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Santa Clara University's de Saisset Museum Explores Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present
Christine Hanlon, Third Street Corridor, 1998, oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist.

SANTA CLARA, CA.- This summer the de Saisset Museum opens four thought-provoking exhibitions that examine how artists have responded to homelessness since the 1930s. These exhibitions, which explore a range of historical perspectives and cultural histories, opened Friday, July 29.

Hobos to Street People: Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present compares artistic interpretations of homelessness from the Dust Bowl migrants of the 1930s to the stigmatized street people of today—with a focus on California. Featuring works by 30 artists working over the last 75 years, this traveling show documents the tragedy of homelessness and the governments’ role in the crisis. Through painting, printmaking, photography, and mixed media, Depression-era and contemporary artists offer glimpses of life on the street and call attention to the many similarities between the eras.

During the Great Depression artists responded to the large numbers of poor and displaced people, often with the support of New Deal programs such as the Works Progress Administration, which funded their efforts to document what was happening across the country. Following World War II, many artists shifted their energies elsewhere. However, with the rise of homelessness in the modern era, artists once again focused their attention on this important issue.

Curator Art Hazelwood explains that “some of the artists in this exhibition personally experienced homelessness and poverty, some worked directly with organizations to combat poverty, but all of them felt that art could be used to focus attention on homelessness. The idea that art can have a function in society by engaging in a struggle for a better world, and that everyone should take an interest in the well-being of less fortunate people are the twin beliefs of the artists in this show.”

Hobos to Street People is an Exhibit Envoy traveling exhibition funded by the James Irvine Foundation, LEF Foundation, and Fleishhacker Foundation. Exhibit Envoy is a network of professionally operated museums and cultural organizations that collaborates to create and tour smaller, affordable, high quality exhibitions that advance civic engagement and human understanding.

Between Struggle and Hope: Envisioning a Democratic Art in the 1930s, an exhibition that is also curated by Art Hazelwood, explores the new and dynamic relationship between artists and the government that resulted from the Roosevelt Administration’s response to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. Drawn largely from the collection of the de Saisset Museum, the photographs, prints, and mural studies in this exhibition speak to both the struggles and the hopes of the people. They call attention to the hardships of the times, but they also remind us of why the New Deal policies were implemented and why they mattered.

A third exhibition curated by Hazelwood, brings together photographs taken by two contemporary artists who work in the tradition of Depression-era photographers such as Dorothea Lange. In This Camera Fights Fascism: The Photographs of David Bacon and Francisco Dominguez both artists responded to images by Lange and selected photographs from their own work that draw close connections between the 1930s and today.

Artists featured in these shows include Dorothea Lange, Rockwell Kent, Victor Arnautoff, and Herman Volz, as well as contemporary artists Sandow Birk, David Bacon, Francisco Dominguez, and Christine Hanlon.

The Changing Face of Homelessness: A Collection of Portraits by Santa Clara University Photography Students features works by more than 20 SCU students who have enrolled in Renee Billingslea’s Exploring Society Through Photography course since 2006. Taken with a sense of compassion and sensitivity, the photographs depict individuals and families experiencing extreme poverty in the local community and aim to break down stereotypes and provoke awareness.

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