By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Feeling hungry with no options, Phillip, an Oklahoma City man was homeless. During a dumpster dive he discovered a new calling. Instead of food, he noticed sitting on top of the trash pile were two artist paint brushes and acrylic black and white paint. Phillip took the art supplies with no thought as to what he would do with them. He was not yet an artist.
“Looking back now, I really feel like it was God trying to tell me something,” said Phillip.
After carrying the brushes and paint in his backpack for weeks, Phillip decided to experiment on a canvas he acquired from a friend.
“I was amazed at what the paintbrush could do,” said Phillip. “With just a push or pull of the brush, I started seeing trees and rocks and streams.”
Phillip continued to pursue this new endeavor for a couple of years before finding his place in the Fresh stART program at the Homeless Alliance’s Day Shelter. A regular guest at the Day Shelter, Phillip visited for showers, meals and a chance to get out of the elements. Then one day, he noticed a flyer for an art studio.
Fresh stART hosts studio time twice per week at the Homeless Alliance’s Day Shelter located on the WestTown Homeless Resource Campus, at 1724 NW 4th Street. The program relies on the community to donate art supplies and funding to operate.
Phillip began attending the Fresh stART program regularly, and in his first two art shows at the Homeless Alliance, he sold all of his work. Phillip is now looking forward to showing in a professional gallery.
During the month of November, Phillip along with other artists experiencing homelessness, will display their work in an art show at the Paseo Plunge. The exhibit is free and open to the public. The opening reception will take place on Nov. 2, during Paseo’s First Friday art walk.
The “Fresh stART” program is designed to provide people experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma City with a supportive environment for creating art.
In addition to providing a potential source of income, open studio art programs enable people to express themselves creatively, manage emotional issues, develop social skills through positive interaction with a peer group, and develop confidence and skills transferable to employment.
“I paint because it’s a way to make things beautiful,” said Phillip. “There is so much ugliness in the world, and sometimes you can just paint over it and make something good. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It gives me a high. I hope to one day be able to do it all the time.”
Fresh stART artwork offers a variety of mediums including mixed media, collage, water color, acrylic and colored pencil.
“Art allows people to temporarily escape their difficult situations and provides an opportunity to interact with peers in a positive environment,” said Dan Straughan, executive director at the Homeless Alliance. “And when an artist sells something that they created, it really helps build their confidence knowing that someone else values their work.”
Located at 3010 Paseo in Oklahoma City, the Paseo Plunge is open daily. Originally built as a public swimming pool in the 1930s, the Paseo Plunge is being converted into a multi-purpose art space. For more information about the gallery, visit www.PaseoPlunge.com.
Also during November, the entire Paseo district is hosting a donation drive collecting hats, gloves, socks and blankets for the Homeless Alliance. With an average of 350 people visiting the Homeless Alliance Day Shelter each day, many of whom are unsheltered, the Homeless Alliance is in need of donated winter gear. Homeless Alliance programs provided housing to 715 people in Oklahoma City last year so there is also an ongoing need for household items.
Participating Paseo businesses will be offering discounts to everyone who donates during November.
Donations can be also be dropped off at the Homeless Alliance between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, at 1724 N.W. 4th Street (one block east of Penn on N.W. 3rd Street). For more information about how to help, visit HomelessAlliance.org.