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May 24, 2012 | Luke Blount

Houston's Homeless Tap Their Artistic Talents

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[Diolog Magazine] On the third Saturday of each month, Houston’s homeless men and women leave the streets to become artists for a day. Christ Church Cathedral’s homeless day center, The Beacon, serves as a monthly meeting space for the Marnoble Art Project, an art therapy class for the homeless. Typically, 10–15 people attend the class to gain a sense of peace through a catharsis on canvas.


“It is really just a release of emotion and imagination and creativity,” said Coley Jones, who has taught the class since its inception in the summer of 2009. “People really enjoy their ability to sit down in a peaceful, relaxing environment and just express themselves."


The Marnoble Art Project began as a temporary project for 17-year-old Victoria Noble’s Girl Scout Gold Award. Noble found Jones, who was a volunteer coordinator at The Beacon, and the two planned a single program combining art and breakfast. Noble’s aunt, Chris Noble, offered to sponsor a permanent program, naming it after her computer business, Marnoble Computer Sales & Services, Inc.


The decision to continue the class was simple, Jones said. “Chris and I were standing to the side with tears in our eyes and she said, ‘If someone would teach this, I would fund it.’ And I said, ‘Well, if someone would fund it, I would teach it.’”


Jones is now an independent professional organizer, but she is also an artist with a degree in psychology. Since 2009, she has worked with other volunteers to facilitate the class using different mediums, including acrylics, oils and paper collages. To raise additional funds for supplies, the artists are given the option to donate their works to be sold anonymously or with attribution.


The class means something different to every individual, and Jones noted that some projects have a tendency to spark an emotional reaction in herself as well as the homeless artists.


“I really love this and art in general,” she said. “It teaches me as much as it teaches them.”


When Diolog visited in March, Jones began the class by laying out the ground rules for about a dozen participants. “There are only two rules in this class,” she said. “One: be positive. Two: don’t be negative.” 


In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the artists had to paint in monochrome. They were given only green paint along with black and white. Soothing music played in the background as the artists created original paintings. Some painted abstract pieces and others worked on St. Patrick’s Day themes. 


One of the regular participants, Lemuel Richardson, has been living on the streets since 2008. “When you are out here, you’re just trying to keep your mind from going insane with what’s around you,” he said as he painted a shamrock. Richardson likes to create art as well as write, but he doesn’t carry a journal. If he writes, he just throws it away. “These people will dig in your stuff,” he said. “They’ll steal whatever is not nailed down as soon as you turn your head the wrong way."


Richardson, like many of the other artists, once had a stable life. He was an Air Force electrician, but a series of unfortunate events landed him on the streets. As a kid, he loved comic books and taught himself how to draw, and as an adult, he took art classes. 


“Now I’m trying to do my best to get a meal from day to day,” he said. “(Being on the streets) teaches you a lot about life. One thing it teaches you about is the love of God.”


But Richardson doesn’t go to a church. “I just read the book. It’s about the relationship with him,” he said as he pointed skyward. “It’s not about other people. People will forsake you. It says in the Bible that a mother will forget her own suckling child.” He paused for a second before adding, “I don’t depend on people.”


Another artist, Kelly Brown, visited for the first time and expressed her enthusiasm about returning. She also participates in poetry readings around town, reciting her original works. During the art class, she painted a picture of a tree with dollar signs all around and the word “money” written underneath. 


“This one is called ‘money is on the way,’” she said. “It’s the power of positive thinking.”


-This story is published in the June 2012 issue of Diolog Magazine