Crack house becomes ‘A Place to Call Home’

A former crack house in Mantua has been transformed into an art installation by the Mural Arts Program. Addressing issues about homelessness—particularly homeless youth—”A Place to Call Home” spreads beyond the house, throughout the block and down the street.

The multi-part project on the 3800 block of Melon Street actually begins about a half-mile away, where posters are wheat-pasted on select buildings. Borrowing from street graffiti-style, the posters depict elements of home: plumbing, electricity, heat, and roofs.

But Pedro Ortiz, a formerly homeless man who participated in the project, says these are not the things that make a home.

“You can have a home that has a roof, power, electricity, all that, right?” said Ortiz, holding his squirming two-year-old son, King. “But if everyone in there is miserable and you’re by yourself, honestly are you enjoying your home? That’s why I think it’s more about the family inside is what creates the home.”

Inside, the art house is full of voices. Two video projections in different rooms feature interviews with homeless youth. Another room has a sound installation.

The house, which had been full of trash and animal waste, was given a deep cleaning before work could begin. But some of the original trappings, such as ripped drywall (perhaps to strip the wiring) and broken windowsills remain. Bizarre black-and-white checked wallpaper makes a small bedroom look like a trippy optical illusion.

Muralist Ernel Martinez used furniture left behind by the previous tenant as molds to create papier-mâché furniture, representing instability and impermanence.

“The house is a great space because it lends itself to homes and homelessness,” said Martinez. “We wanted to make sure the art was powerful enough to draw people’s attention and keep focused on the issue.”

The “mural”—more of a mural concept than a traditional mural—is the surrounding rowhouses painted in bold and blocky color fields, recalling the modernist canvases of Hans Hoffman or Piet Mondrian.

The house can be seen Fridays and Saturdays for the next three weeks. Then it will be renovated and sold to a low-income resident.

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