Poverty & the Arts started as a dream to bring community members together. It started as a way to connect Nashville’s rich with Nashville’s poor. It started as space of creativity for Nashville’s most vulnerable citizens.
The language of our mission and programs have changed throughout our time as an organization. Beginning as a community service project for Belmont students in November 2011, Poverty & the Arts has made its way to 501c3 nonprofit status, started its first social enterprise program, and moved into its own studio and gallery space.
In 2011, a Poverty & the Arts event was a community service project in which Belmont students were invited to Room in the Inn to create art, write, and play music with homeless participants. The events strived to be a space for students to connect and build relationships with Nashville’s homeless through the medium of art and creativity.
“How can I get my art in a coffee shop?”
“How can I sell artwork to people who see me drawing on the corner of the street without getting stopped by a cop?”
“How can I create more often?”
The authenticity and eagerness of their questions revealed that despite their talent, a disconnection from resources and knowledge would prevent them from moving forward. Adopt a Homeless Artist was shaped with the intention of providing both art supplies and resources, as well as professional development opportunities for interested homeless artists. It also hoped to assist in generating additional income for its artists, as well as helping them integrate into Nashville’s creative community.
After reaching out to various homeless organizations in Nashville, Poverty & the Arts began its program with 3 artists: Sam Fulks, Kateri Pomeroy, and Anthony Carpenter. While Anthony ended up leaving Nashville and not being able to participate the entire time, Sam and Kateri became both our test-group and success-story.
The biggest surprise in starting the Adopt a Homeless Artist program is how much the community connected with the mission and supported our artists by attending events, liking our artists on social media, and purchasing artwork. Kateri and Sam made over $1,100 cumulatively between starting the program in May, participating in their first exhibition in July, and ending the program with our annual gala in September 2014.
When we reopened in October 2014 to recruit new artists, we had changed the name from Adopt a Homeless Artist to Artist Sponsorship Program. While still using the sponsorship model, our hope was to remove language from our organization in which “homeless” was affirmed as an identity. We incorporated our very first formerly homeless artist, Shahid Muhammad, into our Artist Sponsorship Program, and added 8 new homeless artists into the program.
After repeated failed marketing attempts to recruit enough sponsors for our Artist Sponsorship Program, we decided to phase the sponsorship aspect out. As the program was reshaped, it took on a new name: Artist Collective.
Our Artist Collective is now comprised of homeless and formerly homeless artists that are pursuing art as a means to make real, sustainable change in their lives. Whether they’re generating income through selling originals or prints, obtaining job preparation skills, finding focus and determination through our program expectations, or simply networking and cultivating relationships in the creative community, our artists are striving to make their lives better. We started an Artist Marketplace where our artists could sell their artwork online and expand their audience. Our artists earn 75% of the sale of original works and 50% of the sale of prints. This model allows Poverty & the Arts to generate its own income through an earned revenue stream, rather than just donations and grants.
Cumulatively over the course of the 2015 program, our artists have earned over $3,000 through selling artwork. They have been featured in local and national publications. They have applied for art school. They have transitioned into housing. They have performed poetry and music and were compensated by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission THRIVE micro-funding program. They have exhibited artwork on 5th Avenue of the Arts during the First Saturday Downtown Art Crawl. In September, they will be featured at the Nashville International Airport – Concourse A Exhibit. The success stories are overflowing and the sense of community that has been created between our artists is overwhelmingly heartwarming.
As we listen to the needs and dreams of our homeless community, we begin to shape and create programs that meet those needs and desires.
Poverty & the Arts received its official 501c3 status in July 2014 and today marks the very last day of our first official fiscal year: 2014-2015. I cannot believe a year has passed already. Tears, whether they be from frustration or joy, have seasoned this journey with me. Weeks of teaching myself new skills and experimenting with new ideas have stirred new dreams and new skills. Learning to establish boundaries helped me build beautiful and sustainable relationships with all of our artists. I am so thankful for the opportunity to work alongside such talented and passionate people both in the Nashville arts and homeless communities. I cannot believe so much has happened within a year!
After our annual gala in October, we are going to relaunch our Artist Collective again, this time with two different tracks: professional art and art therapy. Our goal is to serve the most amount of people, while still utilizing our resources and time in the best possible way. Our professional artist track will have an application, portfolio, and acceptance process, while our art therapy track will invite all members from the homeless community to create and participate in a variety of artistic and creative opportunities throughout the year. We hope to grow our education and school partnerships, as well as expand our artists’ exhibition opportunities. I am so thankful for the board and volunteers that are helping make this dream a reality with me. Stay tuned — it’s going to be an exciting year of growth and creativity!