Re-Painting the Face of Poverty

Over the weekend, Nalini-Global had the opportunity to explore the Nashville Night-Market, a monthly event that takes place in the heart of metro-Nashville. A slew of local vendors and organizations set up shop in an old abandoned warehouse space now used for event spacing popularly known as “The Bridge Below Space” near the Farmers market, which is owned and managed by a kind-hearted man named “AJ Sankari”.

During the event, we met fire-spinners, t-shirt makers, singers, dancers, and a variety of other performers and vendors. However, there was one particular booth that really caught our attention. Nicole Brandt, of “Poverty and The Arts”, a local non-profit organization, had a showcase of handmade jewelry, paintings, and other products. Alas, these were not just any typical flea-market items, these pieces had a story behind them. Each product has a small photo and paragraph attached to the item telling a special story about the artist. The stories were quite shocking and very motivational. (Keep reading!)

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“Poverty and the Arts” was started by Nicole Brandt, a graduate of Belmont university, who became curious of the homeless and the reasons behind their situation. As a student on campus, she began to approach the homeless and have real in-depth conversations with them. What she learned from them forever changed her perspective on the homeless. The common stigma of homelesness soon washed away in her eyes.

Many of the homeless that she became friends with had Bachelors degrees, were extremely talented in art, were former business owners, did not have drug problems, and were not criminals of any sort. They were simply people who got caught in a momentum of bad luck.  One particular homeless woman that Ms.Brandt works with is a master painter, artist, and has a Bachelors Degree in internal medicine and is seeking to complete med school once she finds housing. She has bad credit, no family, and cannot find employment that pays enough to sustain her while attending school, thus the streets have been here home for the last two years. The easy response is to say, “Get a job”, yet when we consider that one would have to work over 80 hours per week working minimum wage just to afford housing in the metro nashville area, the situation becomes more complex. And that doesn’t include transportation costs, groceries, electricity, and the very real prospect of being refused housing if your credit score isn’t high enough. Where do these people go then?

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Crushing debt, divorce, job loss, a criminal record, bad credit, lack of family support, low paying jobs, missed child support payments resulting in a loss of drivers license, medical bills, legal issues, car trouble that results in a job loss…..the struggles of daily living and the cost of living may not seem fathomable to those who come from stable families or who have always been blessed with high paying careers, or who have never suffered a set-back, but for many of us, both young and old, poverty is just right around the corner for many Americans. Numerous statistics estimate that nearly half of Americans only make enough to cover their monthly expenses and are one emergency away from being in debt or losing everything.

Mrs.Brandt decided to take action and approached the homeless here in Nashville and specifically sought out those who have artistic ability. Through her organization, she offers workshops in entrepreneurship and assists the homeless in selling their products. And that is exactly what she did at the Night-Market event. She actively sells the products created by the homeless themselves, whereas the homeless artist gets to keep nearly all of the profit gained from the items being sold, with a small percentage being vested back into the nonprofit’s operational expenses.

 

Since the creation of the project back in 2009, most of the homeless that she has worked with have been able to pay their way through school, make enough money to feed themselves, gain artist sponsorship, start businesses and many other positive consequences as a result. Other local Non-profits such as “Open-Table”, (A non profit specializing in affordable housing) has also joined forces with “Poverty and the Arts.” We at “Nalini-Global”,also had the chance to share our message of international unity, human rights, and universal rights with Ms.Brandt. In the future, we hope to offer seminars on legal rights, contract formations, and host boxing seminars for those interested in learning how to become a coach in the sport and/or as a form of physical fitness to benefit their overall well-being.

For those who have no family to turn to, who have fallen on hard times, or continue to suffer due to life circumstances, we have to become more compassionate and offer better solutions than just yelling out , “Get a job.” For many, simply getting a job is not enough to cure their needs. While there are those who are homeless because of the poor choices they made who also have no desire to better their situation, there are just as many if not more, who are simply victims of a marginalized growing sub-culture of people who are being forced to forego an education due to cost or work multiple jobs to barely make ends meet. Many people in their late 20’s and early 30’s are being forced to return home to live with family, have multiple roommates with strangers or even worse, ….attempting to live off credit cards which ultimately lead to crushing debt, all in the face of trying to survive the daily grind.

Governor Bill Haslam has responded to the issue of homelessness by passing a “no camping” law back in 2010 to combat protestors who slept on the steps of Legislative plaza, which inadvertently made it illegal to be homeless in the state of Tennessee. Despite the mass number of frivolous arrests and blowback from public opinion, the law has yet to be reversed or modified.

For many who have no support from family, they are left to the mercy of the welfare system, cronyism in the marketplace, or exploitation in the workplace. Some say that the answer is “socialism”, while others say we need to remove vendor regulations and allow people to enter the free-market with less red-tape. Regardless of liberal or conservative economic philosophies, I think there is an answer that lies in a separate realm. .EMPATHY

If we invest in our neighbors voluntarily, or take 5 minutes out of our day to point someone in the right direction who may have never had mentorship, it could make all the difference in elevating our city, our state, our nation, our continents, and eventually the entire world with a simple shift in our persepctive. When we remove the arbitrary lines drawn between us on a map, what we have left is human beings who all seek the same things; food, clothing, shelter, and love. And it is through love that we find our passions while also helping others find theirs.

If you are interested in learning more about “Poverty And the Arts”, please check out their website at:

Povertyandthearts.org

phone # 502-600-1221