When Pat Bailey visited the Art from the Streets studio for the first time, she was homeless and hadn’t held a paintbrush in almost 30 years. “I left the class crying, and I haven’t stopped painting since that day,” says Bailey. Last year she earned enough money from the sale of her art to stay on her feet, at least for now.
For 22 years, Art from the Streets (AFTS) has provided opportunities for homeless or formerly homeless artists to express themselves creatively. The core of the program is weekly studio sessions where artists are provided supplies, space to create, and a secure location to store their projects from week to week. These sessions culminate in the annual Show and Sale, which gives the artists a source of income and the opportunity to be recognized for their work.
“If I didn’t have the artwork at this point, I don’t think I’d be here,” Bailey shares. “I think I was ready to give up on life. Because if it can happen to me, becoming homeless, it can happen to anyone.”
Long before companies like TOMS and Warby Parker popularized the idea of buying something to help others,
For 22 years, Art from the Streets has provided opportunities for the homeless.
Art from the Streets has been a model of using purchasing power for good. But rather than giving products to those in poverty, AFTS provides tools and support to the homeless and empowers them to create and sell their own products. AFTS also creates an opportunity for the customers purchasing the art to positively interact with the artist who created it. As co-founder Christi Pate puts it, “There’s a stereotype when you think of a homeless person, and this breaks that stereotype down.”
In 2003, local director Layton Blalock volunteered to produce a PSA for the annual Show and Sale. Blown away by the quality of the art and fascinated with the artists’ stories, Blalock began filming several of the artists’ day-to-day lives in and out of the studio. The resulting documentary, Art from the Streets, is a poignant look at the homeless artists’ daily struggle for survival and the importance that a creative outlet like AFTS has in their lives.
“More than one artist has told me that on a daily level they’re invisible on the street,” says Blalock. “They’re just invisible. People do not see them because they know they’re homeless.
This year’s event will be the 21st annual Show and Sale…with all of the proceeds returning to the homeless artists who created it.
But at this art show they really are the stars. What it does for their self-confidence cannot be overstated.”
This year’s event will be the 21st annual Show and Sale, and over the years hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of art has been sold with all of the proceeds returning to the homeless artists who created it. The show has been such a success that this year it will be hosted at the Austin Convention Center for the first time. This year’s Show and Sale features more than 2,000 new pieces, including paintings, drawings, photography, jewelry and pottery. Prices start at an affordable $35, but the benefits to both the artists and the buyers go far beyond the price tag.
“This is an economic stimulus program,” says artist Larry Williams. “And it’s an inspiration stimulus program.”
Art From the Streets
Annual Show & Sale
12pm – 5pm
Austin Convention Center
500 E Cesar Chavez St
Austin, TX 78701
This article originally published in The Wander Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine.
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Local Arts Columnist
Jamie Smith is a writer and content strategist based in Austin, TX.
She writes for and about people and organizations doing innovative work in the fields of arts and culture, design, social justice, travel, and technology.
If she’s not writing, she’s probably at a book club meeting, traveling through cities large and small, or trying to tackle Austin’s outsized hills on her bike.
Photography: Scott Van Osdol, Art From the Streets