A Jibril Bey sketch made during church services

A Jibril Bey sketch made during church services

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Philly’s homeless artists get their own gallery show

“It gives people a chance to lift their eyes from the concrete to the sky.”

danya

The North Philly shelter where Jibril Bey sleeps is a pretty drab place, but that doesn’t stem the constant swirl of color that explodes through his mind’s eye.

“It’s like I’m in a trance,” he said of the way he translates those visions onto paper. “I start with one tree or one person as the focus, but I never know what it’s going to look like in the end.”

Bey has always been an artist. He drew and painted his way through Philadelphia’s Hussian School of Art and Design, and kept it up as a hobby even when he got a job at PSE&G after realizing art was a near-impossible way to make a living. He built an impressive portfolio several dozen pieces strong, and even showed a piece or two at a local gallery.

When he fell on hard times and started living on the street, he didn’t stop making art, nabbing any scrap — a paper plate, the back of an envelope — to make a quick sketch. But drawing in full color was one of the things he missed most, along with having an audience to appreciate his creations.

Then he discovered the arts program at Broad Street Ministry.

Jibril Bey with his portfolio at Broad Street Ministry

Jibril Bey with his portfolio at Broad Street Ministry

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Twice a week, the ground floor gathering space below the nonprofit’s church sanctuary — where restaurant-style meals are served daily to anyone who cares to join — gets turned into a visual arts workshop. Jibril is there every chance he gets. Donated supplies, from colored pencils and notebooks to paints and paper, mean he has ample opportunity to create lush new works.

And this month, thanks to a partnership with the folks behind Metropolitan Bakery, he’ll get to realize the dream of showing his pieces in a gallery again.

From May 20 through June 11, the baked goods company’s Rittenhouse art space, Metropolitan Gallery 250, will host “Looking Out & Seeing In,” a mixed media show of artwork created by Broad Street Ministry’s guests.

“Our gallery was initially founded as a way of serving emerging artists who don’t have a venue,” said Metropolitan co-owner Wendy Smith Born, noting that many of her bakery and cafe employees are also in art school. “But we haven’t really done something like this.”

The exhibit kicks off with a two-night opening fundraiser ($30 tickets here), all proceeds from which will go to the Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative.

Some art sessions include the chance to make cards for loved ones

Some art sessions include the chance to make cards for loved ones

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Benefitting the organization financially is really the secondary reason Born’s excited about the show.

“The Broad Street Ministry model is so different,” she said. Born has a background in hunger relief: After leaving the White Dog Cafe and before starting Metro, she helped grow DC-based Share Our Strength, which has become one of the country’s foremost organizations fighting US child hunger. But BSM does more than feed people. It provides access to medical services, and — what impressed Born most — provides a permanent mailing address, something critical to participating in modern society that most people take for granted.

“That’s huge,” she said. “Their program is based on the notion that we all need to embrace the needs of the vulnerable population around us, and by doing that we change or transform our cities, our institutions, our lives and ourselves.”

The idea to do the art show came after she attended a fundraiser at BSM and expressed interest in doing more together. Setting up a tip jar at Metropolitan Bakery and Metropolitan Cafe was the first collaborative project — it nets several hundred dollars a month — and then someone connected Born with Ruthie Iglesias.

A PAFA grad who tried her hand at higher education after getting her MFA, Iglesias feels like she and Broad Street Ministry were made for each other. She’s run the five-year-old BSM therapeutic art program since last August, and in 10 months has grown attendance by 67 percent.

A 3-minute sketch of the author by Jibril Bey

A 3-minute sketch of the author by Jibril Bey

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Her participants are “very excited” about the upcoming show, Iglesias said, adding that art sessions have been focused around the project for many weeks already.

Some BSM guests, like Bey, are thrilled with the idea of showing their own work, but Iglesias has also planned two large collaborative sculptures. “These are important pieces,” she explained, because they won’t have individual names attached, and many would-be participants might not want to have the spotlight shined on the situation that led them to BSM.

Broad Street executive director Mike Dahl, who joined the collective in May 2016 after several years as a Pew Charitable Trusts VP, is extremely proud of Iglesias and the art program: “It gives people a chance to lift their eyes from the concrete to the sky.”

He’s also thrilled about the Metropolitan show, and sees the partnership as exemplifying what charities need to do in order to thrive.

“Especially in this current climate,” Dahl said, “we have to realize it’s not going to be just the government [helping us out]. And it’s not just going to be the nonprofit sector. It has to be the best minds coming together across all sectors — public and private.”

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