Art therapy can help the homeless “re-paint” the current canvas of their lives by exploring feelings, reconciling emotions, managing addictions, developing social skills, reducing anxiety and, thereby, increasing self-esteem.– Frank Marangos, Arts Therapy For The Homeless
The Situation and Task:
In late 2021, was asked by Streetwise Opera Nottingham to produce a collaborative mural on a wall at the YMCA Nottingham with people who are experiencing homelessness. The task was to create a large, tall mural that would embody the participants/ fellow muralists wanted it to and to find out what that was. The participants hailed from YMCA Nottingham were from many diverse backgrounds, Iranian, Somali, Czech, Afghanistani, Polish, Tanzanian, Gambian as well as from all over the UK. Many had a myriad of professions before coming to be at the YMCA eg. teachers, labourers, engineers, and nursing and some were sufferers of depression, and injuries and needed a break. Lots of creative talent was found amongst the budding muralists, singers, artists and poets. The room where the mural would be was ‘mix-usage’, a common room, where people chill, there was a mini market with vegetables and fruit, tables to sit and dine at and write out forms or use a laptop on. I asked everyone how they would like to feel in the room where the mural was going to be, and they said words like… ‘zesty, bold, bright, and something positive that promotes wellbeing to wake us up in the morning’. Markedly different to how it looked, like a magnolia waiting room (with a tall ceiling) of a clinic.
“Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact, it can affect change – it can not only move us, it makes us move.”–Jeanne Noble, Beautiful, Also, Are the Souls of My Black Sisters
One of the first things we did as a group was to research and explore the YMCA Nottingham building itself, to see if it would spark some inspiration. We had fun exploring the building, taking photos, making vids and generally playfully interacting with the YMCA buliding. We noted the primary coloured gyms, climbing ropes, tall elegant ceilings painted in bright yellow, purple, grass green, red and royal blue, the art deco spiral stairwells, bold blue and red doors with porthole windows, large futuristic-looking air vents, fluorescent lighting, with a few woodchipped magnolia walls and grey carpets.
We researched the designer of the YMCA Nottingham building, a striking, regal grade II listed art deco building, designed by Cecil Howitt. The building is clad in black Vitralite, an opaque structural mirror-like glass of which is now unavailable and extremely rare. We researched the art deco period. I asked the participant to create collages out of all of our findings using photos, magazines, slogans, coloured card, stencils, shiny collage materials that represent visually how they want the space to feel.
I then created a design of what I thought the piece should be but then scrapped that because I was reminded that I needed to decentre my own natural inclination to strive for perfection when making my own art. This project was much more about the process and the therapeutic effects of artmaking. It was more about the confidence that the participants would gain rather than the emphasis being the finished project. We played a playlist of music that incorporated songs from the cultures represented at the YMCA Nottingham. We discussed at length what should be depicted, there was a Czech participant that spoke limited English and he had a translator app on his iPad that allowed us to communicate. Common themes came up; ‘reaching for the stars’, ‘climbing up out of a bad situation’, we bought paint (black blackboard paint, gold, black, silver, red, yellow, orange, royal blue and green), we bought (little mirrors, glue, markers, scissors, stencils).
I worked out that due to time restrictions it would be best to do the piece in layers, inspired by the themes, colours, and shapes that kept recurring when we gathered everyone’s ideas via collage. Each week the piece took shape and each one of us. We decided on the image of people climbing ropes, trying to get to the top of the piece, surrounded by the sun, stars, colourful sky and planets with a silhouette of Nottingham beneath it.
Without community, there is no liberation…but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.–Audre Lorde
After weeks of work, the participants and I created a huge vibrant instinctual mural that I hope helps to promote a readiness to live and enjoy life. I hope that this mural acts as a catalyst to inspire action, climbing towards better days. I hope that this piece gives permission to aspire to dreams, I hope it helps towards dissolving stress and gives a sense of community, togetherness and joy.
BEFORE & AFTER
I would ask you what you think of the piece but I think a better question would be…
Q. What are you doing to change your world?
Link To Vids About This Mural: