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Big buzz for London festival of homeless artists’ work

The One Festival of Homeless Arts brings together talented artistics who have experienced homelessness, showcasing their creative work in Central London.

Friend of INSP and previous judge of our annual INSP Awards, Dave Tovey is the spearhead behind the festival of art, film and animation, which runs until the end of September.

Dave Tovey with Arash Khoshnazar (left) and Neil Raja, two of the founders of Clothing The Homeless, a London-based initiative that feature heavily at the festival

Based at the Diorama Arts Studio, where Dave is currently artist in the residence, the festival features works by homeless artists with the aim of encouraging social inclusion for creative talents living on the periphery of society.

With the festival underway, Dave shares some insights into the range of art on show and the public response received. He says, “I never thought that this would make such an impact. On opening night we had singing, poetry, films, animations, photography, paintings, workshops pictures, fashion and much more.

“There was a complete spectrum of diversity. People are travelling from all over London and some from even further afield. We’ve had homeless to extremely wealthy people all mixing and socialising together.

“It’s a dream come true for me, with homeless people being treated like the human beings they are and being accepted and included. At one point it was so overwhelming for me that I had to take a break, as I got extremely emotional.”

A sample of the artwork currently on display at the One Festival of Homeless Arts during August and September

Dave wants to showcase the wide talents in the community by giving them a platform that would otherwise be inaccessible. To reach those artists, he connected with a number of organisations that work with people experiencing homelessness, including St Mungo’sCafe Art, clothing brand Hopeful Traders, and New Horizon Youth Centre.

He says, “I will give them a voice as I believe it only takes ONE person to change another persons’ life. I want to be that person. That is what the One Festival was set up for, To just help in a small way around acceptance, confidence, inclusion and a whole lot of love.”

20-year-old Ida Cotuet is one such young person. Originally from France, Ida is a regular visitor to New Horizon Youth Centre in King’s Cross — a charity and day centre for homeless or vulnerable 16 to 21-year-olds, where she takes an accredited art course. Being featured in the exhibition has expended her ambitions.

“Like a lot of young people, we’re used to thinking that we are not allowed to be in a gallery like this, but when you see your work you are just happy because you didn’t expect it,” she says.

“I visited the festival with my tutor and it was quite interesting to see mine among the other artworks. I felt great. It has encouraged me to say, yes, I can do something. I used to say my work is not really worthy but people have now told me otherwise.”

Showcasing her documentary Something You Can Call Home [see trailer below] on 15 September is social issues filmmaker and founder of motes of dust films, Rebecca Kenyon. Her film follows the individual stories of people facing different stages of homelessness in North Carolina. Rebecca says it is “an honour to be involved” in the festival.

Sharing what she’d like people to take from the free screening, she adds: “I hope that the film is a starting point in opening up dialogue amongst a diverse audience in a safe space, where people feel inspired to listen more and get more involved in supporting each other, because of course being homeless really can happen to absolutely all of us.

“If it means that someone the next day makes a small change such as donating to a food bank, or not being afraid to smile and have eye contact or a conversation with someone sleeping rough, then holding these screenings is hopefully having a small positive impact.”

General Manager and Creative Director of Diorama Arts Studio Jacob Stevens is the “heartbeat of the festival,” according to Dave. He has worked at the studio for 13 years, and says the Diorama Collective began as a squat of homeless artists. It has, he adds, “a long history of supporting the disadvantaged and underrepresented members of society.”

Award-winning animator Stephanie Griffiths in front of her artwork currently being exhibited at the One Festival of Homeless Arts

Recalling the planning stages of the festival, Jacob says, “Initially Dave and I had just aimed to bring together homeless organisations and artists to connect and celebrate their work and achievements. We feel we have managed this but have also created a big buzz about the very important issues of homelessness and isolation behind the festival and the featured artworks, films and performances.”

With the festival a few weeks in, Jacob says the public response has been fantastic. “Most visitors are really humbled and surprised by the artwork,” he explains. “The existence of the festival highlights the lack of opportunities for homeless people and also the therapeutic and rehabilitative power of creativity. For a lot of the homeless artists involved it has made them feel noticed and valid as individuals.”

The One Festival of Homeless Arts continues until its closing party on 30 September. Choir with No Name, a singing collective for people with experience of homelessness, and StreetWise Opera will perform on the final night.

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