Merry what?

So many people rant on about the evils of the holiday season: "It's hypocritical. Everyone acts selfish and lazy all year, then suddenly November rolls around, and they start donating to charity and going to church and caring about humankind. Then by New Year's, they're back to their old ways. It's shameful!"

Well, maybe all you Grinches should look at it another way. This world needs all the help it can get, fleeting or not. Anything that gets people into a thoughtful or generous mood, however temporary, can't possibly be a bad thing. Thank God for the holidays, damn it.

Here's some soulful holiday fuel to burn, for temporary and year-round Mother Teresas alike: How 'bout taking time off this Sunday to rub shoulders with a group of homeless artists at their very own art opening? What could be a more powerful reminder of our own precarious existence than people who forge ahead with only a fraction of what we "normal" people have? It makes you pretty thankful (doesn't hurt that some of the art is good too).

This is the 2nd Annual Food for the Soul exhibition, staged in the upstairs gallery space at the downtown Dallas Public Library (a favorite haunt of the city's homeless folks). The directors of the area's two homeless art programs--Carol Brewer for the St. Paul United Methodist Body & Soul Homeless Ministries and Pamela Nelson for the First Presbyterian Stewpot--have collaborated again to curate a show of their participating artists' works.

Throughout the year, Dallas' homeless converge once a week at either program (some go to both) to purge themselves, entertain themselves, and reassure themselves through making art. Brewer and Nelson guide and encourage while providing the supplies, and occasionally the results are splendid: Wolf's bleeding crosses, Dino's collage landscapes, Marina's crocheted animals, Roosevelt's beautifully carved walking sticks.

These and hundreds more by dozens of artists will be on display from November 29 through December 19, and the effect is haunting. It's not unusual to see images of houses, of food, of the things that they wish for and that we take for granted. Religious text and iconography are rampant as well; the art media run the gamut from acrylics to clay to crayons to fabric--whatever Brewer and Nelson have on hand week to week, whatever tools the artists can get their fingers around to tell their stories or express their thoughts.

Whatever you think of the art, it's really beyond criticism; the distance between their lives and ours makes these artists immune to it, really. There's a desperation in the work, a need to be seen and heard, but it's pervaded by a sense of hope--a testament to the human spirit that transcends any holiday.

The opening, Sunday between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., features a performance by the Body & Soul Gospel Choir, and of course, many of the artists (as well as Brewer and Nelson) will attend. Could scare the Scrooge out of the most selfish bastards out there.

--Christina Rees

Food for the Soul is on display November 29 through December 19 at the downtown Dallas Public Library, 4th floor Exhibit Hall, 1515 Young St. The opening reception is Sunday, November 29, at 2 p.m.


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