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Engaging Artists

Another week, another inspiring Engaging Artists Workshop

July 21, 2014

Each week our Engaging Artists workshops bring new perspectives and great dialog about homelessness and activism to the forefront of creative practice. On July 10th we had an inspirational evening talking with special guest artists: Heather Stoltz (Temporary Shelter Project), Kenji Nakayama (Signs for the Homeless), Hunter Reynolds (Art in the Woods), Jody Wood (Beauty in Transition) Koko Surani, and Travis Laughlin (Education Director at the Joan Mitchell Foundation).

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Heather Stoltz showed us two projects that were focused on homelessness. “See Me” was realized through the artist’s interaction with men in New York City’s faith-based shelters.  The work asks the viewer to see the individuals affected by stories that we read in the newspapers and not simple and impersonal statistics. For example, the gaze of one of the individuals, Roger, strikes the viewer in a humanizing contrast to the impersonal numbers contained in news articles about homelessness.  Temporary Shelter was developed through collaborations with shelter families and individuals. Heather asked children inside faith based shelters to create a quilt based on their feelings. She also engaged in discussions with adult residents and created a visual representation of their story. These works were woven into the shelter, which takes the form of a sukkah which is used on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The sukkah tells the stories of homeless New Yorkers ages 4 to 75. The inside panels each represent one individual staying in NYC’s faith-based shelters and the outside walls are made from fiber art created by children in New York’s family shelters.


Next we listened to Kenji Nakayama who started Signs for the Homeless. Kenji and his collaborator Christopher Hope meet homeless individuals on streets of Boston, interview them, and offer to make them new hand-painted re-creations of the old signs. Kenji stated that the reason for doing this was to raise the public’s awareness to the larger issue of homelessness which he noticed was growing at an alarming rate. When the press took on the story, it significantly generated a response from the community and it provided a platform for these homeless individuals to be seen in a human manner. Participating in this project also has helped him become more involved in his neighborhood.


Jody Wood is currently A Blade of Grass Fellow who has sets up a mobile beauty salon that serves the homeless at shelters around the city.  The project called Beauty in Transition, originated in Kansas, and has since traveled to Denver Colorado. This socially engaged art project provides beauty services including a hair wash, cut, color, styling services and skin care to willing participants, as well as workshops geared toward long-term hair management. Through the support from A Blade of Grass and the Brooklyn Arts Council, her city-wide art project will launch August 4 and run until October 31, 2014 and serve a great and growing number of homeless shelters. A full list of participating shelters and salons can be found at


Hunter Reynolds showed us his work as a performance artist who uses art as a way to communicate and bring awareness to social justice issues. Hunter Reynolds has been an AIDS activist for over two decades. He was an early member of ACTUP and in 1989 co-founded Art Positive, an affinity group of ACT-UP, to fight homophobia and censorship in the arts. Both of these groups were responsible for creating a huge policy change, removed stigmas, and increased advocacy of HIV/AIDS research. Hunter Reynolds is also the founder of Arts in the Woods, a summer arts camp designed to help homeless or disenfranchised LGBTQ adults to explore and express themselves as the leaders of tomorrow’s gay rights movement through art, music, dance, and theater. Two of our artists in residence are currently upstate with Hunter and the rest of the community at Arts in the Woods. We can’t wait to hear all about their experiences when they return!

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Koko Surani was one of the talented young LGBTQ artists to attend Arts in the Woods. Koko told us her heartbreaking story of how she ended up homeless in New York City. She is currently living with Hunter Reynolds who is mentoring her arts education. Koko plans to go to college and possibly major in art. She brought one of her sculptures, a hyper-realistic baby, and did one of her performances that she typically does within the public space.