Creating No Place to Call Home: Students Examine Homelessness and Housing Insecurity Through AS220 Show

April 21, 2022

A group of people view student-made artwork on a gallery wall at AS220
Visitors view some of the art created by Wheeler students that presents and expresses information about homelessness and housing insecurity in Rhode Island as part of the AS220 exhibition No Place to Call Home.

For the Wheeler students who created work for the current AS220 exhibit No Place to Call Home, their creative contributions represent more than artistic expression. The paintings, murals, videos, and other artwork are focused on the immense challenges and uncertainties facing the homeless and people with housing insecurity across Rhode Island.

The participating students, who come from across the school’s Lower, Middle, and Upper School through this major collaboration between the Art Department and Cityside at Wheeler, hope the exhibit will serve as a powerful and sobering presentation about critical issues facing a vulnerable population.

“We tend to wipe the problem completely from our minds, and in turn, don’t think about it,” said Luyao Lei ‘26, who was among a group of students that created a special mural and accompanying video for the show that aimed to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about homelessness. Luyao, who said she primarily worked on the video portion, wanted to convey that homelessness is often overlooked and ignored. “We wanted to use this gallery and our artwork to show that homelessness is still a very real and relevant problem in our society, and to remind people that it’s still there, even if you try not to see it.”

As fellow artist Anna Cherepowich ‘26 worked on the mural and learned more about those who are facing homelesseness, she was struck by how similar they are to herself. “At first, it seemed impossible to me that someone who is living on the streets, who doesn’t know when the next time they’ll eat, can be so much like me, a privileged teenager who besides having a home, gets to go to an amazing school with so many opportunities,” Anna said. “All it can take is one bad mental health episode, one job loss, or one addiction to turn someone like me into a person living on the streets.”

Like many other states across the country, Rhode Island faces enormous challenges with housing insecurity and homelessness. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, over 45,000, or about 29%, of renter households face insecurity from extremely low income, with 56% of extremely low income renter households struggling with a severe cost burden. About 4,000 men, women and children experience homelessness in Rhode Island each year, with a smaller number remaining chronically homeless.

Cityside Director Joe Baer P’08 says the Wheeler students approached these difficult issues with empathy and an open-mind. “As they met with stakeholders and developed a richer understanding, they realized they now had a responsibility to broaden awareness in order to encourage dialogue and action,” he said.

Cityside provided experiential teaching and learning opportunities within Providence’s 25 neighborhoods. Meetings with various stakeholders, including Crossroads, Rhode Island; One Neighborhood Builders; Housing Works, R.I.; The Refugee Dream Center; Federal Hill House; and United Way of Rhode Island, as well as interviewees, offered valuable insight, not just for students, but for Baer himself. “As I’ve sat in on interviews with both front-line providers and policy makers, my own understanding of the complexities of homelessness and housing insecurity has deepened,” he said. “I hope attendees at the AS220 show see the intersectionality with housing issues and access to health care, educational opportunities, employment, transportation options, and other aspects of our day to day life.”

Baer originally envisioned No Place to Call Home three years ago. The show’s opening earlier this month required and represents so much of what students have learned in Cityside and  through the Visual Arts Department, the Digital Production Studio, and many subject teachers Baer explained. He is grateful that Wheeler’s students, faculty, and staff have been able to partner with Providence-based non-profit community arts organization AS220 on the show.

Anna Cherepowich also appreciates AS220 for displaying the students’ work and ensuring their message was heard, and emphasized how great it has been to partner with her peers on the show. “They’ve been flexible, open to new ideas and have been a joy to work with this year,” she said. “They all deserve so much recognition for their hard work.”

No Place to Call Home runs until April 30 at the AS220 Main Gallery at 115 Empire St. and is open to the public Thursday to Saturday, 12 to 5pm, with free admission.

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