Today on World Homeless Day many different organisations and advocates will call upon the public to recognise and respond to the condemning statistics of homelessness in London and elsewhere around the world. Many will discuss the different ways in which we can address homelessness, such as providing emergency relief services, handing out food, offering temporary shelter, and increasing public awareness. Such activities are without a doubt important to relieving homelessness, however there are other services that are often overlooked and underappreciated for helping those in need. In particular, the practice of art and art therapy.
Since the mid twentieth century art has been recognised as therapeutic process. For those who are suffering, art can be significantly healing and life-enhancing. Practising art contributes to emotional effects on many levels: it can help to explore feelings, reconcile emotions, manage behaviour and addictions, develop social skills, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem. Many who are homeless or vulnerably housed tend to struggle with depression, emotional issues, long-term addictions and social anxieties. Through art therapy, those who are homeless are able to better grapple with their personal situations, distract themselves from sadness, and restore a sense a personal well-being.
In London a small group of homeless artists have been meeting together for years, once a week in Fitzrovia. In the past twelve months, the group has taken off, calling themselves 'ARTFitzrovia'. A year ago today Generation C Magazine published a photo exhibition, featuring photos taken by different members of the group. Attention from the exhibition has helped the group to grow, not only in number of artists but in number of supporters as well. Last month the group held its first public exhibition at the Coningsby Gallery. The exhibition "Drop, drop makes lake" featured works from eight different artists. In the four days it was open several people came in to view the art and over a third of the work was sold. In so many ways the exhibition was a great milestone for the members. It allowed them to see other people admiring and appreciating their work; to speak with others about their personal emotional processes in creating their pieces; and to make a small financial profit from their work. Most importantly, it helped to improve their self-esteem and sense of dignity.
ARTFitzrovia continues to grow as a place of hope and escape from the every drudgeries of life. Today on World Homeless Day, it is important to remember the value that art has, in particular for those most in need.
"If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, "I'm a free man in here" - he tapped his forehead - "and you're all right."
― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London