The H*ART Gallery’s homeless artists help others make their houses homes
Out for an evening stroll on the Southside, Ellen Heavilon came upon a sculptural pillar of mosaic tiles created by local homeless people called Homes, a public work by Frances McDonald, Julie Clark and Mark Making. Inspired by the piece and its creators, she set out to create opportunity for homeless artists in Chattanooga to spread their wings and express themselves through artistic media, and thus, the H*ART Gallery at 110 E. Main St. was born.
Serving the local Chattanooga homeless population and other nontraditional artists, the H*ART Gallery offers materials, classes and opportunities to dabble in creative expression of many kinds, and those whose work grows to a marketable level are displayed in the gallery for perusal and purchase. Sales of all artwork are returned to the artist and the agency for their benefit.
In 2012, as the Southside gallery saw a pattern of slow foot traffic, Heavilon was looking for a way to increase sales and keep the drive alive for the artists to come in, as well as extend the scope of the gallery’s service to the community.
Hearing a story of a family who had been displaced after the storms of 2011 moving back home, she thought it might be nice to get them a piece of art, and a new idea was formed. In 2012, she started the H*ART Housewarming Program to give donors another way to contribute to bettering the lives of others as well as have the art sell more quickly.
Partnering with organizations such as the Maclellan Family Shelter, Welcome Home of Chattanooga, and Habitat for Humanity, the H*ART Housewarming Program places donated works by its artists into homeless shelters and onto the walls of new homeowners. This provides art to those who may not have access to it otherwise—and income to homeless artists through art sales.
“I feel it’s important,” Heavilon says, “because I feel like a house becomes a home when you put your special touches on it. Art inspires and heals and helps spark creativity in those that see it. We also have art at the new family shelter all done by homeless artists. I hope it gives those families hope to know that beauty can come from those in similar bad situations.”
Habitat for Humanity’s Director of Family Services Cheryl Marsh echoes that sentiment and praises the program, saying, “Any time our families are blessed with something that will enhance and beautify their home, we’re just excited about that. Many of our families are coming from apartments or rental homes and maybe they couldn’t do what they can do in a house that they own in terms of decorating and really making it their own, so this partnership is allowing them to do that.”
The families Habitat for Humanity serves are given the opportunity upon the closing of their home sale to visit the H*ART Gallery and choose among the donated paintings for something to adorn their walls and make their homes feel like exactly that: home.
“Our friends at the H*ART Gallery have been very generous,” Marsh explains. “They will normally tell the homeowner that they can select as many pieces as they’d like. There may be a dozen or so pieces that the staff at the H*ART Gallery have pulled out and they have it all laid out in an extra room so the family has the privacy and the time to look at all the pieces and pick something that is warm and dear to their hearts.”
Creating and sustaining this special bond requires regular support from the community. Those who wish to donate can make a tax-deductible financial contribution toward a general fund set aside for the program or they may purchase a specific piece of art directly from the gallery and donate it to the program, giving the donation an even more personal touch, connecting the donor to the artist and the families through the specific selection.
This program creates beauty in new beginnings and connects a community that may not always intermingle in a positive and rich way. As Marsh says with a smile in her voice, “The blessings are really just going around and around.”
Contact the H*ART Gallery at (423) 521-4707 or hartgallerytn.com