Most people think of homeless shelters as sad, hopeless places -- certainly not the most inspirational settings.
But two Miami artists are trying to change that -- or at least shed new light on the ongoing, persistent problem of homelessness among women and their children.
Antonia Wright and Deborah Magdalena, both local female artists, have recently reached out to the community by investing their time and efforts into local women's shelters, albeit in completely different ways.
Wright, one of the New Times' 100 Creatives, has moved into the Lotus House women's shelter and is living there for one month to "experience displacement and gain a deeper understanding of the women's reality." We visited her at the shelter last week, and found her latest project to be one of the bravest and most intense pieces of experiential art that we can imagine.
"The idea to live at the shelter came to me as a reaction to my own overwhelming feelings of helplessness regarding the country's hurting economy, the toll it has taken on the poor, and systemic disregard for the homeless. My response as a performance artist is always to bring everything to the body as a way to understand. I do not know what the outcome of the stay will be, but I am open to its possibilities," explains Wright.
The Lotus House shelter provides a place for homeless women and children to stay, whether they are suffering from domestic violence, disabilities, unemployment, or financial issues. Wright checked in with few belongings and is living the same schedule as the other women at the shelter -- no leaving from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. -- in order to mirror the women's experience as closely as possible. She is putting together a work of art to represent the struggle as well as the beauty of the women and children at the shelter.
"As a fortunate outsider, I strive to gainer a deeper understanding of these issues, how they affect the less fortunate, and to increase awareness about homelessness," Wright says.
Deborah Magdalena, spoken word artist, actress, and organizer of the annual SWAN Spoken Soul Festival, took an entirely different approach. Magdalena planned a "girl's night in" event for the women and children at the SafeSpace shelter in the belief that creating art can help with healing. She provided non-alcoholic bubbly and hor d'ourves for the women, brought in a yoga instructor, and invited artist Susan Alvarez to teach the kids arts and crafts.
The most powerful aspect of the evening was when Magdalena took center stage and led a journal/poetry writing class for the women. After the women chose their journals from the varied and colorful lot that Magdalena provided, Magdalena gave them a crash course in spoken word.
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"Write whatever you feel. It doesn't have to rhyme. You can write in Spanish, English, or Spanglish. You can use curse words. Don't prohibit your thoughts, your emotions, or your self. Let it all out," Magdalena encouraged.
Magdalena read a very personal work to the women -- a poem she wrote long ago about an abusive relationship that she had been in. The piece resonated with the women, and when it came to write, the only sound in the room was that of pens scratching on paper.
We're looking forward to witnessing the effects of these projects in Miami's arts community and beyond. In the meantime, homelessness among women and children continues to be a huge problem, and volunteers are always needed. Due to the sensitive nature of the women's situations, discretion is key. If you are interested in volunteering, even one hour a week, email Lotus House at email@example.com or SafeSpace at firstname.lastname@example.org.