Homeless find expression with Columbus art program

Bo Bartlett stood in the basement of a Columbus homeless shelter on Thursday and talked about the power of art and expression.

Bartlett, a Columbus native known nationally for his realist art, couldn’t have been in a more real setting.

Sitting in front of him were 15 homeless people. Before turning them loose to paint, Bartlett offered some advice.

“The primary objective is to put what you’re feeling in there,” Bartlett told the class. “If you are angry, sad, even mopey, put it in there.”

LaTonia Pearson, 44, took Bartlett up on his offer. Pearson has been homeless for approximately two months and is staying at Trinity House, a local shelter.

She painted a bright red heart, outlined starkly in black. Through the heart, she drew a red rose.

“The issues of the world take over the heart and start to corrupt it,” Pearson said.

As she worked to finish the painting, she drew jagged black lines inside the heart. It looked like the heart was broken, but Pearson insisted it wasn’t.

“God will bring your heart back together,” Pearson said.

Bartlett, working on his own piece, peaked at Pearson’s painting from time to time.

“Powerful,” he said.

Bartlett, through the Bo Bartlett Center at Columbus State University, is working with a small handful of volunteers to paint weekly with homeless members of the community. The volunteers include other local artists with the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries and SafeHouse at Rose Hill United Methodist Church.

Last week, more than 20 homeless men and women showed up for the program, which is called “Home is Where the Art is.”

On Thursday, there were approximately 15. The program will run through June and gear back up in September, Bartlett said.

It is one of three art initiatives coming out of the Bartlett Center. Local second graders are involved in a project called “Art Makes You Smart.” In the fall, Bartlett plans to take a similar program to the one he is doing with the homeless population into the area jail and prison.

Neil Richardson, executive director of Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries, helps operate SafeHouse, a homeless ministry located in Rose Hill United Methodist Church at 2101 Hamilton Road.

Bartlett approached Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries recently about the program and it was a no-brainer, Richardson said.

“Art is an opportunity to unlock the soul,” Richardson said.

When the paintings are completed, all of the artwork is hung on a basement wall. Bartlett’s work hangs alongside the work of all the homeless art. You can’t tell them apart.

“We’re all creative. And we are pretty much on a level playing field,” Bartlett said.

The program is modeled after a similar one operated by Mississippi artist Stacy Underwood.

“She said when you start this program, it will do more for you than it will for them,” Bartlett said. “In the last week, every time I would pass someone walking on the street, I would look to see if they were one of the ones in the program or I would wonder if they were going to be in the program.”

The Bo Bartlett Center is accepting donations for the three outreach programs it is operating. Call 706-507-8431 for more information.