Reaching out to others is very important. And it is a skill I don’t often use. So, this holiday season, I decided to do what is difficult for me to do and to reach out to others. Everyone in my family and close circle of friends received a sweater to help me complete my journey in raising awareness for the National Coalition for the Homeless. I chose to complete this project in part due to my own experiences. While I was never without shelter, the shelter I sometimes had as a child was not one I would imagine my own children experiencing. These shelters sometimes included cars, campers, old trailers, barns and dilapidated structures. Some did not have working plumbing, electricity, or other amenities such as a refrigerator or stove. While commonplace items for most homes, these were complete luxuries I lived without. And while it may sound as if I am having a pity party for one, the reality is that many people in my community also experienced similar living situations. And while I would never have considered myself or my mother as homeless as a child, according to the outlines provided by NCH, many of these conditions would have classified us as such. These same experiences also made me the person I am today: a person who sometimes struggles with the wants of society but is grateful for the luxuries I have including a well paying job that I love and worked very hard to obtain; one who has a loving family who supports me and my quirks, and has friends who put up with the creative reclusive impulses I put them through. This year was also one where I was able to reach out to supportive family in order to provide a home for my mother who had been living in less than ideal circumstances. Through this experience, I have also had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know a great family who is assisting with my mother’s needs as she continues her struggling journey down the path of life.
Having worked with several different populations of homeless adults and youth in previous community art projects, completing Found Objects is one in which I felt that I could directly impact people’s awareness of such social issues; question artistic standards of representation outside the main frame system of capitalist structures; and utilize a common collaborative oriented craft as an artistic medium for expression and activism. While I will not be knitting any additional sweaters for this project, anyone interested in participating through knitting and placing a sweater are encouraged to contact me for directions. Thanks to those who also participated by knitting and placing sweaters including Terri Minkin, Jill Mcilroy, Pam Murray, Kathy Schultz, Theresa Krivosheev, Louise Greenfield, Nita Mehnert, Leann Nassar, Patti Shield, Suzanne Arney and Patt Sheldon. I enjoyed getting to know all of you through this project. May 2012 be a great year for everyone!
While the last posts here on this blog have displayed groups of sweaters, sometimes it seemed most beneficial to have a lot of sweaters to provide greater visual impact. This placement is case in point. At the northwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Pinnacle Peak Road, a dozen signs exist for various developments in the area for new homes with grandiose amenities or lifestyles. I pass this corner on a regular basis and couldn’t resist the urge to place a collection here to contrast the purpose of the advertisement. While on one hand, the viewer might think the sweaters are a gimmick for the housing development, the intention is quite the opposite. Also, in this neighborhood of homes where the average cost of a house is around the low $500’s and up, I wanted to promote an organization such as NCH whose mission is to educate the public on the various dilemmas people face when they struggle for shelter. We’ll see how long the sweaters remain there. Many people I am sure will just drive by and not even think to stop to pick one up (unless you follow the blog of course).
To commemorate the project for posterity, I sent one sweater off to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Megan Hustings, the Director of Development, and I have been in correspondence over the past year and a half regarding the project and any proceeds that could be directly attributed to the finding of the sweaters. The letter outlines the completion of the project on my part and thanks the organization for letting ARTivention sponsor them for this collective endeavor. And while Megan has been keeping up with the blog, now she will have a sweater in person to look at and be reminded of all of us who have knitted and placed a sweater around the country in support for the organization and its mission.
On the eve of one of the most commonly celebrated events in Christianity, 18 sweaters were placed at 18 different churches throughout the valley. Since the Christmas story is one about looking for shelter for an expectant mother having been turned down by everyone except an inn keeper who can only provide the comforts of a barn, it seemed fitting to post these sweaters at churches. The Gospel is full of stories that tell us to be mindful of the people within our midst who fall into the “marginal” portion of our collective and not to focus on the rules, laws and customs within a religious practice in order to appease God. On this day, I am hoping that those who find these sweaters will think of the people who are not related to us, within our circle of friends or acquaintances, and might not be the people we would even necessarily want to talk to but who need our help. Remembering the hope that Christmas brings to us–birth, hope, and something other than ourselves–that’s what we should be celebrating this season.
The Occupy Movement is sweeping across America as people are getting fed up with the monetary inequities of our capitalist structure. Tax rates for the rich our lower than ever and are starting to mimic medieval taxation. I, for one, feel like a peasant when compared to the likes of any CEO who is bringing in 20 times my annual salary, before any perks or bonuses, and is yet taxed at a 17% rate while I am being taxed at a 33% rate. After reflection, I realized that my family is really subsisting at below the poverty level if you divide our family of 5 by my annual salary. No wonder it is so difficult to save money for retirement, college, or even to purchase a home, car, etc. And I am one of the lucky folks out there with a steady consistent income during this trying economic climate! What is wrong with this picture? Are we all consumed with greed? And we are continuously fed the image of ostentatious wealth with insipid television reality drama of people like Karen Kardashian. What would a reality t.v. show of a family struggling to provide food, shelter, and health care look like? Oh, that’s right, they did that show. It was called Good Times because as we all know, only minorities suffer the wonderful togetherness that poverty provides. Never mind that food pantries are struggling across the country this year due to loss of federal dollars. It’s more important that big business and Wall Street get theirs first. I guess we will get the scraps. Oh, and if reading this post makes you as irate as it makes me writing it, may I suggest writing to your congressman to change our tax codes to reflect a greater equality among us all?
While strolling around down town Evanston on Saturday, the brightly painted fire hydrants caught my eye. As the iconic symbol of relief in time of emergency, the placement of this sweater here seemed ideal. It was also a great convergence of streets and pedestrian traffic as people wandered by, shopping and following various historical and architectural tours of the town. Across the street from this location, several street people were hawking Streetwise, a paper that provides some income to the vendor and some interesting articles about the struggles that homeless folks encounter. While many people pass the vendor by as they are walking, it seems like a great way to engage the average pedestrian with such an important issue.
This sweater was placed last week at a Starbucks on Scottsdale Road and Thomas. The board was adjacent to the barista who observed me place the sweater on the board that was also adorned with a crayon drawing of the store. I am, like many out there, guilty of satisfying my own caffeine needs by frequenting such coffee places that specialize in quality coffee (although, just for the record, I drink low-quality coffee too). Every time I enter a Starbucks, I think of the cost of the product and the ability for someone to use the same amount of money to feed themselves. And, for my conservative friends out there who would argue that many times it is a lack of an individual’s motivation to obtain proper education and employment combined with fiscal responsibility that leads to homelessness and hunger, I would like to acknowledge that for some cases this may be true. But as I observe state budgets getting cut left and right which often target such social institutions as public education, employment services and health programs, I can’t help but wonder if anyone in the near future will be able to afford the luxuries of a cup of coffee. A recent post on Facebook offers the following facts:
The average salary for teachers after 25 years of service is $67,000.
The average income of the top 25 hedge fund managers in 2009 was $1 billion.
So, on average, one top hedge fund manager makes as much as 15,000 top teachers.
(courtesy Martin Schiffenbauer, NY Times)
I can’t help but to think about the inequality this statement represents in our society as I sip my high priced coffee and continue to knit mini-sweaters that might possibly make people think and react.