“Holy chaos” is how those at Haywood Street Congregation describe the ministry that, twice a week, serves around 500 of Asheville’s at-risk residents and those experiencing homelessness.
But climb the stairs past the lively ruckus of the dining room, needle exchange and clothing closet, and you’ll find something a little different on the door to Room No. 4: a painted red sign that reads “Art Only,” marking the entrance to a compact and colorful I Am Home Art Project.
“There’s a sense of peace and safety here,” says Janet Taylor, the founder and director of the nonprofit initiative, which provides free art supplies, mentorship and business opportunities for marginalized artists in this city. Taylor developed this unique concept as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Florida and brought the project to Asheville in 2017.
Every Wednesday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., the art room is open for anyone who, as Taylor puts it, has slipped through the cracks. She usually sees about 12 artists a day and has served more than 100.
Artists who show up on a regular basis have the opportunity to sell their creations at the Mending Art! showcases and keep 100% of the profits. So far, there have been five art shows, and artists have earned a combined total of $4,000 in sales, more than $1,000 coming from the most recent iteration, held March 16 at Ginger’s Revenge. While the sales generally aren’t enough to pay anyone’s rent, Taylor says the funds help artists finance living expenses such as oil changes for a vehicle, new art supplies to share with peers or a date with a significant other.
The March showing had 100 pieces on display — a record. And the momentum continues to build. The next Mending Art! will be held Saturday, July 20, 4-7 p.m. at Ginger’s Revenge.
“I’ve been in all the art shows,” says an artist who goes by the moniker Blue. He has overcome several brain aneurysms and is now battling lung cancer. He likes to sketch freehand as well as work in coloring books. “It feels good, and I’m gonna keep doing it.”
“Our artists are able to access originality and rawness … so many of us have been taught to mask,” says Maggie Doyle, an art therapy student who has partnered with Taylor on the project since its beginning. “I love getting to witness all of us being able to unshield and be the walking, talking art pieces that we are.”
Thanks to the support of various donors, supplies have evolved over the last few years from simple sketch pads and colored pencils to include an array of canvases, watercolors and acrylic paints, among other mediums. Artists have taken advantage of these resources and it shows.
“I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember,” says Chris, who — like the other artists in this story— prefers to be identified by one name. “I’ve been creating way more art since I started going to the Haywood Street [Congregation]. I want to now, way more.” Chris makes mystical paintings of strong women.
Hydro, who heard about the art room from Blue over a year ago, has a knack for painting detailed, verdant mountain scenery. Ask him where the landscapes, which appear so grounded in place, are located, and he’ll tell you they all come from his mind’s eye. Ellie, who says she struggles with anxiety, has similar gifts of imagination, losing herself in the process of painting colorful, intergalactic landscapes. She’s also been working on a collection of drawings that honor endangered animal species such as bonobos and iguanas.
“I like how someone who is so financially successful and has a name for themselves can create art, and you put that next to an artist who is just getting by, hour to hour, and there’s no differentiation between them. It’s art,” Doyle says. “We’re all just humans.”
The difference I Am Home makes is clear to anyone who has spent time with the artists. According to Doyle, when the doors first opened, some visitors treated it more as a social room than a creative space, it was difficult for artists to stay focused, and few showed up consistently.
Now, Doyle says, “We’ve created a structure and consistency. The artists know this is their space, and we can count on them to come. … Everyone wants to support one another in a respectful manner.”
Many artists consider each other family, and it’s not uncommon for them to refer to each other as brother or sister. On tough days, Taylor says, artists might share their problems with the room and receive comfort from their peers.
Thornne, a Marine Corps veteran and former tattoo artist afflicted with PTSD, says, “My art used to be very violent, and now it’s gotten a lot more peaceful.” At the art show, he noted that his painting of Yoda perched within a lotus on a red-and-white split canvas represents the balance of light and darkness in his life.
Taylor has also seen a difference in the people’s postures as they began to identify more with their artwork than their homeless situations. “Their whole being begins to open up to the possibility that they are valued, creative beings,” she explains. “People are given a voice and respect each other despite all sorts of differences. I think we all really appreciate each other and what each person brings to the table.”
Learn more about the I Am Home Art Project and volunteer at iamhomeartproject.com.
WHAT: Mending Art! Showcase
WHERE: Ginger’s Revenge, 829 Riverside Drive, Suite 100
WHEN: Saturday, July 20, 4-7 p.m.