For homeless artists, Hospitality House is a creative haven

Success as an artist is often the result of talent nurtured by access and opportunity. In turn, certain perspectives—those of people with less financial access to the materials needed to foster their artistic passions—tend to go unseen. Hospitality House’s Community Arts Program is the only free-of-charge arts studio in San Francisco, serving as a welcoming space for those whose socioeconomic difficulties would otherwise impede them from making art. Participating artists benefit from the free materials offered at the studio, where they can create, exhibit, and sell their artwork, and all community artists keep 100 percent of the proceeds from any of their purchased work. Hospitality House’s Community Arts Program offers a place for people whose voices are often ignored to share their valuable perspectives and artistic worth with the community around them.

“Art is very important form of meditation for me,” said Joseph, a Hospitality House community artist originally from Mexico, who focuses on painting and sculpture making and emphasizes themes of social justice in his work. Joseph, who sees his art as a “reflection of [his] soul,” utilizes color, symbolism, and slight abstraction to convey his energy and spirituality, and to shed light on issues that matter to him. “It’s important for me to represent voices—gay voices, immigrant voices,” Joseph explained. “If I can help someone, I can help myself. Coming to this studio gives me a sense of relief, a place to connect, and a chance to have a voice.”

Joseph, who lives in community housing in San Francisco and involves himself with local activism and counseling groups, appreciates the co-existence that the open studio environment promotes. “I like to see mingling between different kinds of people in the city. The dynamic here is welcoming to all,” he continued. “We come from different places, some people have mental issues, some don’t have permanent homes—but we have to be respectful and realize that we’re all different. It’s an oasis, and coming here to make art gives me a sense of value—it helps me heal.”

Charles, a Hospitality House Community Artist originally from Sacramento, started making art at a young age. At 21 years old—in the middle of pursuing an arts education—he began to lose his eyesight, and eventually became vision-impaired. “I wanted to go into filmmaking and photography,” he said, “but because I lost my sight, that was out.”

Charles stopped making art for nearly seven years after he lost the majority of his vision. “I didn’t think I’d ever come back to it,” he admitted. But after a long stretch of time that “nearly destroyed” him, Charles decided to revisit his passion and took up painting. “Now, I think of my art as abstract,” Charles explained. “Splattered ink on a piece gives me an idea to incorporate. I use my blindness for originality.” His work blends lines, shapes, colors, and movement with an Afro-centric, Pop art inspired aesthetic, and often features jazz and blues motifs, though, he said, he doesn’t want to get pigeon-holed. “I want to make conceptual pieces, and make statements. Black is beautiful.”

“[This place] has been a big help to me,” Charles said of Hospitality House’s open art studio, which he started frequenting about 17 years ago in pursuit of what he described as art therapy. “I have my own problems—I get down-and-out every now and then. But here, it’s this thing—‘Hey, you want to participate? Come on over.’”

To see his artwork, visit his website.

Hospitality House community artist Tony was born in San Francisco and has lived in the city ever since—a place in which he said he’s “seen it all.” Tony—who currently lives in an apartment he received from the San Francisco housing lottery—said he has visited the Hospitality House art studio regularly for more than 10 years.

When he visits the open studio, Tony mostly focuses on making masks out of clay. “I’m a nature buff,” he said, “but I appreciate the human form.” To construct a mask, he sketches out the face he will create and then references back to the drawing as he molds the clay in front of him.

Tony is thankful for the resources Hospitality House’s open art studio provides, making note of the security the space brings to his life. “Making art keeps me on an even keel,” Tony stated. “It gives me structure. I go home at night and think about all of the good stuff I made that day, and all of the stuff I get to make tomorrow. It keeps me going.”

Adam, originally from Northern Virginia, came across Hospitality House’s Community Arts Program just a few months ago after relocating to San Francisco from Los Angeles. “I was just wandering around the neighborhood and happened to walk by. I saw that it was an open studio, so I came in. Now, I’m pretty much in here every hour that they’re open,” he said.

When Adam started frequenting Hospitality House’s open studio, he uncovered an artistic side of himself he hadn’t previously recognized. “When I was younger, I used to play with clay—I’d make sculptures of human heads,” he recounted. “I started coming to this studio, and that habit came back to me. For the past 20 years, it never occurred to me to make art—now I’m in here, making heads out of clay again.”

On days when Adam feels ambitious, he sculpts clay. When he wants to relax, he paints. “I’m starting to think a lot more about the way I use colors,” he said. “And what kinds of feelings colors represent. Right now, I’m imagining this sculpture I’m making as a mermaid emerging from water—or as the top of a rocket ship.”

Adam, who currently stays in shelters, finds comfort in the community at Hospitality House’s open studio. “This place feels like a major stress reliever—it’s like a home. People are more or less open about their problems, and we just make art and talk. There’s a lot to talk about.”