Local nonprofit helps Austin’s homeless population paint a new future
For more than 25 years Art from the Streets has been serving Austin’s homeless and at-risk population, providing a welcoming place of refuge, community, and creativity. And for board member Amy Hawthorne, who joined in 2017, the nonprofit represents a sense of stability for its transient artists — often times the only one they may have.
Hawthorne first started volunteering in college, working as a big sister in Big Sisters Big Brothers for eight years before driving for Meals on Wheels and working locally with Mobile Loaves and Fishes.
“I saw art from Mobile Loaves and Fishes at the Pecan Street Festival,” she says. “What drew me there, and to [Art from the Streets], is that they are giving people with raw talent an opportunity to show off their work and feel valued in a different way.” Hawthorne says crafting and selling original art gives at-risk Austinites a much-needed morale boost, especially for a population that often finds itself ignored or cast in a negative light.
Art from the Streets hosts an open studio four days a week for three hours a day during which anyone can attend. (Though no one who is visibly intoxicated may join, Hawthorne notes.) While many days art does get made, “sometimes it’s just a place to get out of the weather, out of cold and rain and be in a place where you are welcome," she says. "On the street, there are a lot of places you aren’t welcome.”
Each artist’s work is then sold at the annual Art from the Streets showcase, which was held on December 8, and during occasional pop-ups. Ninety-five percent of proceeds goes directly to the artist and each person prices their own work. It’s not enough to make a living, but it’s a step in the right direction that can lead to stability and, hopefully, a path out of homelessness.
Recent successes included an AFS artist who has been in and out of homeless for 20 years. “He says it’s nice to have a place where other people are trying to create and do something creative,” Hawthorne says. From the money he’s earned, he’s been able to invest in an upgraded trailer. Furthermore, six or seven AFS artists have been able to use the funds to pay rent at Community First village.
“It’s a whole process to get in there; it’s not just a handout,” Hawthorne says. “They have to have a job and be part of the community. I personally consider that a success story.”
The nonprofit is well-known within the community, and Hawthorne and her team embrace networking with other local groups, but the artists themselves are the organizations biggest ambassadors for getting new artists to join each year. There are even some who have been with AFS for a decade.
But due to the artists’ nomadic nature, AFS members still come and go all the time, a fact that Hawthorne has learned to work around. To make sure its artists get paid, the organization sometimes holds onto artwork and payments for years.
Art is an escape for so many Austinites, whether they are in a rough spot or not. Art from the Streets gives the entire community an opportunity to use art, both the creation and the purchase of it, as a way to propel Austin's neediest citizens forward. To learn more about Art from the Streets visit artfromthestreets.org or visit the next pop-up, which will be on January 28 at the Violet Crown Cinema.