“I don’t want a handout—I just want an opportunity.”
Liz Powers heard those words from many of the homeless she was working to help while volunteering to do casework as an undergraduate at Harvard. She always heard from her clients that they were lonely and looking to find purpose and a community.
As a lifelong artist, Powers saw a perfect opportunity to fill those needs through art groups, allowing homeless people to create and share their artwork. She began her first groups in Cambridge, which gave people a chance to develop a community and create value through their artwork.
Though she originally began with just four artists, Powers soon found there were already more than 1,000 similar art groups around the country. That’s when the idea was born for ArtLifting, a national marketplace of artwork produced by homeless artists..
ArtLifting now sells originals, prints and cellphone cases of artwork by homeless and disabled artists, giving people around the world the opportunity to support these artists and bringing dignity through work to the artists themselves.
Powers has a background in social work, and her brother brought the business expertise—together, they started ArtLifting with just $4,000 in their savings, primarily for legal filing. They didn’t have money for marketing but were quickly profiled by The Boston Globe. In the first few weeks, ArtLifting had more than $10,000 in sales.
One artist who has been powerfully affected by ArtLifting was Scott Benner, a steelworker who lost his job during the recession. He had trouble finding a new job due to serious health issues that prohibited him from operating heavy equipment. When Benner’s wife got cancer, the medical bills stacked up. He burned through his life savings and ended up homeless.
Benner told Powers that he had been an artist his whole life but that no one had seen his work before. Today, thanks to ArtLifting, Benner has sold originals for as much as $25,000 and has been featured on the Today Show and the cover of the New York Times business section.
Nick Morse, 28, is another artist who has experienced unimaginable joy through ArtLifting. Morse has autism and is non-verbal, so he speaks by creating art. “Even though he can’t speak, it’s clear that he knows his talent is being recognized,” said Powers.
When Morse first received a check after a large corporate sale of his artwork, his giant smile reflected the deep happiness ArtLifting was able to provide.
Three years after its founding, ArtLifting has 100 artists in 16 states, selling work in 46 states and around the world. In the past year, ArtLifting has been building up corporate sales as well and has accrued more than 40 corporate clients.
For ArtLifting artists, the knowledge that their work has been seen around the world is transformative and inspiring, creating deep meaning and fulfillment in the lives of those who need it most.