Most of us have crossed paths with homelessness in Indianapolis at some point in time. Whether that's through volunteering at a shelter or trying to avoid eye contact on the street. For those of us who have been privileged enough to never personally encounter life without a permanent home, the image is often conventionalized into a person that we can easily ignore.
But local high school artists and the Indianapolis Art Center are taking those conceptions head on with a program called "Beyond Perceptions." The idea is to have students create artwork based on what they think homelessness looks like.
"The bigger picture of the program is really about stereotypes," says Michelle Winkelman, Director of Outreach at The Indianapolis Art Center. "It is using art to look into an issues that affects our city – in this case homelessness – that has stereotypes attached to it that can be harmful in addressing solutions."
Students from three schools (Cardinal Ritter High School, Crispus Attucks High School and Lawrence Central High School are this year's participants) were asked to make a visual representation of homelessness in their art class before any discussions take place. Then they go on trips to shelters and hear from speakers who are or have been homeless. After group discussions, speakers and field trips, the students create another piece of artwork after the fact. Both pieces are hung in a traveling show that has been making its way around the city. They also make a collective piece. In the past this has included everything from zines to murals.
"Homelessness is something that we all have a lot of perceptions around," says Executive Director Alan Witchey of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP). CHIP has been involved with the program from its beginning 11 years ago. "You know people standing at an interstate exists holding a sign, or they see someone who is drunk and laying on the streets downtown. That becomes sort of the stereotype or myth around homelessness. When people hear real life stories, they hear so much more. The main reason why people are homeless is more about job loss and lack of living wage income than anything else."
CHIP is responsible for a yearly homeless count in Indianapolis — typically in January — and this year they found 1,666 people living on the street. Because people move in and out shelters and of course can't all be found, CHIP estimates that the actual number is somewhere closer to 8,000. And about 20 percent of those are under 18.
"We have a lot more children and families than you ever really think about," says Winkelman. "I think we have a very specific idea or image that comes to our heads."
Exhibit: Beyond Perceptions
Where to see it: Central Library, 40 E. St. Clair St.