The ONE Festival of Homeless Arts kicks off today – World Homeless Day – at its home in central London.
The exhibition brings together works of art in many forms, from theatre and film, to sculpture and photography, as well as traditional visual art, all of which have been created by people who have experienced homelessness.
The festival, now in its second year after a hugely successful inaugural instalment in the summer of 2016, is the brainchild of artist David Tovey. He understands the transformative effect art can have for homeless people; it was his own creative tendencies that helped lift him out of a cycle of health problems, addiction and homelessness.
David said: “I know how powerful art can be from how it helped change my own situation.
“With this festival, I wanted to give people experiencing homelessness a safe space, an amazing venue that is easily accessible to the public and not shut off, so that as many people as possible can see this amazing work.
“Witnessing people appreciate their work gives our artists an uplifting feeling. It brings their shoulders up and gives them a sense of self-worth, which is so important for them in their position.”
This year the festival has expanded in size and scope. It now straddles two venues: its original home, the Old Diorama Arts Centre, and the Ringcross Community Centre, which is run by the Pilion Trust, an organisation that helps vulnerable people access support, and the charity which David describes as having “saved his life”.
It is also bigger in terms of the number and style of works on display. Included amongst them are submissions from within the INSP network which caught David’s eye whilst judging the INSP Awards.
As well as displays of street paper cover art from Lice v Lice, StreetWise, Megaphon, The Curbside Chronicle and The Big Issue South Africa, also featured is an INSP award-nominated photograph from Swedish street paper Faktum.
This piece, depicting two homeless people at a street kitchen feeding a dog, struck a chord with David emotionally. “The compassion and empathy in that photo is mind-blowing. To have so little and yet to still give to others is hugely humbling.
“Art has to whip at your emotions. If you can do that by telling a story, then people will listen.”
There will also be a performance from spoken word poet Rhymestein, displays of Japanese calligraphy and a screening and panel discussion of Oscar-winning short documentary film Inocente, which wowed Academy Award judges in 2012 with its inspiring story of a young homeless girl in California.
As well as being an artist, David is a campaigner for the homeless, and returns to the Pilion Trust regularly to teach an art class. He hopes his advocacy work, and the publicity garnered from the festival, will have as positive an effect on its participants as his experiences with the Pilion Trust had on him.
He said: “I want to change how the public perceive homeless people. I want to prove society’s misconception – that homeless people are useless – wrong.
“Society gives up on these people, but I’m determined not to.”
And David is adamant that by expressing themselves through art, people experiencing homelessness can lift themselves out of any situation, no matter how drastic. “Art can change the world. It gave me something to live for, and took me from being hospitalised to being exhibited at the Tate Modern. If I can do it, then everyone shown at the festival, and countless other artists in similar situations, can too.”
The ONE Festival of Homeless Arts runs until 31 October. The festival will close with a performance from homeless singing collective Choir with No Name.