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David Alan Goldberg is a homeless artist who paints portraits of historic figures like Che Guevara. Enlarge David Alan Goldberg is a homeless artist who paints portraits of historic figures like Che Guevara.
Greg Lacour Posted: April 25th, 2011 Greg Lacour

Joanna Ball had come with a friend of hers, someone who volunteers at Urban Ministry Center (UMC), who’d told her about an art exhibit at a Presbyterian church featuring paintings by homeless people. Ball was, you might say, intrigued.

By the time she’d taken in the 22 pieces hanging in the gallery at Warehouse 242, she was something else: impressed.

“I think the art’s fantastic, and there’s always a story behind it,” Ball said. “I like its connection to the community – like this guy over here, Chilly Willie?” She pointed to one of the pieces, a black-and-white portrait of a man with unkempt hair and a beard.

“He’s a homeless guy in Charlotte. He roams around my neighborhood on a regular basis, actually,” she said. “So the fact that this art ties directly to the life I live is indicative of its power.”

It’s one of the reasons why Steve Whitby, Warehouse 242’s creative director, called Tyler Helfrich of UMC a couple of months ago with the idea to hold an exhibit and art sale at the church. Warehouse 242 is an evangelical Presbyterian church that emphasizes art in worship and courts congregants who don’t feel comfortable in mainstream churches; Helfrich directs ArtWorks 945, the outreach and housing retention wing of UMC, which helps feed and shelter the homeless.

The church and ministry already had worked together on providing temporary shelter for UMC clients. One day, Whitby scrolled through ArtWorks 945’s Flickr page and saw the work its clients were producing. He gave Helfrich a call.

“We’re always looking for good stories behind good art. It’s what draws people in,” Whitby said. “I was really struck by some of the stories behind the art and some really incredible, high-quality work by people coming through.”

The resulting art show opened on April 23, was called Death Beauty Rescue and drew a few hundred people to the church on Wilkinson Boulevard. The paintings will hang in the Warehouse 242 gallery for the next three weeks.

The artist who captured Chilly Willie is David Alan Goldberg, one of the three artists and Urban Ministry Center clients whose work is on display. The other two are Mervin Austin and a woman who chose to remain anonymous. None of the three attended the show; Helfrich said Goldberg was out of town, she couldn’t reach Austin and Anonymous wants to stay anonymous.

But she said she hopes the art show can evolve into an annual event. Whitby and Warehouse 242, she said, “got what creativity has to do with the homeless experience – with the human experience.”

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