Challenging Social Stigmas Through Art

Photo by Amedeo De Pretto

Pop culture has familiarized us with the image of the young, starving artist, furiously labouring away at the next potential magnum opus inside a grim studio devoid of all but art supplies and unfinished pieces.

Yet, isn’t the art world all about connections, social status, and ultimately, wealth?

Too often one’s degree of appreciation towards a work of art is dictated by the ‘cult of the artist’, reinforced by the presence of both their name and accompanying bio. Artists without connections within the art world are automatically at a disadvantage, regardless of their artistic prowess.

Who do you consider an artist? This is the question ArtSpeaks seeks to pose. 

A new take on the art exhibit format, ArtSpeaks will feature works from Shepherds of Good Hope clients alongside those from established artists in the community.

With no artist bios, attendees will be able to view and appreciate the art itself, free from prior assumptions or judgements.

The exhibit seeks to challenge our preconceptions of homelessness and those affected by allowing Shepherds of Good Hope clients to express themselves in an accepting environment. 

ArtSpeaks hopes to incite conversations regarding our views of those without a roof over their head, and realize that they’re so much more than ‘just homeless’. With only a name being featured next to each piece, a voice and a name are given to those who previously had none. 

“They have hopes and dreams. Even though they are homeless, they’re more than that. If even a few people start to think about that, we will consider the event a success,” said Micah Garten, Manager of Philanthropic Relations at Shepherds of Good Hope.

This chance for self-expression is rewarded, as Shepherds of Good Hope clients will receive 90 per cent of the funds raised by sales of their artwork showcased at the event, the 10 per cent remaining covering the cost of materials. 

Community artists will receive 60 per cent of the funds raised, the rest going to Shepherds of Good Hope. Without any gallery commissions, the evening hopes to truly be a community-first initiative.

Aside from providing crucial services such as food, shelter, and medical attention to its clients, Shepherds of Good Hope also provides art supplies.  One of its recent projects featured a soapstone carving workshop inspired by the Inuit members of the shelter.

“Not only have people loved it, but one gentleman in particular has been working with some of the others to show them how to do it.  Just watching the sense of pride and community being built by somebody being able to share a skill with others and to help them to create together is incredible,” Garten said.

The opportunity is also therapeutic, and helps those struggling with addiction to find a time-consuming activity that provides a break from the rhythm of everyday life.

In 2016, over 7000 in the capital used an overnight emergency center at any point during the year, and while the numbers are shocking, the event hopes to allow people to see past the statistics and into the human side of Ottawa’s growing homelessness issue.

“It’s not about how many people in this city are homeless but it’s about who needs help, and how can we as a caring and compassionate city find ways to support these people,” Garten said.

The exhibit will be held at the Jean Pigott Hall in City Hall on October 20 from 6 p.m. – 10p.m.