At the annual Plymouth Housing luncheon last month, Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist and Street Symphony founder Vijay Gupta told the lesser-known story of composer Antonio Vivaldi. Best known for his “Four Seasons,” Vivaldi wrote many of his most beloved works not for performance by elite musicians, but rather, for girls raised in a home for orphans.
In his keynote, Gupta described his experience visiting Plymouth Place’s open mic night, where residents share songs, poems and other artistic expressions. He noted that, in the proud tradition of Vivaldi, he hoped some day that the world would look “to Benaroya Hall and Plymouth Place” for the next generation of musicians and artists.
Often, we think of the arts as the purview of those with means — and often, we’re correct. The cost of lessons and equipment, not to mention the mental space it takes up to have a hobby, can become a significant barrier.
But as Gupta noted in his 2012 TED Talk, “Music is medicine. Music changes us.”
Music, art, theater, performance, dance and even sports and recreation play integral roles in a healthy, balanced life — but we tend to think of them as luxuries, not survival tools. When we talk about solutions for ending homelessness, we may be deemed frivolous for bringing up the importance of art and culture in the lives of people living outside.
But most people living outside haven’t always been outside; before they became unsheltered, they had interests and hobbies and things that made them feel alive. This is one of the things that homelessness takes away.
Basic needs, as we tend to collectively think of them, include survival necessities, such as water, food and, of course, shelter. But what about the elements that keep us alive in a less literal sense? What about the things that make us feel connected to each other? What about the things that help us feel like we belong?
Many service providers and civil organizations work persistently to bridge this gap; Union Gospel offers art therapy. The Seattle Public Library offers museum passes — and shows Seattle Seahawks games during the playoffs. And just this last summer, the Seattle Symphony partnered with Plymouth Housing on a residency program.
In remarks about the program, Plymouth Executive Director Mark Lambros described the purpose of such programs succinctly.
“Helping men and women recover from homelessness is about so much more than housing,” he explained. “It’s also about building a healing community in which our tenants can grow and thrive.”
There’s a lengthy tradition of art and culture as a cornerstone of a healthy society; in a city as eclectic as Seattle, we have to ask ourselves: Who has access to the tools, resources, spaces and support to make and partake in art, and how does that reflect on us all?