HomeFront’s ArtSpace

A Creative Path to Self-Sufficiency

By Linda Arntzenius

The idea behind HomeFront’s therapeutic art program is a simple one. Art has the power to transport us from the cares of the world. Making art even more so. What better way to help those who are undergoing the trauma of homelessness than to tap into the healing power of artistic self-expression?

ArtSpace, a bright studio with all the necessary supplies for HomeFront clients to explore their creative sides, nurtures individual journeys toward self-awareness, insight, and ultimately self-sufficiency. The results speak for themselves.

Jo Ann Abdelwahabe, who came to HomeFront in 2013 after her home was destroyed in a fire, didn’t think much of her own artistic talents before she discovered ArtSpace and tried her hand at painting. “Seeing my work in a frame nailed to a wall made me feel like a movie star, no kidding,” she recalls. “Creating something beautiful makes me feel beautiful.”

Abdelwahabe, who describes HomeFront as “a blessed domain,” has since sold many of her acrylic-on-canvas works—florals and serene landscapes with evocative titles like “Sunny Landscape” and “Path to Peace.”

Rooster 2Like Abdelwahabe, Helen Baeza also lost her home, which was destroyed when Hurricane Irene hit the Trenton area in 2011. ArtSpace, she says, offers a chance to “stop thinking about worries, even if it’s just for two hours a week.”

At 19, Yvetta Dunn found a home for herself and her two children at the shelter. The first time she entered the art studio she was looking for a quiet place to do some school homework. “But the colors, emotions, and the words that came out of every picture hanging on the wall had me in a dream-like state,” she recalls. “I started to doodle in my math work, and my first ArtSpace painting was born.” After that, Dunn made use of the studio’s flexible open hours to revive the love she had for art in high school. Her work has a naïve cartoon-like quality that has developed from watching television shows to drawing upon her own imagination.

“ArtSpace creates a wonderful atmosphere for everyone who wants to express their own feelings,” says Gennie Darisme. Originally from Haiti, Darisme came to HomeFront with her daughter in 2010. Her first work was a sketched self portrait. Now she paints portraits and landscapes in all mediums and works very quickly “to capture the immediacy and truth of a given moment in light and dark colors.”

Supported by a team of volunteers who prompt and guide artistic expression, ArtSpace is a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment. New ways of thinking develop as self-esteem grows; creative energy sparks confidence; broken spirits find solace. The program’s impact is often life-changing, as when an artist finds a buyer for her work.

“For the women who sell and exhibit their artwork it’s usually the first time ever exhibiting, and when they sell work it’s really unbelievable to them at first—someone values what they created so much that they purchased it. That’s an awesome self-esteem builder,” says Ruthann Traylor, the program’s director.

In addition to an online store, an annual exhibition and sale brings the work before the public. The fifth ArtJam pop-up gallery was held earlier this year at 19 Hulfish Street in Princeton. While the location varies according to suitable available space, ArtJam has been held in Palmer Square on several occasions. Alongside HomeFront’s own client artists, it features an eclectic mix of local artists. This year the event sold out. Proceeds are split between artist and Artspace—60 percent to the artist and 40 percent in support of the program.

Traylor, who has a degree in art therapy, has worked with HomeFront for 9 years. She credits a great group of volunteers such as the accomplished area artist Carine Fram for advancing the program’s goals and thereby HomeFront’s mission to assist individuals in becoming self-reliant.

Supported by the premise that homelessness and poverty rob individuals of self respect and make it difficult to focus on what they can do to improve their own situation, the therapeutic art program teaches life skills such as focusing, problem solving, taking risks, and finishing what is started.

Fram contributes her time and talent not only in the art studio but in the new SewingSpace program she helped to create. She’s taught felting and ways to create such household items as table runners, pillows, and art bags, small luxuries that most of us take for granted but that are not easily affordable to those living on welfare. Like its sister art program, the sewing program promotes “thinking out of the box,” resulting in clothing and furniture being recycled to new purpose.

“Many of the wonderful clients I work with at HomeFront are creative and talented, but when you’re living a life of poverty you don’t have the means or the opportunity to create,” says Traylor. “ArtSpace allows individuals to experience joy.”

To see works by HomeFront artists, visit the ArtSpace Store at: www.artspacenj.org/store where original paintings, sets of printed art cards, pillows, art bags and other products are available for purchase. To support the project, consider donating art supplies such as paint brushes, paint, watercolor and acrylic paper, canvas, beads and A.C Moore or Michael’s gift certificates.

Poppy Close UpAREA EXHIBITS

Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park, Trenton, presents the 32nd Annual Ellarslie Open juried exhibition and art sale through June 28. Stacy Smith of the Zimmerli Museum has selected 140 pieces in a wide-ranging variety of media from 423 works submitted by 225 tri-state area artists, including Jane G. Adriance, Robert Beck, Ronald Berlin, Trudy Glucksberg, Lionel Goodman, Joe Kazimierczyk, Renee Kumar, Mary Allessio Leck, Dallas Piotrowski, Richard Speedy, and Samuel Vovsi. Award winners will discuss their work at a gallery talk on Sunday, June 14, at 2pm. For more information, call 609.989.3632, or visit: www.ellarslie.org.

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton: Seward Johnson: The Retrospective is extended to July. Also Jae Ko: Selections features the work of the Korean-born artist, Jae Ko, including a major new commission in the East Gallery that is more than 80 feet long. Force of Nature transforms over 20,000 pounds of recycled paper into the artist’s largest and most ambitious piece to date. The exhibition will be on view through February 6, 2016. For more information, hours and admission, visit: www.groundsforsculpture.org.

James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown: The Artist in the Garden continues through August 9; Rodin: The Human Experience—Selections from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collections and the companion exhibition The Rodin Legacy through June 14. For more information, hours and admission, call 215.340.9800 or 800.595.4849, or visit: www.MichenerArtMuseum.org.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton: Of the Best Materials and Good Workmanship: 19th Century New Jersey Chairmaking, through October 18. For more information, hours and admission, call 609.924.8144 ext.106 or visit: www.morven.org.

Princeton University Art Museum: The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960–1980 through June 7. Also Painting on Paper: American Watercolors at Princeton, June 27 through August 30, comprises rarely seen highlights from the museum’s collection, including works by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. For more information, hours and admission, call 609.258.3788, or visit: artmuseum.princeton.edu/exhibitions.