In 2016-17, Champaign-Urbana faced a growing crisis in housing for low-income families and the under-sheltered. To bring this issue into sharper focus, The University of Illinois YMCA Art program, in collaboration The School of Art and Design and The School of Social Work, initiated BED SHOE HOME, a community-based art action collaborating with area homeless drop-in centers, domestic abuse shelters, and soup kitchens.
As one component of year-long project, I was in residence on campus for the month of October (Domestic Violence Month). I worked with art and social work undergrad and graduate students to organize workshops at three area organizations: Courage Connection, operating a domestic violence emergency shelter and a women’s shelter, The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, and The Phoenix, an area drop-in center.
Discussion-based workshops with residents, staff and students in journaling, handmade books, and metal embossing as well as video and audio interviewing were part of a number of activities involved in this dialog between the University and those disenfranchised from it. During these workshops we created drawings and writings on metal foil based on visualizations and memories of a place. The place might be real or imagined, from past or present. Often in their representation of a place, individuals seemed to be dealing with a psychological space one might call “home” This socially engaged work explored identity, dislocation, and border crossings: poverty/privilege, public/private, rural/urban.
The project culminated in a three-month long participatory exhibition at the YMCA in which included a large walk-in book covered with images and writings on metal from participants and embedded with collaborating artist Matthew Butler’s video on homelessness.
BED SHOE HOME helped build a sense of community both within the under-sheltered population and between the University, the larger C-U community and those living on its edges. The project was also intended to give a voice to those marginalized and stereotyped in their own community while also providing participants access to nontraditional art forms and encouraging the use of imagination as a survival tool.
BED SHOE HOME was funded by The Institute for Advanced Study, George A. Miller Visiting Scholars Program, at the University Illinois Champaign-Urbana.