In 2015, members of the Ann Arbor Women Artists installed their work in one of the temporary galleries in Liberty Plaza for POP-X, an outdoor exhibition. But member Mary Murphy began to feel awkward. The homeless people who gather there, she recalls, responded with “a mix of curiosity and displeasure.”
“By and large, everyone loved the exhibit,” she recalls. “But for me, it was an awakening … I couldn’t keep looking away” from the park’s denizens.
She was driving when the thought struck her: “Why not have an art program for the homeless? Why not at Delonis? … so I pulled into the Delonis parking lot to talk to somebody.” She met with clinical director John Schippers, then wrote a proposal to the AAWA board, which approved it unanimously.
About that same time, retired Ann Arbor Art Center president Marsha Chamberlin and her friends Becki Spangler and Pam Taylor decided they wanted to organize art classes for the homeless, based on a program Spangler saw in Chattanooga. They and AAWA joined forces to create a program at Delonis called ArtBreak Studio. After a pilot program last spring, they began regular weekly classes this fall.
On a Wednesday afternoon in September, only two people showed up. One was a “new guy named Calvin,” says Spangler, “a very sweet African American man who was living in his car because he had a shih tzu dog.” He told Spangler he was schizophrenic.
“Schizophrenics have a lack of insight,” explains Schippers. “They can’t understand they have a mental illness. That makes it really hard to hold down jobs.” But art helps. “I think it’s just a few moments of joy,” he says. “Being creative is a good thing.”
And unlike at Liberty Plaza, the reception has been entirely positive. “We have been so welcomed,” Murphy says. “They’re all so appreciative. We’re making art with them.”