“Art with a Heart” Brings Warmth to the Homeless
It’s a place where art meets heart. WarmStreets, an organization and art gallery in downtown Lynchburg specifically dedicated to caring for the homeless, is local nonprofit director Rick Hughes’ way of connecting citizens to the less fortunate around the area—those who are often forgotten on the streets.
The concept arose when Hughes, founder and director of WarmStreets, became aware of the increasing homeless population in Lynchburg—which has risen by 28 percent since 2010 according to figures collected by the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Central Virginia—and was inspired to help in a tangible, physical way. While attending a conference, Hughes was introduced to the idea of filling bags with food, blankets and other essentials and passing them out to those living and sleeping on the streets.
“I just thought, ‘I can do that,’” remembers Hughes. And so the mission began.
For the first few weeks afterward, Hughes purchased bags, filled them with useful items and walked the streets of Lynchburg handing them out to all who needed them. Nearby churches quickly began to notice his efforts, and were eager to participate. By enlisting congregation members and volunteers to fill bags, Hughes began what would be an intricate partnership between himself, local churches and neighboring nonprofits to combat the growing rate of homelessness in the Hill City.
What originated as a simple effort to provide the less fortunate with useful items rapidly grew into a community-wide mission. With the publicity from a few local television stations and publications, WarmStreets gained enough recognition to receive handfuls of volunteers knocking at its doors—people who were ready, willing and excited to help, but weren’t quite sure how. Hughes was determined to remain true to his belief that people could contribute to the social welfare of their community by using their God-given talents, often resulting in a more enjoyable and more rewarding experience.
With the influx of extra volunteers, WarmStreets slowly shifted focus from individually handing out bags to providing organizations, such as Daily Bread, Miriam’s House and Rush Homes, with needed items. Hughes worked with each organization to compile “wish lists,” and then used his network of volunteers to make sure that those needs were fulfilled. Often times, Hughes even transported goods from organizations that had a surplus of a particular item to a neighboring organization that needed it. From the beginning, his genius has been in his ability to see where one has room to give and direct them toward a place where their gifts can be made useful.
Hughes was quickly encouraged by the staggering amount of people who wanted to be involved. After about a year of building the WarmStreets community, he decided it was time to add a new component to the organization—an art gallery.
“I always enjoyed being around art and artists,” Hughes said, adding that while teaching in Russia, he sold art to various countries and even dabbled in studio and digital art. It suddenly dawned on Hughes that WarmStreets could begin producing what he calls “art with a heart.”
WarmStreets Gallery, located in Studio 205 at Riverviews ArtSpace, displays and sells art from local artists—and a few by Hughes himself—with 100 percent of the proceeds devoted to WarmStreets’ various projects to benefit the homeless population. With the help of artist Lawrence Bowden, Hughes has created a professional art gallery where those interested in the fine arts can create interesting work while simultaneously contributing to a greater cause.
“This is a way we can encourage artists,” Bowden said. “You don’t feel like you’re just holed up in your studio not doing anything for anyone else, but addressing very real problems of poverty and hunger and homelessness.”
Hughes hopes that the gallery will also serve as a venue to educate the citizens of Lynchburg about the struggles of those around them. Through events and art sales, WarmStreets hopes to bring heavy traffic through the gallery, in order to raise not only proceeds, but awareness.
“It’s like a great experiment,” Hughes said of WarmStreets. “Can we get people feeling like ‘these are our people’? Because if you start feeling like ‘these are our people,’ then you want to do something.”
WarmStreets Gallery is open to the public for viewing or purchasing any of the art, jewelry, pottery or furniture pieces displayed. This spring they will host a Steam Punk/Sci-Fi Juried Show, where submissions—due March 4—will be judged and the winners awarded cash prizes up to $300. All artists are welcome to submit their works fitting the Steam Punk/Sci-Fi theme.