Raising Awareness Through Art: Interview with Art Hazelwood

by Vilnius Walker

The growth of awareness-driven social justice campaigns, especially in social media, makes one thing clear: Tapping into communities’ understanding and involvement in local and global issues can be just as powerful as fundraising. 

In California and elsewhere in the U.S., government underfunding and inaction has failed to address the core issues that drive homelessness: low wages, unaffordable housing and a lack of poverty services. 

Of course, the state sees no short-term return on investment on addressing the homelessness crisis, so it balks at the idea even though alleviating homelessness would economically propel California in the long term. 

Art Hazelwood recognizes the importance of involving individuals and communities in the struggle against homelessness and has vastly expanded the involvement of artists in leading the struggle against homelessness, demonstrating the genuine impact of awareness and community involvement. On his website, he bills himself as an “artist, impresario and instigator.” In 2017, he received the Artwork as Revolution Award from the Coalition on Homelessness. 

Street Sheet sat down with Hazelwood to discuss his career, connection to the newspaper and its work, as well as the upcoming Coalition on Homelessness’ art auction. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Can you say why you have been drawn towards political and social expression in your work? 

Yeah, it’s kind of a long history, but I would say that Street Sheet actually played a big role in that because I had a kind of stylistic relation to political art but not a lot of focus in my work. I moved to San Francisco in the early nineties, connected with Street Sheet and their editor Lydia [Blumberg], and just started making political work that is connected to a specific action. Lydia used to have assignments like, okay, the next issue is about addiction and that gave me the focus and the purpose of making political art. That idea of an artist connecting with an organization that is really doing the activist work, I think, is at the center of being a political artist. 

One issue which your work comments on is homelessness. What would you say about the state of homelessness in California? 

The state of homelessness is under constant threat. The COVID pandemic, I think, for a moment, made everybody aware that homeless people are particularly vulnerable not only to COVID but to exposure to the elements. And people started to have an understanding, but then very quickly after the first few months maybe, there was this idea of, well, we have to

sweep them away again. So after the perceived end of the pandemic, the brutality of political ideas and the police against homelessness has just increased. I think that the state of homelessness now is a state of really being on defense against brutality. 

You have consistently participated in the Coalition on Homelessness’s art auction. Could you say a few words about why this event is important to you? 

The auction has been going on for quite a long time and I’ve participated pretty much since the beginning of it. Of course, it raises money for those organizing around homelessness, which is vital to keeping the organization going, but I think the most important part is connecting the community to the Coalition and to the work of the Coalition. So for me, it’s always important that, yes, people have a great time, and there’s a lot of art that people are interested in, but the most important thing is just to connect to the message of the Coalition and to connect people that might not otherwise connect to the Coalition. And, it should be a fun event for bringing people together.