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Hobos to Street People:
Artists' Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present

At The California Historical Society

Carol Harvey Video Interviews Part I

Chandler, 47, stood in the vaulted art gallery. Her tiny 4 foot, 11 inch figure was dwarfed by the huge, colorful painting of a young Hispanic boy walking to school past a rotten tomato splashed against graffiti scrawled on a wall, shouting, 'Homeless Go Home.” He is flanked by four adults protecting him as he walks to a school for homeless children. The work was crafted by artist, Nili Yosha, after Norman Rockwell 's illustration of guards escorting a small black girl into a newly integrated school at Little Rock, Arkansas.
Terry tilted her head, looking around at me with a shy, sardonic smile. “When people say this,” she observed, “They are only doing it to be mean.”

The best thing about this show is that it makes people think.” Her voice echoed slightly, “I live it. It's so real. All this is so true.”

“It's good that homeless people get to see [this show] too because then we can tell you if it's real or not.”

Over several days from April to August 2009, I invited Terry and four other formerly or presently unhoused San Francisco citizens to The California Historical Society at 678 Mission Street to view a collection of paintings, prints, photographs, and mixed media pieces by more than 40 artists represented in an exhibition entitled “Hobos to Street People: Artists' Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present.” The show began February 19 and continues to August 15, 2009. On two Thursdays, August 6 from 6 to 8 p.m., an artists' panel discussion will take place at CHS, and the following Thursday, August 13, a closing party, also from 6 to 8 p.m.

Curator Art Hazelwood reported that reactions to the show have been positive. Visitors' occasional negative responses reflect a “demonization” of homelessness and homeless people by the Press and social stereotyping. “People want to turn homeless people into a kind of Other that they can dismiss. It's easier to dismiss people if you categorize them and accuse them of being morally lax.”

Agreed Terry, her brown bangs swinging adamantly,“The newspaper tells people things that aren't true, and people believe it. ”

This false stereotype “is not something new. One answer to almost any complaint,“ Hazelwood stated, “is to point to identical patterns of condemnation throughout our history.” The cheap fix of Gavin Newsom's Care Not Cash program and Rudy Guiliani's attempt to sweep New York homeless off the street like trash are paralleled by late 19th century social workers who concluded poor people were lazy, defective degenerates who needed rehabilitation by learning the value of work, so sent them to workhouses at forced labor “breaking rocks.”

Doug Minkler is a protest satirist who, by selling his art on Telegraph (in Berkeley), has a close connection with life on the street. Homeless people like Moses and other visitors were drawn by its color and dynamism to Minkler's 'Who Drives The Cycle of Poverty.' Did Hazelwood choose this piece for the show because it shows the Perpetual Poverty Cycle, with studded tires gunned toward us by a vicious boar-like pig. It offers reasons that, in Jesus' words, “The poor are always with us.” For its very existence, our capitalist republic seems to require, at varying levels of intensity, poverty's perpetual presence, cycling endlessly round and round. Out of its exhaust pour collateral damage as poisonous gas --- welfare cuts, layoffs, unemployment, homelessness. “Who drives this cycle?” Minkler asks. “Welfare Queens? Illegal Aliens? Bleeding heart liberals? Capitalist Pigs? Crash the Cycle of Poverty!” or it will drive on and on, carrying the hog to hell.

Hazelwood, is himself a San Francisco artist whose etching-style linocuts have enlivened the pages of San Francisco's “Street Sheet” and the East Bay's “Street Spirit” print papers since 1994.

A year and a half before the economy plunged and the banking crisis caused home foreclosures, mass evictions, and a surge in homelessness, Hazelwood planned a commemoration of the New Deal's 75th anniversary. During talks with Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project and Berkeley professor, Dr. Gray Brechin, New Deal expert, about parallels between the Depression era and today, it struck him that a show comparing homelessness in the '30s with contemporary homelessness was a brilliant way to make clear to people, “We've been through this before. We can get through it again. If we try, we can do something to (solve) this problem.”

Curator and artist, Art Hazelwood introduces the show at:

Lisa Erikson, Director of Education and Public Programs introduces the show:

The show's sections focus on four major aspects of homelessness.
DAILY REALITIES of life on the road or on the street without housing.
DISPLACEMENT, ROOTLESSNESS AND VULNERABILITY - a sense of disconnectedness endemic to American culture, housed or homeless.
URBAN VS RURAL - Country homelessness, often unseen and unrecognized.
STRUGGLE AND HOPE - “that we can change things.”
The show contrasts the two eras and challenges our narrow range of homeless stereotypes. Homeless people are many and varied. People live in cars, in the country, hold down jobs, work recycling, live in, or refuse, dangerous shelters for the street.
In Christine Hanlon's contemporary oil painting, 'Third Street Corridor' and Isac Friedlander's 'Gold digger,' (1932) people struggle, working hard for little.
Christine Hanlon talks about “Third Street Corridor”

In 'Corridor,' the shopping cart is conversely a overfull garbage collection device and the Horn of Plenty, the ironic symbol of rampant consumerism, while in 'Gold digger,' trash becomes pure gold to the ragged “gold digger.” In neither, across the decades, has anything changed.

Art Hazelwood on the shopping cart as both a symbol of Plenty and Want

Go to Carol Harvey Hobos to Street People Interviews part one, two and three