Commentary: Museums and homelessness: creative outreach makes a difference

Rebecca Atkinson, The Guardian [UK] Culture Professionals Network, 8/22/12

There are few cities as pretty as Bath on a sunny day, but in between groups of tourists and well-heeled shoppers, you can't help but notice a large number of men and women who are street homeless. I was in Bath to visit the Holbourne Museum, which has been running weekly art classes for [the homeless] for the past six years. The trip was part of my research towards a forthcoming issue of Museum Practice on homelessness. Andy Williams, client involvement manager at St Mungo's homeless charity, shared his views on how museums can help people move away from homelessness. I have also taken part in [the monthly] Continue Creating workshop at the Museum of London, and met participants of Writing London, a creative writing and photography project at the British Library. There is some fantastic work being carried out around homelessness across the country: Out in the Open at Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service; Outside In at Pallant House Gallery; and the London Transport Museum's Happy Museum project, the Conversation Hub. Sustainably is at the heart of all these initiatives. Relationships take time to develop and trust cannot be gained overnight, but both are easily lost unless projects are embedded into an organisation's culture. Finding long-term funding for work is a challenge, and of course the complex circumstances that go hand-in-hand with homelessness mean flexibility is essential if projects are to succeed. But the benefits are very clear. Outreach and volunteering opportunities can help people affected by homelessness gain new skills and confidence, and find a way back into mainstream society. For individuals that are so often ignored in mainstream culture, access to culture, creativity and even work brings huge benefits and the potential for change.


Commentary: Documentary shows how art transforms life of homeless teen

Alexis Tirado,, 8/17/12

It's already a tough time when you're teen. But imagine that you're an undocumented teen. Without a home or father around. Helping your mom, who you constantly fight with and taking care of three younger brothers. For Inocente Izucar, a 15-year-old undocumented homeless teen, this was her life. Until her art transformed her life. It's all captured in the mind-blowing documentary, "Inocente." Wondering what's she's been up to since the film aired? According to the New York Times, "In addition to earning money from odd jobs, she is now able to support herself on her paintings, which sell for $25 to $5,000 apiece." "I feel like they're overpriced," Inocente admitted to the Times. "especially because I like to give paintings away." The Times mentioned that "1 in 45 children in the United States live on the street, in shelters or in motels." And think about it: How many of us have ignored a homeless person on the street. Turned our heads away or just kept our white earbuds in as we walked past a person in need of food, drink, money or medcine?! I've done it more times than I'd like to admit. If you loved "Inocente" as much as I did and want to help out in any of the issues discussed in the film like homelessness, immigration or art education, check out our action guide that's tied around the film!


Homeless perform at London's Royal Opera House during Olympic festival

From the Royal Opera House website, 8/21/12

When an MP in the 1990s described the homeless as "the people you step over coming out of the Opera House", Matt Peacock was inspired to change that perception. He formed the charity Streetwise Opera and, earlier this summer, people who have experienced homelessness performed at the Royal Opera House. The festival, With One Voice, was sold out and streamed live online. Part of the London 2012 Festival, the event was the first time that homeless people have been invited to take part in an Olympic celebration. "The Olympics is usually a time when the homeless are forgotten", Matt told us, "and, in the worst cases, are moved off the streets." The chance to perform had a positive effect on Streetwise Opera's participants' lives. For many of them, this was their first public performance. "Everyone was excited and so keen to show a different side of homelessness, one of achievement rather than need. The feedback we've had has been extraordinary, many saying that it was the best experience of their lives," said Matt. One participant, Patrick, began attending opera workshops in Nottingham in 2010. Reflecting on With One Voice, he said, "Everyone noticed the change in me since coming to Streetwise Opera - my partner, my kids, my friends. I was using heroin for 25 years and, for the first time, I can look my kids in the eye."


Commentary: Confronting homelessness on stages in L.A. and NYC
Pauline Adamek, L.A. Weekly, 7/27/12

Earlier this month the L.A. Weekly broke a troubling story that starkly illustrates the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots in today's society. The article brought to light the callous actions of [the] owner of L.A.'s Crossfit Mean Streets gym, who plastered his gym's Facebook page with supposedly "hilarious" photos that demeaned several unfortunates from Skid Row. Meanwhile, across town at Open Fist Theatre in Hollywood, director Amanda Weier tackles our perception of the homeless in a different but equally confrontational fashion with Short Ends, an evening of short plays by Neil LaBute. In "The Wager," a hostile guy deliberately baits and bullies a homeless beggar, to the dismay of his female companion. The guy's aggressive use of mental and physical power trips disconcertingly builds to an unexpected revelation, challenging our attitudes toward those in the underbelly of society. Much like the deplorable behavior exhibited by the CrossFit gym members, the play asks to what extent can the "disposable" people in society be used for the amusement of others. Across the country, a group of homeless people from Calgary, Alberta, have headed to New York to perform in an Off-Broadway production they helped create. Presented as part of this year's New York Musical Theatre Festival, Requiem for a Lost Girl: A Chamber Musical About Homelessness, was devised by Onalea Gilbertson in collaboration with a chorus of men, women and children who know the experience of destitution first-hand. The show seeks to erase the line between "us" and "them" by presenting a raw and moving blend of true stories from those who live rough, granting a voice to those on the streets of North America. Anyone suffering from compassion fatigue on either coast has the opportunity to regain a little perspective and some empathy from these two thought-provoking shows.


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Commentary: Did you know cities across U.S. are banning help for homeless?
From the Art 4 The Homeless website, 7/23/12

I had to do a back track when I first read the headline from the Tampa Bay Times: "Clearwater leaders give early support to sidewalk-sitting ban, other restrictions on homeless." Basically this ban outlaws sitting or lying down on sidewalks and other public rights of way at Clearwater Beach, downtown and in the East Gateway neighborhood. I understand that going to a business and seeing a homeless person laying on the sidewalk is a huge turnoff but at the same time treating the homeless like they are animals is a turn off, too. Clearwater, FL is not the only city who hates the homeless. Newport Beach, CA doesn't let anyone who is homeless in their libraries, according to IVN.US. Fox News reports that Philadelphia's mayor doesn't want the homeless to be fed in the city's parks. New York City outlaws food donations to homeless shelters. In Orlando, It is unlawful to knowingly participate in the distribution of food at a park owned or controlled by the city without a Large Group Feeding Permit. In Dallas, a church group was arrested for feeding the homeless. And Las Vegas made it illegal to feed the homeless. Do you see the trend now? I understand that some homeless are aggressive, some are stinky, and many are mentally ill. But to end homelessness in the USA, we need to have compassion, not hate, in our hearts. As of 2011, even the US Conference of Mayors agrees that homelessness has not been helped. Over the past year, the number of persons experiencing homelessness increased across the survey cities by an average of 6%, with 42% of the cities reporting an increase. There are several ways you can fight this. The most important is awareness. Other ways to help are to donate to your local homeless shelters, share this blog post, view the links in this post and learn about homelessness. Educate others about what homelessness really is and learn that there isn't just one reason that a person is homeless. A great resource is the Homelessness Resource Center.

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