Faith. Purpose. Forgiveness. Love. Words of inspiration cover the walls of N Street Village’s multipurpose room.
Skillfully styled into posters and artworks, sometimes in sentences and sometimes standing on their own, the words are are intended as a balm to the women who come to N Street, to overcome homelessness, to heal.
Sharon Hart, who has worked at N Street Village for 25 years, seeks out the messages and puts them on the walls, where they brighten even the darkest day.
“I’ve seen quotes over the years and I’ve collected them in books,” explains Hart, whose job title is community outreach chair. “I’ll usually find quotes that I like and then do some sort of artwork around them.”
Her creations provide an ever-changing display in the big room that is central to the life of the Northwest Washington program that offers housing, health care, counselling and other supportive services to women. Sometimes there are white paper snowflakes and other times, colorful origami flowers; right now there is a collage of influential historical African-American figures, in honor of Black History Month. And there are always Hart’s posters. They line the far wall, each bearing a message that buoys the spirit.
“The art Sharon creates reflects the spirit and culture of our community,” says Ann McCreedy, director of programs at N Street Village. “She uses her own words and the words of artists, politicians, educators and activists to inspire our staff and clients to be our best selves.”
Hart’s work has evolved over the years. While she started out with holiday decorations, she started making the quote posters when residents asked her for art they could enjoy throughout the year. Hart says she never really knows where her next inspiration will come from.
“Sometimes things just come to you in the middle of the night and you’re like ‘Wow! I never thought about that,’” she said. “I never know when it is going to hit me, I just have to follow through with it.”
Once she finds a quote, Hart lets her artistic imagination run wild. She uses a simple set of tools, paper and markers, to create the posters.
“Paper is pretty much my favorite medium because its cheap and its easy to find,” she said “Sometimes I’ll take paper out of the recycling; I’ve always tried to rely on what was at hand.”
Hart received a degree in graphic design from Washington Technical Institute, now known as the University of the District of Columbia. Before she began working at N Street Village, she struggled to find a job in graphic design.
“Graphics is sort of hard to get into,” she said. “I tried to do a bunch of different jobs to make ends meet and then eventually I came to N Street in January 1988.”
Hart was appointed community outreach chair in June 2011 after N Street Village underwent an expansion last year, acquiring two additional properties and increasing its staff from 29 people to 65.
Even as N Street has grown, Hart’s artwork, whether it be her posters, or holiday decorations, has served as a way to keep alive the unifying spirit of the place, says executive director Schoeder Stribling.
“The quotes that she finds to inspire and uphold us, and the beauty of her decorating–all of it creates community,” Stribling says.
Hart has gone beyond sharing her finished works. She also shares her skills, teaching art and craft classes to the women at N Street Village. She has enjoyed unlocking the talent of others.
“Some of the women are artistic in their own rights,” she said. “They like to do arts and crafts, they like to knit and crochet.” Some have also started taking photographs, and writing down their thoughts and feelings, Hart notes with pride.
“That’s powerful to me to see someone appreciating something I came up with.”
In addition to art classes at N Street Village, Hart is also involved in a group called the Community Craft Collective, a few women who meet once a week across the street from N Street Village at Luther Place Church, to do various arts and crafts activities including painting and jewelry making.
She knows well the deep benefits of arts and handicrafts.
“You kind of feel good about making things by hand,” Hart said. “It’s also a healing process.”
And she hopes the women of N Street find the same benefits.
“I hope they give some sort of inspiration, that they lift their spirits for the day,” she said.
Her own favorite poster displays an ancient Chinese proverb. The quote reads: “An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place, and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle but it will never break.”
The statement says something profound to her about how lives intersect here at N Street.
“That hits home,” she says. “We really don’t know why were brought together, but there is a common thread between us.”