Area homeless create art for ArtCenter Manatee

Bradenton Herald – Every Thursday for two hours, about 15 people gather around tables to create signature works of art.

What sets these artists apart: They are homeless.

They are clients of Resurrection House, a day resource center in Sarasota. Through Nov. 6, they are the featured artists at ArtCenter Manatee’s latest exhibition, “I Am Home.” The exhibit is presented by the Suncoast Partnership To End Homelessness.

To Janet Taylor, outreach coordinator with Suncoast, this is more than a homeless project.

“It gives them dignity and hope and regenerates their passions and their spirit,” she said.

An opening reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. today at ArtCenter Manatee, 209 Ninth St. W., Bradenton.

“I Am Home” will share the spotlight with Elayn Leopold’s exhibition, “Urban Dwellers,” which features portraits of area homeless. Leopold’s work shows the vastness and variety of faces caught in the plight of homelessness. They are youthful, aged, worn and hopeful.

Most of the money from the art that sells from “I Am Home” will go into the artists’ pockets. With it, they can buy food, clothing and, if they are lucky, a roof over their heads for a few nights, Taylor said.

But the artwork isn’t necessarily about making money; it’s about reigniting a passion for life.

The 14 guest artists for “I Am Home” will be at the reception to greet guests and share their inspirations for the artwork. The event marks their fourth show in the area. Their creations include vibrant canvases of the area’s scenic bays, elaborate vine baskets and abstract metal art. Prices start at $20. A couple of pieces have already sold.

Displayed next to their artwork is a biography on each of the artists, some of whom have been on the streets up to 30 years, Taylor said.

Art has made a difference in their lives, even if some of them are still chronic street dwellers, dealing with hidden social, mental or physical problems.

“I can’t change their thinking or situations,” she said. “But when they get up in the morning, they do art instead of wandering around wondering about what to do all day. They start thinking of themselves as artists.”

The homeless art program has been under way since January, but the idea haunted Taylor for about 10 years, ever since she saw a homeless man selling homemade clay ashtrays on the street of Austin, Texas. This year she finally decided to set up an art table at the Resurrection House.

“We just invited the people to do art,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t anything fancy.”

The program grew from a table to two art rooms and a partnership with ArtCenter Sarasota, which offered free art classes to the homeless. Taylor hopes to extend the program to Manatee County’s homeless.

Suncoast uses its share of proceeds from the artwork to buy materials for the group — sketch pads, canvases, paint and even business cards and portfolios.

“It really gives a testament to the power of art to inspire,” ArtCenter Manatee executive director KC Bitterman said. “People don’t realize that it’s more than feeding the homeless or giving them clothes. It also is important to give them something for their spirit.”

published Oct. 16, 2009

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