SEW MUCH LOVE provides opportunities for homeless women to collaborate with practicing artists and each other to transform raw materials into works of art. The women enter the artistic process on their own terms, bringing with them their own unique abilities and perspectives. During the first year, artists-in-residence Patty Mitchell and Daniel Polnau collaborated with the women to create dolls, quilts, wall hangings and other artworks. Mitchell and Polnau embrace the Creative Abundance Model which shifts the focus from deficits to interests and capabilities. SML builds upon this model whereby homeless women become a community of artists and collaborators whose lives are not overshadowed by their circumstances. The first public exhibition held at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral demonstrated that homeless women can earn transitional income from the sale of their art. The first doll sold was “Moses” created by Virginia who loves reading the Bible, especially the Ten Commandments. When she learned of the success of the exhibition, Virginia jokingly repeated to the other women, “My doll sold first. My doll sold first.” The exhibition was not only public validation of their work but also contributed to their sense of identity and confidence as artists.
Sew Much Love is situated within the larger context of homelessness in Memphis. On any day, there are approximately 500 women whose homelessness is often exacerbated by alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, and health issues. While a range of issues contribute to their homelessness, a common thread connecting them is financial instability due to barriers in the traditional workplace. Introducing them to the arts as a non-traditional stream of income and the possibility of entrepreneurship may increase their likelihood of becoming self-sufficient. SML also sits within the framework of social change, embracing the premise that the arts can create awareness, inspire understanding and promote engagement. It challenges pervading views of homelessness through a creative lens that adds authentic voice and imagery to an underserved marginalized population. Presently, SEW MUCH LOVE is the only project of its type in the Memphis area and can be considered a model for integrating art, engagement and enterprise among homeless and other marginalized populations.