by Joseph Gallivan
Portland sculptor Dana Lynn Louis started Gather:Make:Shelter as a side project to help people experiencing homelessness help themselves. She had ceramic artists make hundreds of bowls, and people living without shelter were invited to decorate the bowls before they were fired and glazed. That was in 2017. The finished bowls were sold to raise money for charity, give artists a connection to unsheltered people and give the latter a chance to make something beautiful.
Fast-forward to 2021, and Louis has grown GMS hugely. Portland has several “villages” for people without permanent shelter – some with tents on pallets, others tiny homes with utilities – and GMS now helps the residents decorate fence screens, make murals, create gardens and comics. The nonprofit has momentum and many community partners.
And Louis’ work is also getting noticed. In December 2020, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art awarded her a Precipice Fund award, funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts. Louis then nominated formerly unhoused artist Aileen McPherson for the same award. They met at the first GMS workshop at Street Roots and have been working together ever since.
The first GMS public art project is at Hygiene Hub, a community facility under the Morrison Bridge. GMS designed aspects of the hub where anyone can get a shower and do laundry, but the real lesson was taking a piece of art through Portland’s arduous public art process. The project includes an 80-foot-long mural, Ripple Effect, beautifying a chain-link fence.
Louis is making artmaking accessible. “For many, it’s the fi rst place to shelter that they weren’t getting kicked out. They have a door they can lock in a unit that is leak-proof. It calms them down and they feel more creative. They’re making more.” In her latest project, Louis has tapped her considerable network of artist friends to each paint one small painting and donate it to someone newly rehoused in one of the city-sanctioned tiny home villages. “Donate a tiny painting to a tiny house” is the tagline.