From the Streets to the Studio

Poverty & the Arts Studio

Poverty & the Arts is a nonprofit social enterprise that provides opportunities for artists overcoming homelessness. Their studio and programs allow their artists to engage in creative outlets, develop entrepreneurial and professional skills, earn an income and build community relationships.


Poverty & the Arts began in 2011 in Nashville, TN, when founder Nicole Brandt – then a student at Belmont University – was assigned a job-planning service project. Brandt had been passionate about building relationships with people experiencing homelessness since high school. She knew the homeless community to be creative and resourceful, though victims of oppressive structures and systems. Through her project, she hoped to encourage the creativity of homeless individuals and create a space where people could genuinely get to know their homeless neighbors. Using art as the conduit for the community to see homeless individuals as equals, Brandt hosted the first Community Arts Day in November 2011, thus launching Poverty & the Arts.


The Artist Collective Program

Since then, Poverty & the Arts has grown to include a social enterprise focus within the nonprofit, working closely with a small number of homeless and formerly homeless artists (PovA artists) through the Artist Collective program. Artists overcoming homelessness must fill out an Artist Application and sign an Art Sales Contract and an Artist Handbook once accepted.


Once the PovA artists sign the agreements, they are able to use the studio space and a variety of art supplies. They attend studio hours (each with personalized goals) and are encouraged to explore various artistic mediums, from painting to fiber arts to jewelry-making. Artists also gain artistic, professional and entrepreneurial skills through related workshops and hands-on training, all in an environment that nourishes their souls, builds their confidence and reignites their dreams.


Poverty & the Arts has galvanized me, giving me a sense of belonging and purpose. It has given me pride in what I do and help to renew my confidence. It helps me in more practical ways with money and gives me the feeling of accomplishment. I have met some genuine good-hearted people. – Artist Jesse


In addition, the Artist Collective program provides opportunities for its artists to earn an income by exhibiting and selling original artwork, prints and merchandise in the studio + gallery, at events around town and on the online Artist Marketplace. PovA artists earn 60% of original artwork sales. Poverty & the Arts reinvests the remaining 40% back into the organization to provide art supplies, studio space and exhibition opportunities, enabling the artists to continue to create and sell work.


In addition to earning much needed income, the program helps PovA artists integrate back into society. Artists gain confidence and develop social skills by building community relationships with volunteers, customers and community partners within the Nashville community. Poverty & the Arts focuses on a holistic approach, providing earned income and professional and social skill development. This in turn increases artists’ housing stability and provides access to employment with higher wages, taking critical steps towards breaking the cycle of homelessness.


Being a part of this community makes me feel like I finally fit in somewhere. It’s as if I’m actually wanted, instead of just existing. Some people even look up to me now, as a friend and as a leader. – Artist David


The social enterprise model has been vital to the growth of the organization. As a small, “up-and-coming” nonprofit, Poverty & the Arts is able to utilize their social enterprise to generate revenue and provide programming, while building a donor database and applying for grants. Looking ahead, Brandt aims to increase the number and diversity of artists, volunteers and board members within the organization. She is also working to increase art sales, exhibition/vendor booth opportunities and the number of artist workshops.


When I started doing visual art, I started seeing the world for the first time instead of feeling like I was being watched or that everyone was looking at me. I’m a human sex trafficking survivor and a domestic violence survivor. Something heinous happened to me in 2013. Right now I’m working on this rag doll, which is giving me perspective on objectification, especially of women. This doll helps me to remember my body and myself as alive. – Artist Beth


To learn more about Poverty & the Arts, visit their SEA member profile and website.

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