Work by formerly homeless artists on display at University of the Arts

For the last five years, the Starbucks coffee shop on Broad Street has had its own artist-in-residence.

Dennis Jones parks himself in a window seat with his laptop and his brushes and paints all day, every day. He drinks a lot of coffee.

“I get the first cup,” said the muscular Jones. “And then after that…let’s see, 12 hours — about 15 refills.”

Jones is an accomplished painter, occassionally getting commissions for portraits. He is on Veteran’s disability, and until recently was homeless, living out of his truck.

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“I was, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t come here, buy coffee, clean myself up, buy a Mac eventually,” said Jones. “And eventually not be — I’m a resident of Center City now.”

He is one of three artists whose work is now featured at the Gershman Y. They all came through the Broad Street Ministry, a non-denominational, Christian church next door to the University of the Arts. The ministry offers a weekly art therapy program, where the mostly homeless clients participate in art projets, both individual and as a group.

Since January, several UArts students have been volunteering at those sessions.

“We’re still students learning from them,” said Camille Sassano, a multi-disciplinary junior at UArts. “It’s definitely a mutual relationship of conversations and sharing experiences. I feel like that is the more important part of this. The artwork is a catalyst to bring these people together.”

Many of the homeless artists hesitated to show their work publicly (aside from Jones, who conspicuously sits in the front window at Starbucks). Dwayne Grant agreed to participate in the show only after being prodded by students at the University.

“I usually don’t show people my stuff. I just don’t,” said Grant, a formerly homeless street photographer. “I might like them, but I don’t feel they [are] good to be showing around.”

After years on the street, Grant now works as the facility manager at the Broad Street Ministry. Like most of the artist in the exhibition, Grants participated as a way to reverse the public stigma attached to homelessness.

“As an amateur photographer to be asked in a show, it’s an honor,” said Grant. “I’m excited about that. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think anybody would ask me that.”

The drawings, paintings, and photography of “Our Voice, Our Art, Our Home” will be on display at the Gershman Y until Friday, March 16th.

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