I leave my house with art supplies around 6:30 p.m. and drive to the homeless shelter. When I arrive the woman at the desk knows why I am there and buzzes the door open. I walk up the steps through the TV room where women curse at one another over what program to watch. I enter into the women’s dorm, which is filled with beds and a big table in the center of the room. There are women sitting on their beds reading, knitting, or staring up at the ceiling. They see me and shout “Hey Miss Sarah– what we painting today?” Before I have a chance to answer they gather around the table and unload my bag of canvasses, brushes, and paint. I show them reproductions from artists such as Van Gough, Matisse, Picasso, and Kandinsky. They listen so closely as if diamonds were falling from my mouth.
After I am finished talking, I squeeze paint onto paper plates. The women choose their favorite brush and begin to work. I play music to drown out the noise of laundry machines and people arguing outside the window. As the women work, I watch their hands hold a paintbrush. Some hands shake because of substance withdrawal, while others hold the brush loosely. I sit back, smile, and watch the magic of the arts– and for a moment everything is right in the world.
One by one, the women finish their work and hold it up for the room to see. There is something new about them. They place their painting against their bed to dry and go off to do their assigned chores. I leave as they pour bleach into mop buckets, fold laundry, and find scrub brushes to clean the toilets. I wave goodbye and they thank me for visiting. I am happy knowing they had a chance to remember who they are.