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Arts & Culture

Program Highlights Work Of Homeless Artists, Teaches Life Lessons

Kevin Granados

When we think of art exhibits, we certainly don’t think of Homeless outreach centers as venues, but that was the case last month the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte.

The liveliness of the happy and colorful art on display is matched by the energy of visitors and artists as they roam the Hope is an Open Door exhibit.

“It’s an awesome thing. It’s awesome. I mean, real awesome,” says Annie Gurley.

There are sculptures, paintings, drawings – all the creations of artists who are or have been homeless.

Outside the main exhibit rooms stands Fredrick Hall. He’s painting a colorful guardian angel with large, arched wings.

Credit Kevin Granados

  “The biggest chance that we take is going to sleep at night and we don’t even know if we’re going to wake up,” Hall says, “So there’s gotta be something greater watching over us. That’s why I paint angels.”

He takes weekly classes as part of the Urban Ministry Center’s ArtsWorks 945 program. These classes, which focus on teaching life-skills and relates them back to art, are a key part of the program, says its director, Maria Mazzocco.

“We talk about how people can build a foundation in their life as similar to having an easel or building a background on a painting, and relate it back to things people are going through. And we also get to teach them that part of being an artist is finishing your work, framing it, marketing it, that sort of stuff – so they’re learning a lot of skills along the way,” Mazzocco says.

This exhibit is a reward for participation. Artists get 50 percent of what they sell; the rest goes back into the program. Most items at this exhibit were selling for $20 to $50, but there were paintings and sculptures priced at $200 to $300.

Scott Rhodes purchased a painting of what appears to be a person in a brown robe, possibly yelling, singing or boasting to the blue sky.

“My wife saw it and she fell in love with it, so I’m trying to keep my wife happy so I picked it up for her. But it’s a beautiful… I mean it really speaks to you, it’s a really beautiful piece.”

Several artists used doors as their canvas. Annie Gurley showed off a door she painted with multiple colors and a message about why she paints: For Pride, respect – and for Dignity.

“It’s not about what the eyes can see, you look at it one time, then you look at it again and it’s another thing and you see something that’s different each time you look at it – it’s like something appears in it. But I just love doing my work, I love art. I love art more than I love eating!,” Annie says, laughing.

She’s not only proud of her art. She’s proud of what she’s learned.

“When they first started the program, I was on the street, I was laying on cement, and my art taught me how to save money because I didn’t know how to save money. I always throw my money away.”

Last February, she found housing at the Moore Place – an apartment complex that serves homeless residents.

The exhibit raised a little over $9,000 in 3 hours. But the real payoff is what these artists gain through the program. Again, Fredrick Hall:

“Life is what you make of it. You could even make it positive, or you can make it negative, but you have to look at what else are you going to affect around you in a positive or negative way.”

Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance

  This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, with support from the Wells Fargo Foundation.