Who Is The Art Bag Lady?

Me with outsider artist in homeless shelter smoking yard, on mural project, 2015

In the fall of 2013, a former art professor walks into a homeless shelter for the first time. She is on a mission to reinvent, maybe even save herself along with other societal misfits in the process because she knows, first hand, how art can help people survive. Maybe even thrive. She calls herself The Art Bag Lady.

She is soon stunned that the homeless are more like her than she ever dreamed – and that she finds the scary, scruffy men far more approachable than the hardened women, who have seen and done things she cannot imagine. Or maybe she can. Over art, people talk, and while she makes art with the homeless she learns that almost all of them have lost jobs they loved. Many are fleeing from abuse and endured abusive childhoods, sexual and otherwise. Most struggle with addictions, and will never be forgiven for the crimes they have committed, even after they have served their time, paid the price. All have been abandoned by family and friends, all have family histories similar to hers, and those histories made them homeless.

They are also among the bravest and most artistically gifted individuals she has ever encountered in her decades of trying to teach the value of art to college students. One, named Owen, strongly reminds her of her long lost brother Michael, who died suddenly in 2004 and about the same time she began seriously questioning her career path.

Owen at our studio, August 2015

Owen is musical and artistic, shy yet passionate, and about age of her own children, including her estranged son. When The Art Bag Lady and Owen begin sharing their life stories over art making, on companionable walks away from the homeless shelter and finally, alone in secret spaces, they learn they are remarkably alike despite wide differences in age, upbringing and opportunity. The Art Bag Lady feels understood, appreciated and admired for her honesty and integrity, and finally loved for who she really is.

So begins a several year transformation from a traditional teacher to an art activist and servant leader while trying to help a homeless man whom she cannot help loving even though mental illness is destroying him, and by extension, herself. A day comes when she must choose between herself and Owen, just as she had to choose herself over her brother and due to a childhood trauma that left her without years of memory, and scarred for life. Once again, choosing herself seems to result in tragedy for a dearly loved one. But after a year of grieving and finally understanding Owen’s suicide, it means freedom from a debilitating, lifelong sense of misplaced responsibility and guilt that no one need ever carry.

I am a veteran arts educator, creative writer and art/creative activist with several recently published autobiographical essays excerpted from an original memoir entitled Leaving Semesterland (Still Point Arts Quarterly, Botticelli Magazine, Line Zero, Spruce Mountain Press). I was single mother, adult-aged college student when I earned an MFA in studio art in the 1990s, and spent two decades thereafter as traditional teacher of art. Since then I am dedicated to telling my life story in order to inspire others to rise above their life circumstances, and am committed to bringing art and expressive writing to powerless people in order to empower them, and change their lives for the better.

I am seeking agent/publisher representation for The Art Bag Lady.  Contact me theartbaglady@gmail.com, or here at WarriorWoman Productions.