Wellesley residents and siblings Spencer Powers and Liz Powers recently co-founded an online business/social enterprise that allows homeless, disabled, and sick artists in Boston to sell their artwork online.
As a victim of child abuse and sufferer of bipolar disorder, Nicholson paints as a means of therapy. The act of painting enables him to represent his emotional state visually, which is oftentimes the best way for him to communicate. Nicholson is one of hundreds of artists in the Greater Boston community who use art therapy as a way to cope with mental illness or other troubles, and to connect with a community and contribute meaningfully to those around them.
In the most recent comprehensive census of homeless people in Massachusetts, 16,664 individuals were reported to be experiencing homelessness. There are countless issues associated with homelessness, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health problems. Art therapy is a powerful tool that provides homeless and disabled individuals with the opportunity to exhibit their talents and work toward improving their conditions.
Thanks to the presence of art therapy programs, the community of homeless and disabled artists has grown so large that it needs a marketplace. In 2011, Liz Powers responded to this need by founding City Heart, an annual art show in Boston, Massachusetts for homeless and low-income artists. Her brother, Spencer Powers, joined the team in 2012, and as City Heart’s success grew and more artists began to participate, the siblings realized that City Heart was not structured to serve the demand. They decided to develop a new model.
Liz and Spencer next createdArtLifting, a social enterprise and low-profit limited liability company ("L3C") that empowers individuals who are in art therapy programs at hospitals and shelters by selling their artwork.
“ArtLifting celebrates the beautiful and powerful artwork that sick, disabled, and homeless artists create. It gives marginalized individuals the opportunity to showcase their talents, fight against stereotypes that they are ‘lazy,’ and earn some much-needed cash,” Powers said.
ArtLifting was created to be a sustainable, scalable, and a year-round marketplace to support sick, disabled, and homeless artists and meet customer demand.
Sales not only support individual artists, but they also support the art therapy programs. For each original piece sold, ArtLifting gives the artist's art therapy program enough money or materials to support the creation of two new pieces of artwork. The intent is that the success of the sold item is shared between the original artist and other members of the program.
With the launch of ArtLifting.com, customers can browse work using high-def and zoom-enhanced technology, read artist biographies, and learn how sales proceeds support both the artists and art therapy programs. The online marketplace features original artwork including acrylic and watercolor paintings, black and white paper cut pieces, and colored pencil works. Also available are premium gicleé art prints, mounted canvas art prints, and iPhone cases with artists’ designs.
“Over the past four years, I have worked with homeless and low-income individuals and learned how art therapy can transform their lives. Creating art in art therapy programs not only provides a safe community for individuals to support one another, but it also provides a creative outlet,” Powers said.
One of those individuals is abstract expressionist painter Randy Nicholson.
“Your interest in my work makes me feel validated. Validated. Not 'validated as an artist' or anything like that - just validated. This is a new feeling for me,” Nicholson said. Nicholson's feeling is not unique. A growing number of disabled and homeless artists use art an outlet, and ArtLifting empowers them to earn money and improve their situations.
For more information visit ArtLifting.com.