Nov 8, 2008

Art as a Healing Factor

Last month I talked about poverty because of Blog Action Day. Today's post is in some way linked to that previous one because the truth is that poverty has other names: it can be hunger, it can be thirst or it can be something wider like "homeless".

During my visit to Argentina I spent a great night with my friends at a small, warm and very unusual restaurant in Buenos Aires -part of something bigger-, an organization called: "Arte Sin Techo" (Art Without a Roof). It is a very creative idea from every angle you look at it: aimed to homeless people, as their director says, they don't "give" they instead "take away". How is that? Simple: In that place homeless will not find food or a blanket but a place that may help them to forsake their fears or their past; it is a place that will help those who want help to start all over.

What homeless can get there is the opportunity to express themselves through art, learn a new trade and interact with others in the same situation. At the same time psychological assistance and a bathroom to use for a shower or a trim are available for all of them as well as a library.

The person that started this (Felicitas Luisi) is a firmly believer that when it comes to homeless is not about "giving". Most of them are used to get a breakfast in a church, some clothes from charities and a dinner at some other non-profit. But that giving and giving does not break a vicious circle that keeps them sleeping and sometimes dying in the streets.

Here they can learn something that may get them a job but most importantly just the social interaction (friends and foes, conversations or disagreements) it's a step forward to get back into a society that sometimes feeds them but that also excludes them.

All started with an art project, the idea of painting street murals with the art of recognized painters. Those painters were open to make a draft but they were not so prone to the idea of painting in the streets and in a very unusual twist it was a group of homeless the ones that agreed to actually do the paintings on the street in exchange for a lunch and a shower. From there on it became something more. Art can have a healing power no doubt, but for what I heard it was more the the fact of being together doing something as a group that lead to what today is a small but steady organization.

"Art Without a Roof" has now a place in the very porteño neighborhood of Almagro -an old house that had nothing but some walls and that they almost built again-, where courses, training and psychological assistance are given but also where the art of the men and women in the program is exhibited. They offer services to the community (such as messanger services, web services or woodworking services) as a way to get more funds to keep the program going.

Of course their need for funding is almost infinite so a new idea took shape and now -in their small patio and just on Fridays-, they have the small "restaurant" I was talkig about. It is nothing like going to a restaurant, it is more like having dinner with some family and friends in someone's else patio. With a great dog going around the tables (Pappo is his name) and some cats also lying here and there, the ambiance is completely relaxed and there is a very small show each Friday that entertains without interrupting the night.

Felicitas is already working in new services that like the restaurant can link the neighbours with their work helping homeless. She usually is around on Friday's night so if you go to have dinner you can also talk with her about what they are doing and what new ideas are on the make.

The place is open to the public on weekdays and a small donation (what you want or what you can) is required at the entry. When there are no events schedule you can visit the art exhibition or their little shop, and on Fridays only you can have dinner and a good time in their open patio (you can make your reservation by calling 4982-2436). The food is great but this is not a place for those in a hurry or those that can't live without their Diet Cola; with a very small kitchen, it takes some time to get your food and to make things more profitable they do not serve colas: you can choose between limonade, fresh orange juice or wine.

The entrance:

The patio at dinner time:

Part of the exhibition, under this stair is the patio:

So if you are in Buenos Aires and want to know and see more about their work, the address is Medrano 107 near the rail tracks. You can also visit their website (for now just in Spanish) to learn more, see some of their work or contact them if you want to help.

This is a good example of how creativity can go a long way not just at a personal but at a social level too.

PS: On November 14th, 2008, a small fair with invited artists will take place in "Arte sin Techo". Some of them are: Verónica García, Lucila Bodelón, Carolina Sticotti and Carolina Molinari. At 20:30 an intervened object from Claudio Ronocoli will be auctioned.

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