Every story has a beginning and an ending My life began as a gallon of water and everyone takes a drink but when my gallon is gone, no one refills me My gallon just sits on the counter empty and I wonder how long will I sit on this lonely counter top.
In the Blues City Cultural Center arts studio in Uptown Memphis, women sew love, make art, and build community. Diane created a doll in the image of the Statue of Liberty which traditionally symbolizes freedom and equality. For her, the tarnished green tones of the stature depict capitalism and money. In her artistic interpretation, Lady Liberty is stone grey signifying “gloom and dismal circumstances while the chains about her feet represent the multitudes of discarded individuals.” While Diane’s art made a strong political statement about disenfranchisement, others were more personal. Terry whose life has been filled with abuse, rape and addiction made religious crosses from tree branches. Her life has never been on track. Now, she simply wants to get her life back. Bonnie, who has been homeless for 10 years, designed a doll with bright colorful fabrics because they made her think of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. She named her doll Change
Diane, Terry, Bonnie and other women reside in homeless shelters in Uptown, a community located in north downtown Memphis. Women are required to leave the shelter at 8:30 AM and cannot return until 4:30 PM. Most of them spend the day seeking employment or find refuge in libraries and other public spaces. Since 2015, these women have found respite in SEW MUCH LOVE, a BCCC arts-based social enterprise whereby they collaborate with practicing artists to transform raw materials into marketable works of art. Unlike the conditions that led them to the shelters, women enter the artistic process on their own terms, bringing with them their own unique abilities and perspectives. They represent a community of artists whose lives are not overshadowed by their circumstances. In 2016, BCCC published Women Who Have Seen the Rough Side of the Mountain, a collection of compelling narratives and poetry written by the women.
SEW MUCH LOVE was featured in a Commercial Appeal news story by David Waters. Arts Funding Builds Communities, Not Walls emphasized the need for continued National Endowment for the Arts funds that use the arts to build communities rather than diverting monies for national security, specifically to build a border wall along the Mexican border. Walters described SEW MUCH LOVE as “more than a day shelter.” It was a place that gave “homeless women an opportunity to create, collaborate, and dream.” SEW MUCH LOVE was also featured in the National Endowment for the Arts magazine. Journalist Rebecca Sutton described the project as a “public-facing event [that] introduces the wider Memphis community to the individual stories that make up Memphis’s homeless population—a population that is generally thought of as an abstract problem rather than in personal terms.”
SEW MUCH LOVE is a transformative process that encourages women to see beyond their hardships while finding joy in discovering who they really are and what they can accomplish. In unleashing their creativity, they change how they view themselves, how they are viewed by others, and how they view the greater society. It challenges pervading views of homelessness through a creative lens that adds authentic voice and imagery to an underserved marginalized population. SEW MUCH LOVE can be considered a model for integrating art, engagement and enterprise among homeless women.