Exhibit puts a 'face' on homelessness

Exhibit puts a 'face' on homelessness

September 30, 2004
Written by Staff Reports

Local church hosts 'Found Faces' exhibit by Minneapolis arts organization

At 21, Cynthia Arnold owned a Mercedes, had a two-bedroom apartment and was making $1,000 a day working as an escort in Texas.

Danielle Goins inspects a completed mold of her face. Goins, a mother of three, works part-time for Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization "I Love a Parade." Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune photo

She left that job to work in a brothel in Las Vegas, but her addiction to cocaine landed her on the street. She's been there for more than a decade. "It's a day-to-day thing, not knowing what to expect," said Arnold, who now lives in a group home in Minneapolis.

Arnold, 36, is trying to piece together her life. Her story is one of 20 that will be symbolized in an exhibit of facial masks called "Found Faces" in November at First Congregational UCC of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The project is being coordinated by "I Love a Parade," a nonprofit organization that offers alternative work in the arts for those who are homeless. It received two grants worth $7,000 to pay for the masks and exhibit. Each of the homeless Minnesotans will be paid a modeling fee of $50 to have masks made of their faces. After the exhibit, the masks will be sold for $200 to $250 each.

Sandra Haff, co-founder and director of the organization, said the project is important because it tells a visual story of homeless people. "Part of what we try to do is reshape images of people who are homeless and narrow the distance between middle class- and low-income people," she said.

Haff has worked with homeless people for about 30 years. Most struggle with alcohol and drugs, but Haff said she still tries to push them to excellence. "Whenever we do a project, we want people to feel better about who they are."

Cynthia Hobbie, the congregation's art exhibit coordinator, said the church has held exhibits for at least 20 years. "We just feel that art is important," she said. "[Art] adds another dimension to the church when people come in."

Cindy Arnold (l.) and "I Love a Parade" director Sandra Haff mix up a batch of molding material to pour on artist Danielle Goins' face. Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune photo

Hobbie was asked in June if the homeless art project could be displayed at the church. Having seen puppets that the organization's artists had made in the past, Hobbie readily agreed. "I just like the whole idea of giving homeless people a face and personality," she said. "We're just really excited that they've decided to have it in our space."

Ten homeless artists are working diligently on the masks in the basement of a brick building on Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis. Arnold has been an artist at "I Love a Parade" for three years, off and on. One mask she worked on recently was of a homeless 21-year-old black woman who goes by the name of Peaches.

On that mask, Arnold glued the poem "Left Alone," which Peaches wrote about being abandoned by her mother. Arnold wrapped a peach-colored gauze cloth around the mask and placed a pair of purple sunglasses over the eyes because "she's always wanted purple eyes," Haff said. Peaches has been homeless since she was 16.

Arnold's own mask is almost finished.

Half of her face is pink, the other half brown. A wire coat hanger protrudes from the left cheek. "My boyfriend used to beat me with a coat hanger to control me," she said. The wire extends to the right side of her face, forming the four children she had with the man.

On her forehead is a tiara, because people used to call her Princess. A pink shoe on the left side of the tiara represents the time she was a dancer in Vegas. A light bulb is on the right, to show her intelligence, and a fishing pole protrudes from a shopping bag, representing her favorite pastimes.

Homeless artist Cindy Arnold displays her self-portrait mask, "Princess." Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune photo

Before the masks are begun, Haff interviews the models.

On a recent morning, Danielle Goins sat down at a coffee table across from Haff to start her half-hour interview.

"You do not have to answer any questions you don't want to," Haff told her. "The more you're able to talk about [your life], the better the masks will be. But I understand your privacy."

Goins, 27, a mother of three, has lived on and off the street since she was 14. Her mother had thrown her out, she said. For now, she has some stability. She lives in a $600 apartment in Minneapolis with her 2-year-old daughter, Sarah.

But she worries every day that she'll be evicted, she said. "It's been difficult for me to hold on to it," she said. She works about 18 hours a week at "I Love a Parade" and also receives a welfare check. Her biggest fear is that she'll end up in a shelter.

As she lay back on an old dentist's chair to start the casting for her mold, she said she wanted her mask to reflect her struggles.

"I've been through a lot of stuff," she said. "Sometimes, I struggle every day to get out of bed. There's together Danielle and then there's Danielle who just falls apart. But I have a good heart."

Reprinted with permission from the Minneapolis- St. Paul Star-Tribune.

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