The room is quiet. When I arrived five minutes ago, I had to be buzzed into three various doors by staff before entering my space for the day. I’m waiting patiently in a room that smells like stale body odour and cleaning supplies. I begin to unfold the table that has been given for the afternoon, set up some chairs, and begin to unpack the bag of magic I’ve brought into the Cardiff hostel today. A staff member returns with a lone figure who saunters into the room and flops into the solitary couch in the room. I approach the figure, introduce myself, and ask, “Would you like to make some art?”
When I began bringing art workshops into various hostels around Cardiff, and eventually Swansea, I believed art to be a healing medium; but after two years of actively working with various groups, I know it to be fact. Holding a crayon brings even the toughest of characters back to a place of innocence and youth. A client covering a piece of paper in acrylic paint can be as immersive as the newest blockbuster film in theatres. These reactions are so visible that staff repeatedly comment that they’ve never seen their clients so calm or happy.
In the two-hour time slot, I purposely avoided “craft-based” projects such as cards, or scrapbooking and brought more open-ended prompts: draw your favourite place in the world, make a piece of art using only one colour, use paper to build a house. I found that if you remove the idea of a “finished product” the clients have less anxiety about creating something to look a certain way, and display more individuality.
In one group, I had a consistent eight clients for six weeks and by the end of our time together, they had formed friendships and supportive relationships. I was not required for the group to succeed because they relied on each other. I consider this a success.
Alongside the art groups, I was interviewing the clients and painting their portraits. Historically, portraits are only commissioned by the rich, so with the Share a Life project we took art to those without riches, and wanted to honour them by having their portrait painted. I recorded interviews with each individual that consisted of fifteen questions, and then the recording was transcribed and written into a poem to accompany the painting. As the artist painting the clients, I was able to spend even more time doting on them as I tried to capture their likeness in watercolours. At the end of the project’s three-year run, each client will be given their portrait. If they do not want it, or we cannot contact them the portraits will be auctioned off and the money given to support other diversionary services.
The Share a Life Project is a small team within Cardiff that strives to engage with the different levels of homelessness and works to remove the stigma surrounding homeless individuals. Due to COVID-19 many of our workshops were cancelled, but our team is currently engaged in a trial art workshop with a Cardiff Council temporary hostel.