Common Art, a weekly faith-based open studios, provides poor and homeless folks space and materials to make art. Each week between 10 am and 2 pm on Wednesday, these artists gather at the studio space in Emmanuel Church in Boston. The time serves as a reprieve for its participants: a chance to concentrate fully on a drawing, an acrylic or perhaps a puppet construction. For this they have the fine people at Ecclesia Ministries to thank, who not only donate the space for free, but help run the workshops from week to week. Earlier this morning, we spoke to Ecclesia’s Executive Director, the Reverend Kathy McAdams, about the Common Art Open House this Saturday, March 14, from 11 AM to 3 PM, at which visitors will be able to meet the artists themselves, purchase their works, and create something beatiful of their own.
Tell me about the Common Art program, as well as the Open House you have planned for Saturday. Common art is a program that allows poor and homeless artists to have kind of an open studios space. We provide art materials and a serene environment in order for people to be creative and explore their humanity. Because it’s a very different kind of experience than when people are just trying to survive on the street. That kind of survival is about figuring out where you’re gonna eat next and where you’re gonna sleep tonight. This way people get to come and express their spirituality through art, express their emotions...A lot of people find that they have quite a bit of talent that they didn’t know they had. For some folks selling their art becomes a form of income and so the opening tomorrow is a way of allowing the public who might work during the week and not be able to get down there on Wednesdays during our regular program to come and see what it is that we do.
And at the regular sessions on Wednesdays, you have volunteer professional artists helping out? We have a Program Director and an Artist in Residence who are both artists in their own right. Then we bring in visiting artists to do workshops. We have a volunteer from King’s Chapel who comes and teaches stain glass twice a month. We’ve had people come do drawing and painting and water colors, also puppet making, knitting — all different kind of things. Whatever it is that people want to offer.
What's the story behind Common Art? When did it start? How did it come to be? It started about ten years ago. The founder of Ecclesia Ministries, an Episcopal priest named Deborah Little, she and another priest named Liz Hall both were artists in their own right. And I guess there were some other volunteers too that wanted to offer some sort of artistic expression and so they started the program. Ecclesia Ministries was actually founded about 15 years ago. Debbie started out doing street ministry and outdoor worship and various other kinds of programs. So Common Art was kind of one of those things that organically grew up because people had gifts to offer.
What kind of stuff can we expect to see on Saturday? I’m sure you’ll see some of the stain glass and some of the craftworks, like knitting, as well as lots of painting, both acrylic and watercolor. And the subject matter just varies so widely. Some of it is religious art, but not all of it.
Talk a little bit about one or two of your artists showing work? I don’t know that I feel comfortable telling people’s stories without their permission...In general, I can say that our community is very diverse. There are people who are actually living on the street. There are people living in shelters. People who have transitioned into rooms or apartments and then other people who have never been homeless but who have always kind of lived on the edge. And the reasons for all of that certainly have economic dimensions as well as a lot of other complicated dimensions and issues.
The Common Art Open House takes place on March 14, from 11 am to 3 pm at its studio in Emmanuel Church, 15 Newbury Street, Boston, one block from the Arlington T-stop on the green line. Its regular workshops are between 10 am and 2 pm on Wednesdays, same place.