Art for all: what art can do for those with nothing

The Jam Factory’s new exhibition Below the Spires aims to bring attention to homelessness in Oxfordshire. Featuring photographs of Oxford from the perspective of homeless people, they hope to dispel some of the myths about what it is like to survive on the streets. Below the Spires offers us insight into the very different ways in which Oxford can be experienced, right next to us but worlds apart.

The project is a collaboration with Homeless Oxfordshire, a charity that provides accommodation to support homeless people across the county. Their residents were given disposable cameras in order to capture their view of Oxford. In doing this, they would like to build people’s self-esteem by providing them with the opportunity to exhibit personal artwork, giving them confidence in their search for employment.

Using art to try and build confidence in homeless people is something others are also attempting. The first International Arts and Homelessness Festival was held in Manchester in November last year, bringing together delegates from fifteen countries with the goal of exploring and celebrating the role that art can play in dealing with homelessness.

The capacity of art to move people deeply should not be ignored

The arts are coming to be recognised as a tool to reduce social isolation by building networks as well as increasing mental health by allowing homeless people to express themselves and promote understanding about their situation. Projects to aid the homeless have often looked to tackle healthcare, nutrition and shelter, all vital, but have neglected the more human aspects of restoring a person’s confidence and sense of themselves.

These projects also aim to change the public perception of homelessness, sharing the experiences of homelessness to make people feel more compassion. The capacity of art to move people deeply should not be ignored. The Museum of Homelessness tries to make use of this, exploring the history and culture of homelessness through art and getting people to really understand what life on the streets is like.

In giving homeless people the opportunity to engage with art, they are allowed to participate in something that they can simply enjoy while meeting new people, gaining skills and telling their own stories. The results of this can be seen in the mural on Ducie Street in Manchester, a collaboration between 40 homeless people depicting a man soaring through the air, past obstacles, reaching towards a brighter future.

Image credit: The Jam Factory