This Organization Helps Artists Who Are Homeless Or Have Disabilities Live Their Dreams

Nick Morse is a successful artist whose vibrant, colorful paintings have gained him a degree of fame. He’s also autistic and completely non-verbal. Doctors told his father, Steve, that he’d be lucky to hold down any job at all one day. So it brings tears to Steve’s eyes when he describes watching his son find his passion for art after so many people doubted him.

“He’s been counted out all his life,” Steve tells Uproxx. “And demeaned, and perhaps bullied.” Seeing Nick now though, and the joy he takes in his painting, and that others take in his work…there’s no price tag you can put on that, Steve says.

Being on the autism spectrum doesn’t make Nick Morse any less talented or joyful as an artist, but it could have easily caused his talent to go unnoticed. Because of his autism, people have underestimated Nick his whole life. It’s a common problem for artists who don’t fit into a traditional category, mentally, physically, or financially. They’re ignored by society, and swept under the rug, told what they can and cannot do or be. So the idea of making money from their art, can seem like an impossible dream to people like Nick.

It’s this dismissal of artists with disabilities that bothered Liz Powers when she began working with people in shelters and with disabilities. Powers saw the art work being created in shelters, and was completely blown away. She noticed that not only were there many artists with real talent, but they were also being completely overlooked.

Artist Nick Morse with Liz Powers, founder of ArtLifting.

“This artwork is amazing!” Powers says of the work she started to see. “And a lot of it is saleable.” It just wasn’t being sold….yet.

Seeing pieces she liked made Powers realize that there was a job market for people that wasn’t being tapped into. They just needed a little help facilitating things. The artists she met wanted to work, they just didn’t necessarily have people that believed in them or the same set of opportunities that others artists had gotten.

“They repeatedly told me, Liz, I don’t want a handout,” Powers says. “I want an opportunity.”

So Powers began to ask herself how best she could help.

“How can we change the future of social enterprise so we’re creating more jobs,” Powers says she pondered, “and we’re redefining what a job is so that the economy includes more people that desperately want to work.”

Her answer to the problem was in the creation of ArtLifting, a business that empowers artists living with homelessness or disabilities through the celebration and sale of their artwork. Powers figured that once there was a venue for people to see artist’s work, they’d want to buy it. And those sales would benefit and embolden her artists in their careers.

For people like Stacey Williams, the organization has been invaluable. Williams was laid off from her job at Harvard in 2009 due to the recession. And no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t seem to get back on her feet.

“It was a very difficult time not being able to find even temp work,” Williams says. She became homeless, and her situation seemed desperate until a caseworker, having seen her incredible paintings, suggested she might be a good candidate for ArtLifting. The connection was life changing.

“Selling my art, it just never occurred to me,” Williams says. So when she got that first check in the shelter from her art, she cried. She was making money doing something she loved.

Stacey Williams paints a piece to sell with ArtLifting.

ArtLifting has a clear financial impact that helps the artists in the program, but it also has a dramatic impact on quality of life and confidence. Selling their art brings a kind of validation and joy that can’t be measured.

“That’s the piece that is the most important to me,” Powers says. “Seeing that domino effect of positivity on their life.”

For artists like Morse and Williams, being able to sell their art and be called professional artists is invaluable. Williams is still trying to get used to it all. She’s still surprised when she sells pieces.

“I feel this overwhelming sense of gratefulness,” she says with disbelief. “Like….this is really happening?”

You can support ArtLifting or buy work on their website.

View this post on Instagram

"heaven in 3D" |

A post shared by Tracey (@tbird710) on