Growing up in a small town in Kentucky, the narratives told to me about homelessness were often that the individuals were lazy, worthless, drug addicts that didn’t deserve money from the government or its people. My senior year of high school, I had a unique opportunity to travel to Louisville, KY weekly to spend time with homeless men and women at their campsites—becoming a regular a guest in their home. Through the relationships I built, I learned that my friends were not lazy or worthless. They are creative and resourceful–yet victims in the systematic and structural systems of oppression: poverty, racism, and mental illness.
When I moved to Nashville in 2010 to attend Belmont University, I wanted to create a space where people could genuinely get to know their homeless neighbors. I explored what it would look like to use art as the conduit for the community to experience individuals overcoming homelessness as equals, as well as talented. We hosted our first Community Arts Day (CAD) in November of 2011 partnering with Room in the Inn (RITI). From Nov 2011-March 2015, we hosted bi-annual CADs at RITI which included visual art, music, creative writing, and improv theatre.
Through the relationships formed, we launched our Artist Collective in May 2014 to provide studio space, art supplies, professional development and art workshops to artists overcoming homelessness. We had two artists our first year. We received our 501c3 status July 2014. Now, two years later, we work with 14 artists, 9 of which have transitioned into housing since joining our program. In addition to earning much needed income through the exhibition and sell of original artwork and merchandise, artists find a place that nourishes the soul, builds their confidence, and reignites their dreams. We also prioritize helping our artists integrate back into society by facilitating ways for them to build relationships and security nets with volunteers, customers, and community members. This is critical in breaking the cycle of homelessness.
–Nicole Brandt, Founder and Executive Director