05/12/2015 11:27 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

While There's Life, There's Hope

"However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope." -Stephen Hawking

I watched the Stephen Hawking movie Theory of Everything a few weeks ago. At the end of the film, Stephen says to a lecture audience, "While there's life, there is hope." Hope is something I think of all the time.

It was something I thought about when I was working with victims of domestic violence and running art groups in shelters. Women would ask me what to paint. Over and over, I said paint hope.

I was continually impressed by what they created -- abstract colors, landscapes with the sun rising, self-portraits. Every creation was a statement.

Hope is what I dedicate my life to. I give homeless and disabled artists an avenue to sell their work and share their stories: to share their hope.

People think that my goal is to give hope to homeless and disabled individuals. In reality, I simply am a middleman as they share their hope with the world. These artists inspire others by starting a movement of celebrating strengths. These artists show the general public that despite what you are facing, you have something to contribute.

Take Kitty Zen. Kitty is an active member at Youth On Fire, a drop-in center for homeless youth, run by the AIDS Action Committee. Much of Kitty's artwork is made from found and kicked-down materials, like discarded cardboard and magazines, reclaimed or discarded canvases, street finds of broken jewelry pieces, and some gifts of paint sets. Kitty's experience with homelessness is challenging, but she works hard to improve her situation.


"I am not very gainfully employed, but I am an artist and painter. This is what I do. Making something out of nothing is, I feel, a great analogy for what art is. And I have made an art of just that; making something from nothing."

Instead of "spanging" for extra money, Kitty prefers to sell her artwork. She tends to work with a range of themes, which come from her extensive imagination, personal style, her thoughts of the inner workings of the universe and other themes. "Several buyers and critics of my work have said I have strong ties to the ideals of the abstract and psychedelia. Whether or not that's intentional, I'm glad they see something beyond 'the usual.'"

That goes for Allen Chamberland, as well.

"I get looks like, 'You made that?' when I sell my pieces," Allen says.


Despite suffering from disabilities and limited financial opportunities, Allen wholly devotes himself to his artwork. Allen describes that his motivation to create work is to "keep busy and make people happy."

Allen has worked with a variety of media but chooses to create most of his work out of papercutting because it is inexpensive.

"You don't mind if you mess it up," he explains. "If you do, then you just crumple it up and get a new piece of paper."

Even with that flexibility, Allen's artwork takes incredible patience and care. A single piece can take several days for him to create. His reason for selling work through ArtLifting is to share his vision.

He says, "It makes me feel good when people enjoy what I do."

Kitty and Allen spoke at the Apple flagship store in Boston on April 8. Kitty shared that she is sometimes quiet about the fact that she has been homeless for 10 years for the stigma and judgment it entails. As she and Allen spoke to the crowd, passing each other the mic to answer questions, I was reminded of the last scene of Theory of Everything of Stephen Hawking's lecture.


What if Stephen Hawking was not famous? What if he was another passerby on Boylston Avenue?

No one could suspect his genius, myself included. But because he was given a voice, a platform where people paid attention to what he had to say, his talent could inspire millions.

For the past 9 years I've worked with homeless individuals. For the past 9 years I have been continually inspired. For the past 9 years I have also been frustrated. Frustrated that my friends and clients feel voiceless.

My goal is to change that. My goal is to provide an avenue for homeless and disabled individuals to share their voice. To share their voice through paintbrushes and papercuts. Through speaking engagements. Through blogs.

Each time these individuals share their story, they remind us, "While there's life, there is hope."