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Women Struggling With Homelessness Find Peace Through Art

Every Wednesday several women staying at the Norma Herr shelter in downtown Cleveland walk a couple of blocks to the ArtCraft building on Superior Avenue. It is home to a number of art studios, including Across the Lines, which launched earlier this year to provide women struggling with homelessness a place of their own to create.

In a studio loft on the fifth floor, eight women sat around folding tables on a recent Wednesday afternoon. Each woman crafted her own piece of artwork.

It is a weekly routine for some but the first time Regina Campbell stopped by.

“All the times I went past this building I never even really paid any attention,” Regina Campbell said. “You just never know what’s inside of something.”

Shaker Heights resident Jane Finley started Across the Lines to spread her love for art.  

“My vision was around connecting across lines, across lines that divide us, across lines that separate us," Finley said. 

Finley arranged the studio space and purchased supplies with a $4,386 grant from Neighborhood Connections and Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Each week Finley or a visiting artist presents a prompt and materials to get the women started. They then have the freedom to interpret it as they like or work on other art that interests them.

“I really want to be open to what the women and folks who are creating in this space, what their ideas are,” Finley said.

Fritzi Sansbury spent one session working on a card in memory of her brother.

“I have bought him a birthday card every year on his birthday, and now I’m making him a card for his birthday,” Sansbury said. “A day has not gone by since he died I haven’t thought of him.”

While the process brings on tears, Sansbury said making art is therapeutic.

“I get in a zone,” she said. “Everything around me disappears.”

Many of the women were eager to talk about their art, but not all of them felt comfortable giving their names for this story. Some said that is out of concern for their safety. LJ is one of them.

She worked on a piece with bright primary colors.

“This one is peaceful to me,” she said. “Color just helps me express who I am and how my life is changing.”

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.