“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
— Pablo Picasso
Open Art Studio
We all need an outlet for expressing ourselves, and from this premise grew the Caritas Open Art workshop. In January 2014, we launched our first Open Art workshop at the Caritas Bedford Veterans’ Quarters (BVQ), home to 66 previously homeless veterans, most suffering from PTSD or other issues that took their lives off track after their service. The instructor, Seamus Gersy, an artist, teacher, and Gulf War veteran, leads these classes with skill and sensitivity. With two other volunteer co-leaders, Gersy understands these men and encourages residents to create art with paints, pastels, pencils and crayons. A core group attends each class. Others stop by to share the models, jewelry and paintings they’ve created in their rooms. Still others stop by just for the snacks. They all come to make a connection.
The Open Art Studio provides a respite from isolation. It is a safe, expressive outlet, and the success of it becomes more apparent each week, as men who barely spoke at the start share stories of their youth, their service, their health struggles. But mostly, they share everyday conversation. It is not therapy, but it is a chance to connect and to have a creative outlet. They have become part of a group who cares about one another; and for all of these personal and social reasons, the success is immeasurable. Built around art, it is so much more.
As a result of this success, in January 2016, we opened our second Open Art Studio at Central House in Cambridge, home to 128 previously homeless men.
Two residents sit quietly, absorbed in the task of writing. One writes fiction, the other writes about the brother who is his best friend and hero. Another resident draws colorful and elaborate images to illustrate his work. A Spanish-speaking resident tells his story to a volunteer who writes it down. Such is a typical afternoon at the Central House Open Writing Workshop—“open” in the true sense of the word. The men might come to put down on paper ideas that have been living in their minds for a while, or they might work at creating a story on the spot. They might come just to chat or just to listen or just to be in the company of others. One resident, whose great-grandfather was the child of a slave and grew up to become an engineer, is slowing compiling short profiles of him and other amazing relatives. Everyone has a story. And everyone wants to be heard. The Writing Workshop, which began at Central House in Cambridge in October 2015 and is run by two volunteers, is a safe, nonjudgmental and comfortable space where some wonderful things happen.