Thu June 13, 2013
Arts District

"Not Exactly" Homeless

Red Line, in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, aims to be more than another art gallery. It strives to be an incubator for social change.

Red Line’s current go at this is centered on the issue of homelessness.

Flanked by the St. Francis Center and the Denver Rescue Mission – two agencies that provide help to some of the more than 5,200 homeless people in Denver – Red Line recently opened an exhibit titled Not Exactly. It is an exhibit designed to raise a variety of questions about homelessness and move community members to action. 

A cardboard sign at the Not Exactly exhibit, which is reminiscent of the handmade signs held by many of the homeless who take to the streets of Denver looking for work, food, and support.
Credit Carrie Saldo

"There are huge institutions that are servicing this [the homeless] community,” said  Red Line’s Executive Director PJ D’Amico. “What if we change that framework entirely and created pathways to sustainability that don’t require people to be in a perpetual chain of dependency?

In exploring that question for themselves, Red Line created the Reach Studio - which is a free work space for artists without permanent homes. Some of the work currently featured in the Not Exactly exhibit comes from these artists – including one named Gonzo.

Gonzo coined the phrase “not exactly” because he says homelessness is too strong of a label for him since he’s lived in and out of cars, with friends, as well as on the streets… Art is therapeutic Gonzo says and has helped him through some difficult times. He also spoke with video artist Alvin Pagdanganan Gregorio for his work for the exhibit.

"[Art] was a great way to escape, to be free," said Gonzo. "I've done a lot of art on the streets, standing in lines, food lines, trying to get into beds. You can see me sitting on my milk crate, that's just what I do."

This truck became a mobile salon. With two stylists working inside cutting, coloring and styling hair.
Credit Carrie Saldo

Credit Carrie Saldo

New York City based multimedia artist Jody Wood examined the concept of beauty for Not Exactly.

Since something as simple as a haircut is often inaccessible for those who are homeless, Wood created an interactive art installation that offers salon services in the back of a van. She's also documenting the experiences of its homeless patrons, including Karen Smith of Denver.

Karen Smith happily shows off her newly highlighted hair. Smith took part in artist Jody Wood's mobile salon.
Credit Carrie Saldo

"We don’t get this often," Smith explains. "It makes us feel like we are something. It is good to know that there are people who have an understanding of what we go through and want to look beautiful. I haven’t looked like this is so long."

The state of Colorado is seven years into a 10-year plan to end homelessness organized by Governor John Hickenlooper. A 2012 survey identified 5,271 homeless living in Denver County. But On any given night, there just 1,300 shelter beds, mats, motel vouchers, or overflow rooms available for those men, women and children. Governor Hickenlooper says Not Exactly brings fresh perspective and energy to the issue.

"We know where we’ve wasted money in the past. We can’t just provide shelter. We have to include the wrap-around services," said Hickenlooper.

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, Rocky Mountain PBS and KUVO.

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