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Arts program celebrates 50th year of uplifting Tenderloin's unhoused, struggling

By Carrie Sisto - Published on April 30, 2019.

This year, Tenderloin community-based support organization Hospitality House will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Community Arts Program (CAP), one of its many efforts to provide homeless and struggling neighbors with an outlet beyond drugs and alcohol. 

CAP started as a simple, drop-in space for runaway youth with markers and crayons, Hospitality House executive director Joe Wilson told us. But in the intervening decades, the program has evolved to offer daily free fine arts classes in disciplines like pottery, watercolors, and acrylics, offering high-quality studio space and donated materials to budding artists.

“We’ve moved well beyond crayons and markers,” Wilson said. 

The CAP offers fine art classes and studio space.

Each year, more than 400 different low-income community artists participate in the program, making a total of about 8,000 annual visits to Hospitality House's studio space at 6th and Market streets. 

Some instructors in the program are hired from other nearby arts programs, including the SF Academy of Art. Others are CAP alumni, who often return to discuss their experience and provide guidance to new students.

The two groups the program brings together – artists and the unhoused – face similar struggles, Wilson noted. Both are often searching for identity and place amid the “twin pinchers of displacement and entrapment in the Tenderloin.”

CAP offers unhoused people the opportunity place to find beauty in the neighborhood’s struggles, add dimensions, and challenge perceptions, he said. And the arts and music can offer enormous support to brain development for those facing mental illness or addiction. 

Hospitality House also displays and sells its artists' work, hosting 15 different themed shows and exhibitions in 2018 alone. The artists that participate in the program receive 100% of the proceeds from any sales of their work, Wilson said. On average, artists can make $1,200-$1,400 through one exhibition or show.

Many of Hospitality House's art sale events occur at its studio space at 6th and Market streets.

Hospitality House, which launched in the summer of 1967, provides a variety of programs aimed at helping people find their own path to self-help, said Wilson, who is himself a former resident of the organization's 30-bed men’s shelter (146 Leavenworth St.).

Beyond the shelter and the CAP, Hospitality House hosts 10 or more sponsored hiring events each year, provides assistance with resume and cover letter preparation, and gives clients the necessary clothing and equipment they need to start working.

On average, about 225 people are employed annually as a result of the organization’s efforts, Wilson said. It also offers volunteer opportunities and daily support groups.

Hospitality House executive director Joe Wilson speaking at one of the organization's community-building programs.

Next Thursday, May 9, Hospitality House will host its 34th annual art auction, featuring work made by CAP participants. The event generates about 10-15% of the CAP's budget, and roughly 1-1.5% of Hospitality House’s full annual budget, according to Wilson. [Editor's note: Hoodline has previously served as a media sponsor for the event.]

Held for the previous two years at the Dogpatch's Minnesota Street Project, the event is set to move this year into a much larger Dogpatch space, the Midway Gallery.

“We believe a larger, multi-use venue will allow us to truly showcase the incredible talent of many of our CAP artists to a much broader arts audience," Wilson explained. 

Visitors to Hospitality House's annual art auction.

The organization's peer-based model remains an experiment, even after more than 50 years in operation, Wilson said. It’s testing the concept that full belief in humankind can transform a life. 

“People here believed in me when I didn’t," he said. "[They] saw potential when I didn’t want to see another day."


THHE Auction to benefit Hospitality House will be held next Thursday, May 9 from 6-9 p.m. at the Midway Gallery (900 Marin St.). Works from both CAP participants and other local artists will be up for auction. Tickets for the event can be purchased online, and sponsorships also remain available. 

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