Art Lifting

Art Lifting is an organization that works to empower artists who are homeless or are struggling with mental or physical disabilities by creating a digital marketplace to sell their artwork

Whether it be someone who is combating mental illness, or someone living in darkened alleys hidden between streets, people who are homeless or struggling with disabilities are financially, and at times physically, limited to the vast opportunities many are able to take advantage of. A common coping mechanism to break through this wall of inequality is creating art.

Through photography, oil pastels, watercolor and other mediums, disadvantaged individuals have the opportunity to abandon stereotypes and delve into a state of relaxation and relief from anxiety. In a society filled with talented artists, it can be difficult to find success in such a competitive industry.

Art Lifting, an organization started by Liz Powers in 2013, works to empower artists struggling with disabilities or homelessness. Finding inspiration in the art created by homeless people in shelters she volunteered at, Powers decided to start a program that would help the homeless profit from their beautiful art. She believes that being at a physical or situational disadvantage should not discredit someone’s ability to sell their artwork. By creating a digital marketplace to connect them to a larger audience, Powers has created a path toward financial stability for these individuals.

Clyde Horn, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former psychotherapist struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), explains how his experience with Art Lifting has affected his ability to heal. As a result of the fight, flight and freeze reaction adopted when soldiers are under attack, war veterans with PTSD develop a chemical imbalance in the back of their brain.

“With PTSD, if you truly have it, that chemical doesn’t turn off. It stays on all the time. So you’re in a hyper state of arousal, virtually [for] the rest of your life,” Horn said. Having art as an outlet has allowed him to refocus his energy and direct his struggles into art. After meeting with numerous therapists, Horn was eventually connected with an art therapist who helped him discover a passion for photography, which increases his ability to alleviate stress.

Horn’s photography is used as a calming mechanism and a way for him to interact with nature. “Not only is nature beautiful, but it is not necessarily a respecter of everything; if it wants to wage a storm, it will. It doesn’t care if you’re a child or senior citizen or anything else. But then again it also takes care of itself in ways that we need to learn from,” Horn said. He believes the lessons he has learned from nature can reach anyone who is able to find meaning in his photography.

“I try to look at the micro part of nature as well as the macro part of nature and portray that, and in a lot of ways it expresses my emotions, my feelings and my need for ongoing healing,” Horn said. With his love for photography, Horn was able to profit and foster his own self-worth by selling his art through Art Lifting.

“I love being part of a program that addresses the disenfranchised of society because, whether people embrace those who are homeless or those who are disabled, the majority of the population doesn’t,” Horn said. Having an accredited organization with a top-of-the-line art gallery allows public praise for the artist’s work.

“I don’t particularly care about whether my art sells or not. What I care about is that I get a message out — that veterans have ways of speaking and expressing themselves,” Horn said.

“I can’t think of another organization that does what Art Lifting does for artists that are overlooked and compensates for them,” Horn said. “So I am very proud to be part of this organization and help however I can.”

Artist Michael Rogan also uses art as a relief from his long lasting struggle with PTSD. Through the Art Lifting program, he sells his watercolor paintings as a way to cope with anxiety and rage. After returning from the war in Vietnam, he went straight into junior college and spent years suppressing his feelings of shame.

“My life pretty much fell apart in 1984,” Rogan said. “My wife and my children left and I just went to hell. I was actually afraid of the way I was behaving around my own family. I was acting out of anger. I was afraid for them; in a way I was glad to see them get to somewhere safe.”

At the time, PTSD was not considered a real disorder. People did not understand that trauma could leave a person with an invisible scar. “In 1986, they finally put out the psychiatry institutions that established post-traumatic stress as a disorder, and it was about that time I went to the Veterans Administration (VA) and I told them the stuff that had been going on in my life,” Rogan said. Connecting with Art Lifting and receiving art therapy through the VA helped Rogan broaden his perspective and meet new people. “I have been able to move from the VA culture, which is a bunch of other vets basically, to the community here, and now I’m hooked up with some folks in Los Gatos. I’m in the co-op gallery there, Gallery 24, and I am also involved with the art club. I am meeting other artists and they are very accepting,” Rogan said.

Rogan understands and accepts that he will never be able to live a life without treatment. However, he has found an alternative route to the conventional methods that people use and has started releasing those feelings of shame and guilt through his paintings. Rogan’s art, either created on location or referenced from photos he has taken, is painted in the back of a small studio. Rogan sends his work to Art Lifting where it is converted into prints to be sold.

“I don’t sell a lot through them, but every month when I get a little check, it tells me that what I’m doing is worth something… that there are people out there that want what I have to offer, and that does a lot to your self-esteem, especially when you’re beating yourself up for your history,” Rogan said. Through this program Rogan feels that a whole new world of possibilities have opened due to the community of people he has connected with.

Ingrid Shu, an artist who suffers from lupus disease, recently joined Art Lifting after being connected through Abilities United, a Palo Alto-based organization that focuses on services for people with disabilities. Lupus is a chronic disease that restricts your body’s ability to tell the difference between viruses and healthy tissues, resulting in healthy tissue being destroyed. This causes inflammation, pain and damage in various parts of the body. All the profits that Shu makes from her paintings are donated to Abilities United to help educate people about lupus disease and how it affects individuals like herself.

Through Art Lifting, Ingrid has been able to spread knowledge about the seriousness of her disease through her online bio, a unique feature incorporated by Art Lifting, to give artists the opportunity to talk about their circumstances.

“I’ve just recently joined [Art Lifting] but it’s a great project because everything is posted on the Internet, so we will have a larger group of people…and then we promote the sales of our paintings and broaden the scope,” Shu said.

She is thankful for Art Lifting since it has introduced her to a group of people that buy and sell her paintings. Shu likes that it is run by young and energetic people that are passionate about the subject of homelessness and disability.

Shu’s paintings focus on nature landscaping and the use of bright colors. “I usually paint at home, but I did take some art classes from Palo Alto Art Center,” Shu said. “I just paint whenever I have the energy. I’m not a regular painter [so] I do it whenever I have free time.”

Painting has given Shu the opportunity to escape from all of life’s worries. “It’s very relaxing,” Shu said. “I went through a lot, and art is a great tool for a lot of people. For people with genetic problems or a mental illness, the pain will go away for the time being.”

Even though Shu is new to the Art Lifting community, she is grateful for her experiences. “I am very happy that this organization exists, and it’s going to be a wonderful relationship we just started,” Shu said.

Art Lifting is a program that offers artists with an array of disabilities more than just an opportunity to make a profit — it serves as a platform for them to build a community and pursue their passions. Art Lifting has created a place where they can relieve their stress in a way that is beneficial to their mental and emotional health.