Blickwinkel – by Sophia Vecchini
Turning homeless people into artists / let homeless people become artists
Sophia Vecchini is currently in her final semester of her media management studies. In her last semester she has to develop and realize a project on her own. The idea of her project to turn homeless people into artists* resulted in a course during her studies and her social vein. “I was in a volunteer course a few semesters ago. It was about creative campaigns, theoretically. The professor introduced us to one of the Bahnhofsmission am Zoo,” says Sophia. Here she received a lot of input. ” During this course we were allowed to think up creative campaigns for the Bahnhofsmission. My group and I had a very creative focus, a lot was about different art forms,” she continues.
That is when she had the idea to look for people who come to the Bahnhofsmission am Zoo as people who are homeless and let them become artists*. They should create art, taking photos from their point of view and everyday life. Photographs that will be presented at an exhibition afterwards. Now the time has finally come: the planning phase has already begun and the idea is being realized. In the first quarter of 2021, the exhibition is supposed to open in the homeless center of the Bahnhofsmission am Zoo. The exhibition is also intended to become a place of meetings and interaction. A place where worlds collide that are usually ignored by the broad mass of society. It is about the artists* showing themselves and being seen as well.
Every person is worth the same, every person deserves to be treated equally. Sophia takes the first step and invites you to join her creative process. In the following interview, she tells us how far she has progressed with planning so far and what difficulties, but also opportunities, have opened up for her.
How did you get the idea?
I am in the last semester of my media management studies. During this last semester we have to develop and realize a project independently. And fortunately, we have a lot of freedom there. I was in a volunteer course a few semesters ago. It was about creative campaigns and the professor connected us with one from the Bahnhofsmission am Zoo. He gave us input. We were allowed to come up with a creative campaign for the Bahnhofsmission during the course. That was when I got the idea to find people who would come to the Bahnhofsmission am Zoo as homeless people. Let them become artists themselves, so that they have the opportunity to show what they can do and be seen. That was catchy. I have a social vein and have worked a lot with children, but not so much in the area of poverty or homelessness. But once you’ve tasted a little bit of, I’d say, blood, and got into more social areas, then you have a drive like that. I did a voluntary social year in a crisis center. There you see an unbelievable amount and an unbelievable amount of formative things, also the view of our society and the problems are changing. It broadens your view of the world in which we are living. I grew up in Zehlendorf, I also went to school there. Somehow, the biggest dramas were that you could not afford the Longchamp bag. Sure, these are clichés, but some clichés are based on truths. And then you were dealing with sheltered people. To have such a contrasting program and to see that it is not always like that has influenced me and I have noticed that in such projects. When it came to developing creative campaigns… I often have a different view on it, because for me the human being and his story is more important than how successful we are now on Instagram. Which is of course not always optimal. But of course, it changes something.
Have homeless people been included in these creative campaigns, and have the campaigns been implemented?
Unfortunately, the campaigns were not implemented, it was more of a theoretical part. So it was more about the concept and the thought processes behind it. We were able to think about how much we really wanted to involve these people and how many and in what way, because there are still many points of contact. So as I just said, with people who live in a sheltered household. Not everyone in the course was so enthusiastic about the idea of sitting in a room with five homeless people.
If you want to work with a homeless person for your project, isn’t it possible that there is a lot of distrust? I imagine it’s difficult to convince people who are homeless for a project just like this.
