'This is my future': Art From The Streets shows work by artists who are experiencing homelessness
“I started off with just the blossom trees, and I figured if anybody would be in a cherry blossom garden it would be me,” says artist Synethia Kelly, describing one of her recent paintings (not the work pictured above, obviously). Starting with a lovely painting of a cherry blossom grove, Kelly felt there was something missing from the center of the work, so she added a new focal point – herself. “So I painted myself in a blossom garden in the rain,” she says.
Kelly began painting and drawing years ago, when, as a child, she showed early talent for art. “I first knew I could paint in the first grade,” she says. “I did a Mickey Mouse painting and I got a 100, an A+.” A few years later, she made a drawing of Snoopy and Woodstock (with the caption “Happiness is Love”) that landed her in the middle school newspaper. But like a lot of folks do, she set her talents aside as she got older. “I kind of stopped and just went on with my life,” she says.
In more recent years, misfortune led to Kelly becoming temporarily unhoused. “During the pandemic, I was an essential worker,” she says. “And they knew they couldn’t evict me but they refused to renew my lease, and they put me out. You know, the homeless situation in Austin is very, very… it’s terrible. So I went from sleeping in my car to a transitional housing for right now. But I can’t be there forever.”
Losing her former residence also meant losing her two beloved dogs, Rocky and Lucy, who Kelly had to take to a shelter when she became unhoused (“My dogs were my emotional support system,” Kelly says). Kelly later met with a caseworker named Mark who learned of her artistic background and connected her with Art From The Street, the long-running nonprofit that offers studio space, art supplies, and community to people who are at risk, in transition, or experiencing homelessness. The organization also sells original artwork by their participants, with proceeds going to the artists. For Kelly, it was a way to rediscover her dormant talents and to feel a new sense of hope.
“I came here and they told that if I made so many sessions, that I could put so many pieces into the gallery,” Kelly says. “And I was determined to get here, and it gave me a reason to live again. So I’ve been here and I’m going places. I did [art] as a kid and then I stopped, but right now this is my future. This is my future right now. What I want to is copyright my art, get me a studio, and just keep going.”
Kelly says that creating art gives her hope and a vision for the future, and that the act itself is therapeutic. “I feel light, like a feather,” she says. “I feel no stress. I feel at peace, that’s how I feel. I just start with a canvas and I put a mark on it and then I say, ‘hmm, that looks like it should be this.’ And then I say, ‘no, I want to change it to this.’ And it just turns out to be a masterpiece.”
Kelly is one of dozens of artists who will be showing and selling their works at this weekend’s annual Art From The Streets show and sale. “This year we have about 40 different artists that have been really diligent this last year,” says Art From The Streets executive director Kelley Worden. “With about 75 that will have come in and participated [a bit]. Last year, we had about 500 pieces that were turned in for the show. This year we have 1700 pieces. So, you know, we have an enormous collection that will be in the show this year, with some new artists, some previous years’ artists, and an amazing, vibrant look at what’s been going on in our program this last year.”
The Art From The Streets art show and sale is October 29 and 30 at Blue Genie Art Bazaar.