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Area Voices: Nameless Coalition for the Homeless guests' art debuts

Artwork of a landscape with blue painting and a tree with red leaves.
Nameless Coalition for the Homeless
Artwork that will be on display at the Nameless Stories Art Exhibition going on Friday.

Nameless Stories Art Exhibition Opening Night Celebration is 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, June 7, at the Wild Hare Bistro & Coffeehouse. The pieces in the exhibition were created by guests of the Nameless Coalition for the Homeless with visionary artist Kent Estey. Amy Karwoski, the organization's planning director, joined Area Voices to discuss the event.

BEMIDJI — Every piece of art tells a story. People who experience the art of The Nameless Stories Art Exhibition get a chance to learn the stories largely absent from community art spaces.

Photo of Amy Karwoski standing next to Kent Estey in front of a display board.
Nameless Coalition for the Homeless
Planning Director Amy Karwoski, left, and artist Kent Estey at one of the workshop days in early 2024.

The Nameless Coalition for the Homeless has operated since 2016 in the Bemidji area. It includes two large low-barrier entry emergency shelters. The Wolfe offers emergency shelter from October to May for people with chronic chemical dependencies. The organization also opened the year-round New Day Center in 2021.

Planning director Amy Karwoski said the program was created to improve access to art making and conception on two levels. First, guests are provided access to materials and professional coaching to create high-quality art pieces to tell their stories. Second, artists are empowered to build a constructive road map to explore a professional career in the arts.

The idea for the exhibition came from the desire to provide experience in showing and selling artwork publicly at the request of the Nameless Coalition guests. There was another goal as well. Karwoski said, “This exhibition offers our larger community access to fresh visual narratives that are largely absent from what is considered legitimate community art spaces or gallery spaces in this area.”

Two people standing over landscape paintings. One wearing red shirt and hat and the other in a black shirt.
Nameless Coalition for the Homeless
Kent Estey working with a guest on their landscape painting during a workshop in early 2024.

There will be about 17 pieces shown, all large-scale abstract landscape paintings. Mediums included acrylics and a mix of fluorescents and metallic textures. Some of them even glow in the dark.

The process

Local artist Kent Estey coached the guests through the painting process. Karwoski had him in mind when applying for the Region 2 Arts Council Access Grant. He was a friend of a board member, so a connection was made. But Estey being a well-known artist wasn’t the only reason Karwoski wanted to work with him.

“He's also a teacher and more importantly, he’s such a human. He's a humanitarian and a storyteller and truly cares about people and he's a Native artist and over 70% of our guests are Native and he was able to speak to the way that they expressed history and identity.” Karwoski continued, “This whole program wouldn't be nearly as special without his involvement at every step of the way.”

A person standing above and working on a landscape painting using dark grey colors.
Nameless Coalition for the Homeless
Nameless Coalition for the Homeless guest working on their painting for the Nameless Stories Art Exhibition in early 2024.

The program lasted six weeks with multiple-day workshops. Estey and Karwoski were present for each one. Karwoski said it was very emotional for her. “I learned so much about our guests and their backgrounds that I didn't know from my position, and that meant a lot to me.”

In writing the final report for the grant funding, Karwoski contemplated whether the program was a success.

“Almost every single guest that joined us over those six-week classes sat down and immediately started expressing their vision. I have never seen anything like it in an art class I’ve been a part of or taught. It was like these stories and the pictures were overflowing from their brains already.

“That sort of reinforced the idea that they have so much to say and maybe not the materials accessible to them to always express that because it overflowed quickly and easily, and it was just wonderful to see a visual representation of what was in our guests' heads.”

There was one painting made by a guest that Karwoski had her eye on. But one day, it was gone from the gallery. By asking around, she found out the artist had just found housing for the first time since being a guest of the Nameless Coalition. He wanted to have it to hang in his new home.

“I can't think of a better definition of success than that," she said.

The event is at the Wild Hare Bistro & Coffeehouse in Bemidji and will feature music from local beatboxer T-Chill. The opening will also include a black light room and refreshments. In addition, each artist has the option to sell their work to the public.

“This is a wonderful chance to not only learn more about some of the issues that are going on in our community, but it is a chance for a cultural and storytelling exchange with a group of people that you may not often have access to their stories and their visions,” she said.

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Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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