Dallas nonprofit exhibits with works by unsheltered artists

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Artwork by currently and formerly unsheltered Dallas residents is on display – and for sale – this month at Dallas City Hall through the nonprofit Stewpot’s art program, which provides the homeless with a chance to earn some income.

The Stewpot is one of the few places – and the largest locally – where people experiencing homelessness can find food and access to support services designed to get them back on their feet. People can even get valid identification there; A lack of ID is a common barrier to getting a job or housing.

In 1995, Stewpot launched its art program, which now includes a studio.

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Darrell Plunkett, who experienced homelessness about 10 years ago, has two original pieces on display in the exhibition. He creates simple sunflower designs on small canvases, often selling them to family and friends.

“When I was an alcoholic on the streets, it was the Stewpot gave me a place to go and create. A safe haven,” he said. “Instead of being at the beer store at seven in the morning and starting my day that way, the Bridge [Homeless Recovery Center] gave us breakfast and then we’d go to the studio and just create.”

Darrell Plunkett shows his artwork, Blue Sunflower, during an art exhibition made by currently and formerly unsheltered Dallas residents, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at Dallas City Hall. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

In 2022, 14 artists in the Stewpot program attended more than 1,300 studio sessions and generated nearly $40,000 from selling their artwork, said Betty Heckman, the Stewpot’s director of enrichment programs. With each sale, 90% goes to the artist and 10% helps replenish supplies of canvases, paints and sketch pads.

Heckman says the studio space – which is open every weekday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. for artists in the program – is a safe space for people to express themselves freely in a supportive community.

“If people are experiencing homelessness, art might be in their heart all the time, but it might be 10th on their list, or 20th, as far as surviving the day,” Heckman said.

The artists in the program find a sense of purpose and accomplishment, especially when they sell an original piece, Heckman said. The program director recently bought a piece from 27-year-old Craig Baker for her bedroom.

Craig T. Baker poses for a photo by his artwork, Valley, during an art exhibition made by currently and formerly unsheltered Dallas residents, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at Dallas City Hall. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Baker has two works on display in the exhibition, including a pastel portrait of a soldier and a layered pastel landscape of clouds of lavender and a pink sunset.

Baker hadn’t been an artist before he became unhoused about three months ago and joined the Stewpot’s program. He’s since created dozens of chalk drawings and abstract mixed media works in the Stewpot’s art studio.

He’s made a little money selling his artwork, although Baker’s passion is writing poetry, something he’s tried to incorporate into his visual art.

“The next thing I’m working on doing is translating poetry into Morse code,” Baker said. “It looks abstract because of the circles and dashes. It’s a way I can sell my poetry and kind of combine the two.”

Charles Williams, 49, has been creating art through the program for 15 years, lining the Stewpot’s walls with canvases of abstract line paintings with hints of human forms.

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Williams and his “band of friends” at the Stewpot spend up to six hours a day Monday through Friday on their self-guided projects that they then sell.

“We do make money. Not a lot,” Williams said. “It’s like a part-time job so sometimes it’s difficult. But I guess I’m just waiting on that million-dollar sale.”

Dallas City Council member Tennell Atkins welcomed the public to the exhibition and read a proclamation to a crowd in the City Hall lobby on Wednesday declaring the week before Thanksgiving as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week – a time to recognize the need for compassion for those hungry and unhoused in the community.

The exhibition is open to the public through Nov. 17 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Dallas City Hall lobby.

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