When St. Francis House guests come to the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio, they often don’t know what they are looking for or what they will find. When they get there, our art therapist Gurleen Anand warmly welcomes each guest and encourages their open self-expression through a variety of art forms. Serving roughly 16-20 people every weekday, the Art Studio provides high-quality paints, canvases, textiles, and other art supplies to our guests.
“I make sure I give them the same colors I would use. The same quality of Canvas I would paint on, so they really get the best of everything and enjoy that,” Gurleen said.
While Gurleen often acts as a guide by teaching guests about different techniques, and organizing different projects, she makes it clear that she is also there as an assistant to help guests through their therapeutic, creative process.
“When somebody is their assistant that really boosts confidence. Once the confidence is back on the table, the process starts,” she said.
Some guests find sanctuary in the art studio on a daily basis and have carved out their therapeutic niche in the space. One guest named Moses never painted before coming to St. Francis House but has found it to be a great outlet and a source of peace. Moses comes to the Art Studio for therapy and self-expression but has also created a portfolio that he’s proud of in the process. He has even been able to enter his art into local exhibitions.
Ted, another regular of the art studio, says weaving scarves on Saori machines, working with textiles, and stitching tote bags out of canvas is great therapy for him. Whenever he is in the studio, he spends most of his time in the back near the sewing machines, an area that he calls his “hideaway corner.”
Ted confidently says that homelessness is just a phase for him and is determined to find housing. While he continues his housing search, he finds enjoyment and solace in the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio and what he’s able to create there.
Not every person who comes to the Art Studio is a prolific creator, and that’s ok! Some use the space simply to doodle, or even write poetry. As Gurleen stresses, the important part of the studio is not to create fine art, but to express oneself openly and therapeutically through art.
“The studio is about making sure they have that healing process. It’s not about an end goal or ‘what do we bring out or what is there to see or admire,’ it’s the entire journey. We’re talking about therapy here; we’re not talking about museum artwork. We’re talking about their emotions showing up. Instead of fighting outside, they’re fighting with the brush in the studio,” Gurleen said.
While guiding guests through their art, Gurleen provides emotional support and reassurance.
“Here, I make sure they have their self-esteem, I make sure somebody’s recognizing them, somebody’s appreciating them and that’s really important. At the end of the day, what does anybody want? Just love and recognition. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”
Guests who come to the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio have a wide range of experiences and passions. Almost all guests
visiting the studio have experienced significant trauma and are experiencing homelessness. With the resources of the studio, and the guidance Gurleen provides, guests like Moses and Ted and many more are able to carve out a space where they are safe, supported, and able to express themselves confidently through an art form that they choose. Along with other refuge and recovery programs, therapy and confidence building at the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio can be an impactful step towards rebuilding lives.