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editorial director’s note

In the  Spring 2017 semester, OF NOTE magazine again embarked on a collaboration with a group of thoughtful and socially-engaged undergraduate and graduate students via the department of Art & Public Policy, in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Students in the course formed an editorial team, committing to an “activist exploration of the relationship between art and society, and the role of the artist in civic life.” (Read the Spring 2016 student collaboration, The Water Issue.)  As students of New York University, they took a hyper-local focus on what is happening in the city they live in, looking at how artists use their artistic practices to combat homelessness in New York City’s neighborhoods.


We turned to artists who approached the condition of being homelessness not as monolithic but one on a spectrum. There are many ways of living without a stable and/or safe home–hence the title we chose, “The Unsheltered Issue.” The reality of being “unsheltered” isn’t fully covered by statistics. For example, when hip-hop theater artist Kilusan Bautista, who is one of the artists profiled in The Unsheltered Issue, visited our team in April, he reminded us that being unsheltered can also mean living in an overcrowded apartment, couch surfing, or living in libraries–all of which he experienced. For him and many New Yorkers, being unsheltered means living in a state of constant physical and mental vulnerability.

After reading The Unsheltered Issue, we hope readers better understand how art is impactful in addressing the unsheltered experience. For this reason, we feature a range of artists-activists: those who after having experienced being unsheltered turn their personal narratives into artistic interventions, those who are working with artists to alleviate the issue of housing insecurity, and who through the support of organisations, use art as a mode of therapy and community engagement.

While the assumption is that solving the unsheltered issue rests with governmental and social service institutions, those featured in The Unsheltered Issue demonstrate a personal and collective citizen responsibility to act.

The editorial team learned that how we think about homelessness determines how we address it. Through raising questions, the artists included in this issue examine the unsheltered from new perspectives and view stable housing as a human right. It is our hope that these perspectives will lead to more equitable dialogues and solutions for stable housing in our society.

While it is easy to push the ongoing crisis of homelessness onto others, the artists featured in The Unsheltered Issue have agreed to face the complex task of addressing housing and homelessness head on. It is our hope that through their arts activism, readers will understand the compelling and nuanced definitions of what it means to be unsheltered.

–Editorial Team, “Artists, Social Change and the Role of Journalism,” Art & Public Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, Spring 2017


Featured Articles

Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo: Housing is a Human Right


When the artists returned to New York City around 2009, they decided to continue to explore the struggle for housing in a more local context and began collecting stories from a diverse array of New York City residents. “We wanted to be able to spend three or four hours with people and really hear their truth. . . if we’re going to really think about solutions to the housing crisis, it made sense to listen to the people that are dealing with it.”




Chinatown Art Brigade: Projecting Resistance Through Community Art


In an attempt to reduce the influence of New York City’s biggest gentrifiers on Chinatown, the Chinese-American founders of the Chinatown Art Brigade aim to prioritize accessibility and engagement in art, rather than creating museum-worthy “high art.” They want the community to participate in fighting against gentrification, and to bring visibility to the housing issues in Chinatown,  lessening the likelihood of displacement in the region.




Gavin ‘DubbleX’ Alleyne: Decoding Mental Illness and Homelessness


Gavin ‘DubbleX’ Alleyne is a New York-based artist, poet, father, and husband. He’s a former English teacher, a Kendrick Lamar fan, and inventor of the graffiti handstyle Xubel, an eclectic way of writing letters that includes sharp lines, symbols, and coded messages that must be decrypted. He reflects on the invisibility of those who are unsheltered and those afflicted by mental illness through painting and poetry. He speaks to the stigma around schizophrenia to shed light on the lack of mental health care available for low-income individuals.



Heart Gallery NYC: The City of Unsheltered Eyes


Through the Eyes of the Homeless was an initiative created to disturb a process of selective perception. A collaboration between the NYC Department of Homeless Services and Heart Gallery NYC between March and June of 2015, its purpose was to give unsheltered individuals the opportunity to show the city from their perspective and their ownership of it. It used the art of photography to portray the perspectives of women and men that are unable to find shelter within their own city, marginalized from their society, and dismissed by the administration.





Shaka Senghor: The Intentional Storyteller


Shaka Senghor grew up in Detroit, Michigan where his life evolved from scholarly student, to drug dealer, to inmate. For 26 years, Senghor’s story stretched from pain and incarceration into innovation and atonement. Most of the features on Senghor cover different aspects of the same issues: the choices which led to incarceration; the perils faced and discoveries made during his sentence, particularly in solitary confinement; his public advocacy for U.S. prison reform. What isn’t covered in the articles are the times Senghor was living displaced, or unsheltered.




 Nadine Maleh: Designing New Options for Urban  Housing


A space to call one’s own is an essential building block from which security can stem. Nadine Maleh is an architect whose work focuses on designing affordable housing developments in conversation with the men, women, and children who will be living in and around them. Now the executive director of the Institute for Public Architecture, Maleh began her career in New York with an organization called Breaking Ground, which focuses on developing affordable and supportive housing in the city.



Andrea Star Reese: Life in New York City’s Underground


Andrea Star Reese spent seven years, from 2007 to 2014, interacting and photographing a community of people living in New York City train tunnels for her series The Urban Cave. Primarily located in the north side of what is known as “The Freedom Tunnel” under Riverside Park in Manhattan, these tunnels were home to dozens of people facing an array of challenges. From dealing with childhood abuse to drug addiction, The Urban Cave visually documents how people within this community supported one another in the face of bleak circumstances.



Kilusan Bautista: Rendering Homelessness Visible Through Theater


In Transcend, playwright and multimedia artist Kilusan Bautista deals with his experience with homelessness in Brooklyn in 2010. The multimedia play explores Bautista’s hardship of navigating through the housing market, being homeless and finding himself stretched between shelters, friends’ places, university campuses, and the train. It focuses on the nuanced ways of living for a college student who is simply trying to survive while unsheltered.



More Art: “Refugee. Immigrant. Displaced. Alien.”


Home(ward), an exhibition on view in Apring 2017 at The Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF), set an example as a platform to render unsheltered communities visible. From October 27, 2016 to March 17, 2017 Home(ward) presented nine artworks from 10 contemporary artists made either through, or in collaboration with More Art, a NYC-based nonprofit “that fosters collaboration between professional artists and communities.”





Alex Fradkin and Taz Tagore: Shattering Stereotypes of LGBT Homeless Youth


Taz Tagore and Adam Bucko are co-founders of The Reciprocity Foundation. Located in Manhattan, the nonprofit works with 100-200 unsheltered LGBT youth per year, providing emotional support to those who have suffered traumatic experiences as a result of their sexual and/or gender orientation. Many of them have been entrapped in a cycle of displacement from an early age, and find it hard to shake the various circumstances they’ve encountered. Being invisible becomes a survival mechanism.



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