning sense of self-confidence through self-expression. The creative process is often therapeutic in these ways: it helps many people process their feelings and emotions, explore who they are or who they want to be, and express themselves in an authentic way.
Art From the Streets is an Austin-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was established in 1991 to give transient people a way to develop as artists and to use their creativity to climb out of homelessness. Purchasing artwork supports the artists directly. Donating to our program helps us to offer a free Open Studio for the homeless and at risk.