City HeART puts at-risk artists on Display

Homeless artist Mel poses with his paintings at the City HeART exhibit. All photos: Alejandro Ramirez.

The 7th Annual City HeART Art Show and Sale featured the work of artists dealing with poverty, ranging from those struggling with low incomes to the currently homeless.

The event took place at the Prudential Center on Saturday, May 6, where more than 50 artists  from art programs of St. Francis House, Women’s Lunch Place and Common Art set up shop in the Huntington Arcade. It was presented by Unbound Visual Arts (UVA), a nonprofit visual-art group that supports at-risk artist groups, such as homeless artists. Most of the art were paintings, but there were also exhibitions by knitters, jewelers, drawers, collagists and mixed-media artists.

Heidi Lee, a member of Unbound Visual and an artist-in-residence for the Common Art program, co-directed the City HeART event this year. She helps the artists get their art pieces ready by offering them guidance, providing art materials and framing their finished work into a presentable piece.

“In society, dignity has been taken away from them in various ways,” Lee said, explaining that it’s important to help the artists feel they’re giving back to society. “The goal of the show is to really lift up the artists for them to see that what they are or who they are has worth. It’s really about giving dignity back to individuals.” A total of 15 percent of proceeds go to Unbound Visual Arts to pay for the cost of renting tables, and the rest of the money goes to the artists.

These organizations do plenty of other work for the poor and homeless outside of this  event. St. Francis House is a day shelter, the Women’s Lunch Place serves breakfast and lunch, and Common Art holds art programs every Wednesday evening from 8 to 2 p.m. Furthermore, each of the organizations provide emotional, spiritual and practical support.

“A lot of members struggle with mental issues,” Lee said. “We basically offer counseling, a listening ear, help them sign house papers, make phone calls to their case worker—who is helping housing and helping with getting through the mental health system.”

Along with the support, art shows are continuously held showcasing and selling the members’ pieces throughout the year, but it’s at the annual City HeArt event that all three organizations of art programs come together to create a city-wide art show and sale.

Lee said that right now at least 30 percent of the artists featured at the 2017 City HeART Show and Sale had received some sort of subsidized housing, and the rest may still be looking. Although some of the artists may have slept at some doorway at some store the night before, Lee said she hopes that they can still show their artwork the way they want to show it with dignity, and that they show that they are well resourced through the programs from all three organizations.

From the art show and sale, Lee hopes more relationships will be built between volunteers and artists compared to last year’s. She also hopes people who see the show will be inspired to partake in their Wednesday weekly art program, becomes a regular and eventually become no longer a stranger but a family member. She said the door is open to anyone.

“We don’t even say ‘you can only participate if you have experienced homelessness.’ They sort of just know. So we don’t even have to ask,” Lee said. “So that’s a respectable thing.”