This month, Crisis member and artist, Mel, talked to philanthropist Minnie MacHale about the role art can play in helping people to rebuild their lives.
Minnie and her husband, Joe, generously funded the Art Room at Crisis Skylight Croydon, and Minnie is herself a keen and talented artist. Mel's art, created at Crisis Skylight Croydon, is included throughout this article.
Here are some snippets from their conversation.
Mel: Where did your love of art come from?
Minne: My childhood inspiration was from a great aunt who painted watercolours. She never made any personal gain from her paintings, choosing instead to sell them for charity or the Church. As a girl, I would sit with her and watch her paint.
I didn’t go to art school but picked up my art as I went along. It wasn’t until my children went to school that I started with my local art group. You need encouragement to keep your art going.
What role might art play in helping people leave homelessness behind for good?
I think fundamentally when you achieve a creation from your mind, which is what you’re doing when you paint, it gives you so much satisfaction, it boosts your self-esteem. When you paint, and your painting is going well, it is so uplifting.
I have never been homeless but I can imagine that you do feel at absolute rock bottom. So if you are able, with encouragement from an organisation such as Crisis, to participate in art, it opens up your mind and then you can become receptive to other ideas, and other encouragement. Until you have that opening of your mind through creating something yourself, I don’t feel you can absorb the help that you are being offered.
Mel's artwork, created at Crisis Skylight Croydon
It is staggering that in a first-world country where so many people are so privileged, that people can go, in just one week, from ‘normal’ life into homelessness. We need to educate the people who can help. - Minnie
What motivated you to support Crisis?
The first thing was Crisis at Christmas, which is not just giving someone a Christmas meal, but taking someone in and caring for people, making someone feel special. It wasn’t just a sticking plaster to make Christmas day seem alright. It takes more than just a meal to convince someone that there is help out there and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
What would you like to achieve through your philanthropy?
No one can help everyone but I think it is best to concentrate on an organisation that you feel can demonstrate the progress that is being made and the lives that are being put back on track. That’s what we think is fantastic about Crisis, and I talk to a lot of people about it.
What would you say to someone considering a philanthropic gift to Crisis?
I think it’s key to get the Crisis philosophy across to people. A lot of people think homeless charities just give people a place to sleep at night, but at Crisis it is so much more than that: it is to help people get their lives back together. It is more than just finding shelter; Crisis well and truly supports people rebuild their lives. Homelessness can go on for a while and I think it is really important to repair people’s souls.
What advice would you give to someone experiencing homelessness?
I think when someone is truly at rock bottom it must be very difficult because society is basically against you. The advice I would actually love to give is not to homeless people, but to ‘Joe Public’, the people out there who just don’t care. It is staggering that in a first-world country where so many people are so privileged, that people can go, in just one week, from ‘normal’ life into homelessness. We need to educate the people who can help.