Community Enrichment: Poverty and the Arts
At a new studio in East Nashville, Poverty & the Arts expands mission of transforming people affected by homelessness into artists
By: Carrington Fox
It has been five years since Nashville Arts introduced readers to Poverty & the Arts founder Nicole Brandt Minyard, then a Belmont student who was putting a passionate theory to the test. As a community volunteer and college student, Minyard had become convinced that the most powerful thing she could do for people impacted by homelessness was to do something with them. So in 2011, she founded Poverty & the Arts (POVA) to offer opportunities for hands-on creativity to people who might otherwise lack the resources or encouragement to express themselves through art. In 2014, Minyard established Poverty & the Arts as a nonprofit that offered art supplies and a marketplace for POVA artists.
In a 2013 interview in this magazine, Minyard posed the question, “What would happen if homeless people were suddenly able to paint and play music and write in collaboration with other communities?” Five years later, Minyard and a collective of non-traditional artists have answers to that question.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is how complicated and diverse homelessness is,” Minyard says. “Artists come from different places, homeless experiences are very different, and solutions to get out of homelessness are very different. I think it’s overwhelming how different our artists are, and they are all using art differently.”
A browse through the gallery at povertyandthearts.org reveals just how differently POVA’s artists manifest their creativity: Gwen paints bold colors on canvas; Amatullah designs murals and wearable art; Deuce focuses his energy with graffiti; Clinecasso works with Sharpie markers, and Miss B creates art through guided meditation, to name just a few.
“The best part is the community that forms,” says Minyard. She cites the story of Kateri Pomeroy, one of the first members of the collective, who had been estranged from both her mother and her daughter because she didn’t want her family to worry knowing that she was homeless. Poverty & the Arts offered Kateri a place to make, market, and sell her paintings and found-object sculptures. On the heels of a successful opening exhibit and sale, the fledgling artist had such renewed self-esteem that she reconnected with her family. “A night of being treated as special gave her the confidence to reach out,” Minyard says.
It is unexpected success stories like Kateri’s that drive Minyard to expand Poverty & the Arts, to reach more artists with more opportunities. In the early days, POVA functioned with an annual budget of $5,000, operating one day a week inside Turnip Green Creative Reuse Gallery and hosting workshops in collaboration with Room in the Inn. After operating out of a modest space in Wedgewood Houston, with no heat or air-conditioning, this May POVA moved into a dedicated studio space on Dickerson Pike, with enough room for as many as twenty-five artists.
Meanwhile, POVA’s annual budget has grown to $123,000, which funds a staff of four part-time employees to serve fourteen artists with programming, fields trips, art supplies, and a van to transport artists and artwork.
While most funding comes from grants and donors, as much as 14 percent of the most recent operating budget comes from sales of art by artists in the collective, who keep 60 percent of the proceeds from their work. POVA sells at its studio on Dickerson Pike and teams up with community organizations, including Nashville Public Library and the East Side Art Stumble, to build sales channels for artwork. In the most recent tax year, Minyard had to fill out 1099 forms on four artists who earned more than $600.
Not all POVA artists are seeking a revenue stream. Some pursue their art purely for therapeutic value. But that’s not to say commercial success doesn’t facilitate healing. “We watch artists buy data plans so they can connect with family members for the first time,” Minyard says of the supplemental income from art sales. “Selling gives them greater autonomy and mobility.”
Artist Kateri Pomeroy proves the point. With help from POVA, she traveled across the country to the funeral of her once-estranged mother, who first sparked her artistic passion by introducing her to coloring books as a child. “I always wanted a career in art, but life gets in the way,” Pomeroy says. Now, thanks to POVA, art is getting into Pomeroy’s life, and Pomeroy is working to bring more people into the organization, with hopes that it can enrich their lives as it has hers.
“The program has been a blessing,” says Pomeroy, who married fellow POVA artist Sam Fulks. (She keeps her maiden name, because it’s the name people know her by as an artist.) “It has given us an identity other than homeless. We’re artists. Everybody takes pride in that.”
Poverty & the Arts is located at 1207 Dickerson Pike, Nashville, TN 37207. Check Facebook or www.PovertyandtheArts.org for gallery hours.