Beyond Perceptions Exhibit Evokes Feelings of Compassion

In 2008, IAC staff member Laura Frank committed to attending one art event a week and blogging about her experiences on social networking site Smaller Indiana. This is one of her entries.

Week nine's art event elicits an important question:  what is your perception of homelessness?  In your eyes, are homeless people drug addicts?  Victims?  Disposable?

Since 2004, the Indianapolis Art Center and Wheeler Mission have partnered to raise awareness about homelessness in Indianapolis through their Beyond Perceptions program, involving the youth of the community.

At the end of January, students from Pike, Cathedral,and Ben Davis High Schools were asked to create artwork based on how they perceive homelessness. Meanwhile, men and women residing at Wheeler Mission centers create artwork based on their perception of how society views them. The students then toured the homeless centers in mid-February.  On February 27th, men and women from the centers met the high school students at the Art Center and shared their life stories to illustrate how homelessness has no one socio-economic, racial, or religious status.  The students further discuss these issues in a small group setting with the men and women, dissecting stereotypes and causes of homelessness.  Afterwards, in early March, both the men and women from the Mission and the students created a second piece of artwork exploring the numerous topics from the discussion.  On March 18th, everyone met again to create a piece of art together - a 'zine - during what is called the Community Project day.

It was very interesting to see each student’s before and after artwork depicting their perception of homelessness.  It seemed that many students had a completely different take after meeting a homeless person and talking with them about their lives and how they got to where they are today.  I thought it was amazing that each student was uninhibited and honest in the views displayed through their art. 

My favorite before and after piece was created by Wesley McKinney from Pike High School.  For his “before” artwork, Wesley used tissue paper and other mixed media to create an image of a man crying entitled “Pain”.  His “after” image included three men looking up into the sky, entitled “Hope”.

There was also a great piece of “before” art created by ripping away layers of cardboard to reveal an image of a man playing the saxophone against a brick background.  This piece is untitled and was created by Jillian Goodwin of Ben Davis High School.

On Community Project day, the members of the shelter and the students collaboratively created a Zine that included poetry, essays, fiction and non-fiction stories, with collages and drawings.  These Zines are also available at the exhibit.  I loved reading the poetry as well as the true stories from the homeless members of the group.  One man in particular wrote about killing a man in self defense and feeling so guilty that he subsequently spiraled down into a world of depression and drugs.

It is the hopes of the administrators of Beyond Perceptions that, with art as a tool, students’ ideas of homelessness will be communicated openly, and maybe even confronted.  I think this exhibit program not only challenges the students’ views, but also the views of the people who visit the exhibit.    How often do we stop to think about where a person came from before they ended up on the streets?  Who they are, how they got there?  Administrators also hope Beyond Perceptions "challenges assumptions and stereotypes that effect our actions, leaving the audience with a deeper sense of compassion." It certainly opened this audience-member's eyes.

This exhibit will remain at IUPUI's Fairbanks Hall, located at 340 W. 10th Street, Indianapolis until late May, and will then move to the Indianapolis Art Center.