The Urban Ministry Center’s art studio, Ron Edwards says, is his “safe haven.”
Like many clients at the nonprofit organization who are or recently have been homeless, Edwards finds the art studio to be a place where he can create, express himself and talk about art with other artists.
“I love it here,” said Edwards, 60, who used to visit the studio every day it was open. “I don’t know what I’d do without this place now that I’ve found it.”
Edwards, who was homeless for four months before he moved into an apartment, was one of many artists who recently showed their work at an open house at the Urban Ministry Center’s ArtWorks945 studio. The walls of the studio were lined with colorful paintings and drawings, and tables were filled with cards and gifts made by the center’s clients.
While art and homelessness may not be an obvious connection, ArtWorks945 director Will Franklin said that the act of creating can be a tool to help people.
“This gets people to use their brains in a different way,” Franklin said.
The introspection, confidence and problem-solving skills needed to create art can be directly applied to real life.
Many people who are homeless need a little coaxing to try making art, and often say they “aren’t creative.” But ArtWorks945 leaders have found that pushing clients to create can reap great benefits.
He points out Edwards’ muted painting of a sailboat, which starkly contrasts with Edwards’ detailed, geometric, magic-marker designs that draw on skills Edwards said he learned in drafting school. ArtWorks945 had encouraged Edwards to try painting.
“The real magic comes when people allow themselves to become free enough to do something they haven’t tried before,” Franklin said.
Frank Giancarlo, 45, who formerly owned Art Worx sign shop in Mint Hill, became homeless after he lost his job and got a divorce. He said he’d rather spend his time painting in the art studio than standing outside the center talking.
“It’s a way to escape,” he said. “I feel at home. There are good people here.”
Giancarlo, who has worked as a sign maker and mural artist in Charlotte, said that he’s always enjoyed being creative, and in the ArtWorks945 studio he experiments with new ideas and glow-in-the-dark paint.
Maria Mazzocco, a volunteer with AmeriCorps VISTA who works with the program, said that art helps connect with people and gives them a positive outlet.
The art program, which offers open studio time and classes, involves about 40 people right now, she said. About one-third of the clients have housing.
The sales of clients’ art are split: half goes to the artist and half goes to ArtWorks945 to buy art supplies. Clients at the studio do not have to pay for supplies.
“If you look around this room, you see so much happiness, and I think it’s surprising to a lot of outsiders because they might be expecting the gritty and the messy,” she said.
“Everyone here has something to offer the world. If we take a second to let people do that, it’s always surprising what happens.”