Artwork produced by Path With Art (PWA) students is on display at an exhibition titled “Housing is a Human Right” at Columbia City Gallery. It’s the culmination of work created in 2016 visual arts classes that include collage, printmaking and painting. PWA teachers drew inspiration from the art of Martha Rosler, an artist who is the inaugural recipient of a biennial $100,000 award given to a female artist by New Foundation Seattle. Rosler also served as a guest PWA teacher.
“Obviously, still a very relevant theme today in this city, affecting all of us and affecting our student population in real, tangible ways. It was a perfect theme for us to work from,” PWA Program Director Jennifer Lobsenz said. “We also like to continue to take work out into the community and reach different folks, folks who aren’t walking through our door but who are walking through other doors, can connect with the art that we do and the work and the value and vision of the organization behind it.”
PWA brings access to visual art, music and dance to people who are recovering from homelessness, addiction and other trauma. Each quarter they hold a showcase for the community. Celeste Tanner is a PWA student and the work she’s created has had a profound impact on her life. She’s in housing now but experienced homelessness for about four years after an illness took her out of the workforce.
“I literally had to make a choice between whether I was going to pay for health care or whether I was going to pay for rent,” Tanner said. “I couldn’t do it.”
She couch-surfed then moved into Jubilee Women’s Center. Tanner has used the artwork created in classes as a tool during counseling and therapy sessions. While homeless, Tanner said she felt invisible.
“No one looks you in the face. No one talks to you, or takes your words seriously if they do, and everyone else knows better than you about what is good for you, or good enough. Or even just okay,” Tanner said. “The Path With Art teachers and staff always look you in the face and listen to what you have to say.”
Tanner said PWA gave her life more stability, structure and a connection to a community of people. She has a collage in the show representing a layout of a home she remembers. It has all the basic amenities as well as a walk-in closet, sewing room, porch, garden and a chicken coop.
Tanner’s collage is displayed with several others. A large rectangular banner hangs in the middle of the space and asks “why do we all matter?” On the opposite side, about a dozen portraits hang on the wall. Some are colorful, while others use values of a single hue. Janet Lagassi created a black and white portrait. In it, her wavy hair cascades to her shoulders covering part of her face. It’s one of many works showing the creativity of PWA participants. All the works are crafted using different techniques but they’re all faces of people who have been marginalized. They aren’t statistics of people who fell through the cracks. They’re humans who deserve respect and dignity like everyone else.
The PWA show is in the guest gallery space at Columbia City Gallery. It’s set aside to host rotating exhibitions that showcase the work of artists audiences wouldn’t normally see. The gallery is an artist co-op and a part of the arts division of South East Effective Development (SEED).
Columbia City Gallery Manager Betsy Fetherston said this year’s theme is housing, so the PWA show is in line with their goal.
“The city is in such a crisis over it right now. We felt it was a good year to do it, have artists express what it means,” Fetherston said. “We’re thrilled to have them here. It’s perfect for us given that we build affordable housing.”
As with all PWA shows it’s inspiring to see what people can create when given access to tools for artistic self-expression.
WHAT: "Housing is a Human Right"
WHEN: April 5 - May 14
WHERE: Columbia City Gallery, 4864 Rainier Ave S, Seattle