We might be done decking the hall, but it’s rarely a bad time to deck the wall — especially when it’s for a good cause. ArtLifting, the brain child of Harvard Business School graduate Liz Powers and her brother Spencer, works with art therapy programs at shelters to develop and curate works by homeless and disabled artists — including about 20 in the Boston area. Their team works out of Harvard’s Launch Lab and MassChallenge, where director of business development Kelly McKenna keeps their presence alive on social media, including a colorful, inspiring account on Instagram (@artlifting).
Q. How did the program begin?
A. Liz hosted an art show in Boston that grew every year, but she and Spencer decided to try to make it more sustainable long term. At first, they funded everything on their savings and then they did a Kickstarter at the end of the summer, meant to help with expansion to other cities. They officially launched 12 months ago in December 2013, and have already expanded to six other cities.
Q. Where did the idea come from?
A. Liz studied sociology at Harvard and wrote her thesis on benefits of art therapy. She worked with programs at local shelters in Boston and developed relationships with the program directors and artists. We’ve sourced directly from the contacts to draw from a pool of people who are working toward a better life. Then it’s mostly been word of mouth, and other art therapy programs who have reached out to us.
"It is very VERY difficult to get any kind of break struggling with homelessness or disability. It's hard to carry on as an artist when the difficulties of life are constantly poised to interfere. I feel a great deal better about myself and my ability to express myself now than I have in a very long time. I have you and so many others to thank and be thankful for because of it." -Kitty
Q. What are some of the back stories for the artists?
A. One artist named Scott [pictured, of Father Bill’s in Quincy] used to be an equipment operator but when the recession hit, his company went out of business in 2009. He was then diagnosed with a condition that gives him headaches, exhaustion, and problems with balance and focus. He used to be a crane operator. He lived on the streets in the summer and in the shelters in the winters and secured housing last month. He said he makes art because it’s something he has complete control over. He makes intricate ink drawings and some of them take him hundreds of hours to produce but they’re really beautiful. MakerBot 3D printing did an open gallery of his work in September and they made 3-D printed phone cases made with the patterns of some of his art. He’s just a jolly, positive person. He always has a big smile on his face.
Q. What role has Instagram played?
A. I didn’t even know how to use it before ArtLifting, but they asked me to figure it out and grow our base on there because it’s so visual. It led to our expansion to Miami, New Jersey, and Kenya and some artists have found us through there that we’ve signed on. And it’s definitely been a good sales outlet. On opening day of Red Sox season, we posted [a] Fenway painting and it sold within an hour. Our followers are really engaged. I try to present an artist’s story every time I post and show our followers a window to a different walk of life.
Rachel Raczka can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @rachelraczka.