There are people who sleep outdoors on park benches or in cardboard boxes tucked away in darkened alleyways near vacant buildings. Everything they own is stuffed into plastic bags and wheeled around in shopping carts. They are at the mercy of soup kitchens for sustenance, or sometimes just sifting through garbage cans piled along the street. Many of them have been victims of domestic violence or suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.
The homeless are hard to ignore and during this holiday season, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Gallery r is hosting an exhibition that brings their plight home. “Unseen Neighbors: Homeless in Rochester” opens on Thursday, Nov. 29, and runs through Jan. 12. An opening night discussion and reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7.
Photojournalist students from RIT, under the curatorial direction of Associate Professor Loret Steinberg from the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, immersed themselves in the social issue of homelessness in the Rochester community and documented what they saw and learned from the experience.
“My course is based on some of the work I’ve done for more than 17 years at RIT, finding ways to get students downtown to work with and learn from people in the community,” Steinberg explains. “I’ve been working with homeless people and groups working with homeless and poor people for more than three years myself.”
According to Steinberg, the students were required to volunteer at The House of Mercy and some also volunteered at other shelters, participated in the Poverty Reality Tour sponsored by the Social Welfare Action Alliance, and attended guest lectures with homeless or formerly homeless individuals.
“We talked a great deal about homelessness and poverty and listened a great deal to each other,” Steinberg says. “Rather than looking at their subjects as ‘the other,’ students worked directly with people whose lives fall into a social concern.
“The work at Gallery r is our way of sharing what we’ve learned and what people we’ve worked with want to say and share with others. It provides the inspiration to raise public awareness around the holiday season, when the public is more likely to remember the homeless and the poor.”
Gallery r, 775 Park Ave., RIT’s student-run metro showcase for contemporary art, is open from 2 to 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free and the gallery is handicapped-accessible. For more information, call (585) 242-9470 or visit http://cias.rit.edu/~galleryr/.