I have to say that I have asked myself the same question. That is why I was quite fast at the point where I said: OK, I would like to work with the social workers there on site. With the individual case helpers on site, because they know their people and they know who might be interested. But I have to say that I spent a day as an assistant in the Bahnhofsmission am Zoo and you get a feeling for the ambience. For the tone that prevails there. And I went there once for an appointment, for example, I had an appointment with one of the social workers there and at the moment it’s very confusing where the entrance is. There was a group of men who said: what are you looking for? Do you need help? There was actually not much fear of contact from the other side. That’s why I’m relatively optimistic. I also went for a walk with a homeless man who helped me a bit and gave me some advice. The social worker there, with whom I am in contact, she told me very clearly whom I can already contact. Because it is a kind of network. You usually have a relatively regular clientele. Most of them are coming back again and again. That means that internal hierarchies are formed there and that means there are certain people who have more to say than others. From the outside, you don’t have a clue. But if you also have insiders and you get to know the people a little bit, get in touch with the right people, then you get such insights. I went for a walk with someone like that and he told me what could go well…, what could not go that well…, about what I have to pay attention to etc. I had the feeling that there is a lot more confidence in me than I would have thought.
How far have you progressed with the project, what is the current status?
There have been quite a few changes because of Corona. Corona makes everything more difficult. That means it was very, very difficult to find financing. But actually I am at the point where I have found someone who wants to finance the project – thanks to Freiberger & Collegen. Now I can buy the cameras I need for my project. I have to do everything relatively quickly with the clientele that I have to deal with. So from the moment I give the cameras to the 15 homeless people, so to speak, to the finished picture hanging on the wall. It can’ t take half a year. It must be a period of not more than two or three months. Three would almost be too much. Just to keep the 15 people in line. I have to prevent that it is simply lost in the life that the people lead. And the exhibition is only in March, because actually at this time, when winter comes, they have other problems. So they are really more concerned with getting through the winter and still being there next year. Beyond that I try to find further media partners. This is the phase I am in right now. So much planning – it’s just not the fun part yet.
How long do the people without shelter have the camera? In what period of time are you allowed to capture their view on things?
The plan is not really to say: Okay, it’s just one day. I just don’t want to make the time frame so tight, because I also really want to make them artists. I want to give them a chance, and creative freedom. If they can’t find inspiration in one place, they should be able to go to another. Just take their time for it.
How should the exhibition proceed?
I would like to address many different people, but the 15 artists will also be present at the opening. I think the exciting thing about the idea is that you can easily cover several things with it. Of course, it is exciting to participate in such a project and there are people who would simply do it voluntarily. But for many of them, there would be a little bit of a loan missing. That means you usually have to give them a financial incentive as well. In most projects they say that they will get vouchers from a supermarket. Because at least they can’t buy drugs with them. I personally prefer to give them self-responsibility. Of course I don’t want to support that, but I will say it in this way: a normal photographer could buy drugs as well, because he/she is free to decide how to spend the earned money. What matters here is really to treat them like artists. I don’t want to write on the picture or advertising for social reasons: We turn homeless people into artists. I want them to feel that way, too. I want them to feel valued. And another thing that I think is exciting is that when they are at this exhibition and they stand next to their pictures and say: Hey, do you want to buy my photograph? The plan is to let them decide the price for themselves first. Just to see how they rate themselves and what interested people would be willing to pay. Then automatically this confrontation between potential buyers and the people that this whole project is actually about happens. And I would like to see it happen in the center at the zoo. That’s exactly the meeting place to create a situation of talks and encounters.
You say that you would like to give the homeless people just that kind of courage. But I can imagine that you also have to give courage to the other side. So that they say: Okay, I’m going to face this now and I’m just going to get out of my bubble and take a look at it now. Maybe they are also afraid of it, because they don’t know how to act; how to interact with each other? Do you have something planned there, too?
These are good points. The Bahnhofsmission am Zoo is quite well hidden. That means it’s not super central in itself and it doesn’t happen very often that someone just happens to walk by by chance. That means you really have to advertise it more. Theoretically, the center is built in such a way that you have different rooms and can use them for different purposes. Universities or school classes can go there and ask questions. But there are also consultations for homeless people. My hope is that when you arrive there during regular activities, you will also experience life there. At the opening itself, it would be nice if the social workers were also present, because then the reports will be from different perspectives and you can interact with different people. In this way the possible “fear” on both sides is maybe reduced.
The interview was conducted by Carsten Jan Weichelt.