July 26, 2017

4 years ago he was homeless; thanks to this site, he’s a sought-after artist

An update from ArtLifting, an organization that markets and sells artwork created by artists living with homelessness or disabilities

Artist Scott Benner has struggled with homelessness, but his talent and the opportunity to sell his artwork through ArtLifting has allowed him to find stable housing. Photos courtesy of ArtLifting

My brother and I founded ArtLifting in November of 2013 with just four Boston artists and $4,000 of our savings. Three years later, we are 130 artists strong in 20 cities across the country. These artists, all of whom are homeless or have a disability, are finally given the national spotlight that they deserve.

Many of them told me that people often define them by their circumstances. Things like: “You don’t have housing. You are in a wheelchair.” We choose to define them by their talent instead of their circumstances.

I’ve worked with the homeless population for more than ten years, and I’ve often heard them longing for opportunities rather than handouts. They wanted to feel self-sufficient, capable, and worthy. They didn’t want to be seen as a charity case, instead they wanted to be defined by their abilities. We started ArtLifting to give these artists a platform to showcase their talents and to support themselves through the sale of their artwork. With every artist making 55 percent of the profits, artists earn income based on their artistic talents.

In the past three and a half years, I’ve witnessed incredible things from our artists. They are the ones who inspire me—not only by their talents, but their hard work.

Artist Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. She sells her work on ArtLifting. Photo courtesy of ArtLifting

The stories of artists like Scott Benner prove the value of ArtLifting’s mission. Four years ago, Scott was sleeping under a bench at a Boston train station. Now, he’s been on the “Today” show and on the cover of the New York Times business section. He’s held a show at Google’s Cambridge office and he’s sold his work to former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. He’s succeeding because of his incredible skills, and he’s been able to afford housing from the income he’s earned.

I’ve seen ArtLifting art hanging in places any artist would dream of having their work shown. I’ve seen these artists succeed because their hidden talents were finally given the opportunity to be seen. As ArtLifting has expanded, we’ve been able to grow our artist base and extend our reach. We now have offices in New York and San Francisco, in addition to our Boston headquarters. We’re bringing on more artists, and showcasing more beautiful artwork, more talent, and more inspiring stories of resilience. To see the art that was often stashed in storage or thrown away in art therapy groups being shown prominently on the walls of places like Microsoft, Google, and LinkedIn underlines the value of recognizing the potential in each person.

ArtLifting co-founder Liz Powers recognized the artistic talents of the men and women she encountered as a caseworker in homeless shelters. Photo courtesy of ArtLifting

In my first few months working as a caseworker, I began running art groups in shelters as a way to alleviate the loneliness many homeless individuals were feeling. I’d been an artist all my life and knew art had the power to uplift. Immediately, I was blown away by the talent I was seeing. But I was even more surprised to see the art being thrown away or left to collect dust in storage. I held a gallery exhibition for a few artists and the success of the night was telling. I knew if more people could see the talent I was seeing, something incredible could happen. ArtLifting started small, but through connecting with the other hundreds of disability centers and shelters across the country, we’ve grown to 130 artists.

ArtLifting shines a light on the talents of these artists that were overlooked before. We connect them to a global audience and give them the platform to show their art the world. When we recognize their talent, we recognize their humanity too. As Randy Nicholson, a Boston ArtLifting artist, says “the interest in my work makes me feel validated. Validated. Not ‘validated as an artist’ or anything like that—just validated.”

Validation has a domino effect. It creates a movement of empathy and connection among people who often do not interact.

Liz Powers


Liz Powers is ArtLifting's co-founder and Chief Happiness Spreader. ArtLifting is a social business that empowers artists who have experienced homelessness or who have a disability by giving them a marketplace to sell their work. She launched the company in 2013 with her brother Spencer Powers.