Poverty & the Arts
“[Art] is therapy. It’s a positive side of who I am. It’s like a medicine. For all of the hurt, all of the anguish, all of the terrible things that happened to me—I use it as therapy.”
–Kateri, local Nashville artist at Poverty & the Arts.
Confession: When first approaching the idea of the non-profit Poverty & the Arts (POVA), I placed it on a slightly lower level or less impactful than nonprofits providing shelter, food, clothing, etc.—“the essentials.”
Oh, how am I kicking my arrogant self for ever, ever thinking in such an ignorant way. After witnessing what takes place within POVA, I now understand it provides an extraordinarily essential need for every human—community. And as I further peeled back the layers upon entering POVA, I discovered it supplies an entire cascade of crucial traits needed to achieve a fulfilled life.
As humans, we are innately creative beings. We are different than almost all other animals (as far as I know) in that we have a creative, artistic side—a craving to build something with our mind and bring it to fruition in some form in the physical world. Creativity breeds curiosity, and curiosity breeds creativity. This lights up our brains, pushing us to think, feel and act. We must permit ourselves the space for creativity in order to learn something about ourselves--in order to move forward in life. A creative project can help us work through some gargantuan obstacle, uncertainty or pain. We learn about ourselves and the human experience through creative endeavors.
Poverty & the Arts provides this platform for those impacted by homelessness around Nashville.
The building in which the life of POVA unfolds, sits quietly and unsuspecting across an empty grassy lot, nestled among various homes and manufacturing structures near downtown Nashville.
The smoky blue and gray wooden slats matched the sky when I first arrived, and the brilliant red door made its presence known, almost charismatically. Potted plants dotted the the left and right of the entryway on shelves and along the stairs.
Upon entering the building and sliding behind a silver curtain, I stood silently during an artist meeting (after awkwardly introducing myself and explaining my presence). Paints filled the room—literally, there were copious bottles, small and large, dirtied with fingerprints, some pristinely untouched—everywhere. Other art supplies lined the shelves along the walls. The grand, multi-colored, oval wooden table, around which everyone gathered, housed more supplies. It was a haven—no a heaven—for any art lover or creative. Along the periphery of the ceiling read various words: amazing, freedom, community, aspire, passion and expression. A poster read “I believe in all the arts for all the people.”
A pink, sparkly skull sat above to my right, staring at me, as I stood listening to the founder and executive director of POVA, Nicole Brandt Minyard, speak to the artists.
The first Poverty & the Arts event was held in 2011 in the art room at Nashville’s Room in the Inn, organized by Nicole.
At the time, as a student of Belmont University, she held a job on campus in which she planned community service events for students.
First, let’s backtrack. As a child, Nicole was exposed to the typical narrative of the homeless, in that it was a “me vs. them” situation. That didn’t feel right to her, though.
She eventually connected with a friend who regularly visited homeless camps, but this friend wouldn’t just bring goods to the people of the camps, he would spend time with them in the community, as a guest in their space. Nicole began attending, and she noticed how creative and resourceful they were in the making of structures, systems, etc. It was an entirely different dynamic being present on a human-to-human basis—on common ground with the people of homeless camps.
In college, she wanted to recreate this experience for the students of Belmont and for others.
When the first POVA event occurred in 2011 at Room in the Inn, it wasn’t just an art class being led by a few Belmont students. Everyone worked together. The “me vs. them” dynamic was completely shattered, in the best way.
“Art can be this way in which we become equals and meet together. So instead of serving a meal, we’re writing a song or a poem or creating a piece of art together,” explained Nicole.
There’s the key word. “Together.” We’re all in this together.
Nicole continued, “That day we had created a context in which dozens of college students wanted to know how their morning was or what their dreams and goals were, it just again provided and met deeper needs instead of just [the physical ones].”
The first event was a hit. Nicole began thinking further, determining how she could make the most impact.
Back to the present day: the artist meeting adjourned, and the first person to entertain my questions was a pepper-gray-haired fellow named Sam. He and his wife Kateri, who met in the art room at Room in the Inn years ago, were pointed out to me as the first member artists of POVA. Sam sported a red Columbia jacket and donned a Laredo Taco Company cap.
“This was kind of a springboard for us,” Sam told me. “It actually pulled us out of a kind of depression, ya know, finally get on our feet, get a place to live. I credit this program to a lot of that.”
