Art imitates foreclosure life in Germantown fringe-festival performance

On a quiet street in Germantown, Vashti DuBois and her husband Al Stewart are preparing their Victorian twin as the venue for a multi- disciplinary art project called “EvictionProof Peepshow Home.”

Participants in the 2012 Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe, they will be joined by 16 other artists from Philadelphia, New York, Connecticut and Vermont at their Newhall Street home.

There, they will give various interpretations of the experience a family goes through when foreclosure looms.

Each uniquely titled room will feature the work of a different artist. Through photography, music, painting or performance, the artists will display their portrayal of the story of eviction.

A story which resonates

EvictionProof is a story that hits very close to the DuBois/Stewart household.

Stewart saw hundreds of people lose their homes over the years in his work as a foreclosure specialist.

“What I found common with each case was the feeling of shame and helplessness of those going through the foreclosure process,” he recounted during an interview with NewsWorks this week. “I would come home and talk to Vashti about it and being an artist, she wanted to transform it into art.”

It was not until 2010, when DuBois lost her job and went on unemployment that the idea began to take shape. As the couple dealt with employment loss, they remained optimistic. Until Stewart lost his job, that is.

“Both Al and I have excellent work credentials,” Stewart said, “but I searched for a job for over two years with no luck.”

Foreclosure loomed

Unable to make consistent payments, the couple learned that their house was going to be foreclosed on last February. For perspective, 3.4 percent of all homes with a mortgage where in the national foreclosure registry as of March, according to a press release for the show.

Shortly thereafter, DuBois applied for a grant from the Leeway Foundation which funds women and transgender artists for social change projects. She was soon on the way to creating a space where people could directly see an issue affecting their community.

In order for others to understand the problem, the couple first needed to overcome their own embarrassment and shame.

“With this show we wanted to create a space where shame didn’t kill us,” she said. “This meant telling our neighbors in order to gain the support we needed.”

The couple found that when they revealed their troubles to the neighborhood, they received overwhelming support.

The couple hopes “people come away with a real understanding of this issue, to rediscover the love for Germantown and work together to figure out solutions to this problem,” said DuBois, who hopes other “pop-up EvictionProof shows” result.

Logistics

Artists involved in EvictionProof include Laureen Griffin, Michael Clemmons, Rhashidah Perry-Jones and Cymande Lewis. (Lewis will be performing excerpts of her play “My Name is Sam Johnson,” which is also a part of the Philly Fringe Festival and she worked on with DuBois, in Germantown next week).

EvictionProof will take place at 4613 Newhall St. Friday through Sunday, from 7:30-9:00 p.m. Admission is $15 for a 15-minute tour through the home.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.