When Brian Peterson first had the idea to paint Matt Faris’s portrait, his goal was small. He just wanted to hang the painting in his home in Santa Ana, California. “I thought there was beauty in his face, and in his struggle,” Peterson said about Faris, who is experiencing homelessness. But after painting Faris and seeing the impact it had on him, as well as other members in the community, a light bulb went off for Peterson.
That light bulb turned out to be the beginning of Faces of Santa Ana, the nonprofit Peterson co-founded with his wife, Vanessa, in which he paints portraits of people experiencing homelessness in Santa Ana. They then use a majority of the proceeds to create what they call a “love account” in order to assist the painting subjects with whatever they choose — food, clothing, hotel stays and art projects among them. Since the nonprofit’s inception in 2015, Peterson has painted 30 portraits and sold 21 of them; they sell for $2,500 each.
“A huge part of Faces of Santa Ana [is] really about dignifying those who have lost all dignity in themselves,” Peterson said. He added, “Along those lines…you’re also just, on a basic level, taking people who are sort of metaphorically invisible and making them visible in the most literal sense of the term — you’re turning them into art. You’re making them as visible as they can be.”
We’ve partnered with TIAA to tell Brian Peterson’s story as part of the TIAA Difference Maker 100, a program celebrating individuals in the nonprofit space making a difference. Check out the video above in which Peterson shares the origin story of Faces of Santa Ana, reveals a painting to one of his subjects for the first time and more.
All over the United States, people like Brian Peterson are working to make positive and lasting change in the lives of others. We’ve partnered with TIAA to celebrate its centennial — 100 years of helping people doing good do well — and to put the spotlight on visionaries whose inspirational work is shaping the next century. Learn more here: www.TIAAdifferencemaker100.org.
Words by Jesse Sposato