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Art Fest for all

October 05 2016
David Tovey and Chris Wilson David Tovey and Chris Wilson
Homelessness. Art. Festival. Carinya Sharples hears from one man who is making these three words work together.

When David Tovey says “art saved my life”, he isn’t kidding. Just a few years ago, the artist and founder of the One Festival of Homeless Arts thought it was all over. “I was on the streets, I was going through cancer, I was HIV positive, I couldn’t take any of my meds, I got really ill, I got into addiction and ended up trying to take my own life – several times. Everything just got on top of me. Completely out of control.”

But then something happened. “I won a photo competition run by Café Art, and from winning that and just the acknowledgement – that somebody actually likes something that I did – was like, wow! So empowering – it was unbelievable.”

Since then, Tovey has exhibited his work in New York, Melbourne, Brazil, Rome and London. “I thought: if that’s the power of taking one photograph, what would a whole exhibition be like? From music to poetry, spoken work to film to acting – everything all in one place.” The idea for a festival of art, made by homeless people, fell into place.

At first it didn’t come off. Tovey tried to launch the festival last year, but the location fell through. However, a chance meeting with Jacob Stevens, general manager of Diorama Arts in London, put it back on the table.

As well as inviting Tovey to become Diorama Arts’ first artist-in-residence, Stevens offered up the building for his use and the One Festival Of Homeless Arts was born, kicking off in style with an opening party on 5 August. Over the following weeks, visitors popped in to see art works from Clothing the Homeless, Café Art, Homeless Diamonds, St Mungo’s and others. There was also a workshop from Streetwise Opera, poetry, film screenings, music from Choir With No Name, and more.

One aim of the exhibition, says Stevens, was to bring homeless organisations together in one place. “There are very few events where homeless service groups can all meet, collaborate and compare their work. There have been so many amazing groups join in – like St Mungo’s, Café Art, Hopeful Traders – that we feel really touched.”

And thought the exhibition has now finished, the spirit of togetherness hasn’t. Diorama Arts and Tovey have been invited to join the new Arts and Homelessness Forum, a collaboration between Cardboard Citizens, Choir with No Name, Café Art, Streetwise Opera, Open Cinema and Homeless Link. The forum, which will meet quarterly (the first meet-up was on 20 September), is open to “arts/homelessness projects, homeless centres running arts programmes, artists who have experienced homelessness and others in the field.” For more information on how to attend, contact any of the participating organisations.

The One Festival of Homeless Arts is also set to become an annual event. And Diorama Arts has even found its next artist-in-resident through the festival, ex-homeless artist Chris Wilson. Tovey is thrilled at the festival’s success – and the opportunities it’s opening up for his fellow artists. “That’s the whole part of this exhibition – to give somebody self-confidence and that sense of inclusion.” It’s worked for him, after all.