Sam, a Gallatin native now living in Madison, has another job, but he and his wife make art at home and within POVA. The artist life is “kinda lean,” Sam admitted with a laugh.
“It’s hard to have inspiration all the time, but you gotta push through.”
I asked him what art means to him.
“It’s a spiritual thing. It’s like a release from any worries. If you have a belief in God, for me, you know it’s a god thing. I can create something because of Him.”
His wife Kateri, quoted at the top of the story explained art as: “an extension of who I am, really. When you’re a creative person, like a musician, you just have to create. It’s a compelling thing.”
In the early stages of Poverty & the Arts, Nicole and others noted that, while art therapy existed in Nashville for the homeless already, there wasn’t a marketplace for the art. The homeless population needs not only supplemental income, but income achieved through creative means and through methods that don’t necessarily require a traditional 40-hour/week job.
Many have disabilities, mental illness and poor social skills due to traumatic experiences, which can inhibit an individual from obtaining a “typical” nine-to-five.
“Lots of times when you’re homeless, you’re only allowed to go where homeless people are,” Nicole asserted. “So you’re just in this environment that’s in survival mode all the time, it drives your behavior—you’re constantly stressed.”
POVA, which officially became a 501c3 non-profit in mid-2014, provides a departure from this environment.
For so long, many have merely been referred to as “homeless,” as though that is all they are. At POVA, the artists are able to create a personal brand—to reinvent themselves. Each artist designs and receives personal business cards. In total, they are the designers, creators and pricers, which is typically not the case in other programs for those affected by homelessness. Finally, finally, they have a say.
With the supplemental income gained through the selling of their art, they are better able to regain day-to-day autonomy by affording such items as bus passes, cell phone minutes, internet access, etc. It’s these “little things” that empower them to establish a self-sustaining life.
“It’s building their confidence, building their momentum,” Nicole said eagerly.
One might think the income would be the top-valued aspect for clients of POVA; however, when prompted, the majority list “the community” as the most meaningful. Nicole explained that some have said, ‘I never had friends before’ or ‘no one ever told me I was creative.’
POVA has assembled a family, a support system and an encouraging and safe space. I wholeheartedly believe every human needs and deserves this environment. Food, clothing and shelter are necessities, yes, but there is something innate within each human being that craves a connection with others. Every human, no matter what income level, no matter what stage in life, needs love, support and camaraderie. We need to know we’re in this thing together. That’s what POVA provides for the artists.
One of the next goals for Poverty & the Arts is to purchase a real estate space for the nonprofit, as they currently rent their small space.
“Space is the one thing our clients don’t have, so it’s the one thing we have to have,” Nicole said with almost a chuckle.
For the next fiscal year, they also want to hire a marketing manager and a volunteer coordinator.
POVA has an ongoing recruiting basis for potential clients/artists. There is an artist application with a background check, but nothing prohibits one from joining, except the applicant must have been affected by homelessness at some point.
Overall, Poverty & the Arts focuses on creativity and the artist marketplace, but they have built partnerships with other nonprofits to ensure all the needs of their clients’ are met.
I feel as though I haven’t done justice to the extraordinary impact this nonprofit has on its members and on Nashville in general. I was inexplicably impressed with Nicole Brandt Minyard and the environment she has created with Poverty & the Arts.
Additionally, I was overwhelmed by the multitude of remarkable humans who were artists of POVA. Everyone had a story, and everyone was so welcoming and giving of themselves. I could have asked a multitude of more questions and listened to each artist for hours.
Through this piece, I not only want to promote this spectacular non-profit and hopefully encourage you to assist them in some way, I also want us to acknowledge the feat this nonprofit is trying to overcome. That is, we are all just human beings trying to navigate this life. We all need to view each other on common ground. That’s it. No one is better than the other. No one. We must all work together to foster an environment welcoming and advantageous to everyone.
We need to do more than just “like” a post or a page. We need to act. We need to encourage, promote and provide financial backing to such exemplary organizations as Poverty & the Arts. We are all in this life together, and we all need to help each other in any way we’re able.
The Gold Key Gala by Poverty & the Arts is being held on February 24th at The River Center. You can meet and mingle with the artists of POVA while viewing their art, with the opportunity to purchase! Tickets are $45 at the door. All proceeds benefit Poverty & the Arts. Check it out: http://www.goldkeygala.org/