Three Years After Inocente — Overcoming Homelessness Through Art


Editor’s Note: This week is the third anniversary of Inocente’s visit to Seattle. We asked our new team member, Khadija, to watch the documentary “Inocente” and reflect on how it relates to our current work. 

By Khadija Diallo, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

I had heard about Inocente’s story before, but this was my first time watching her documentary from beginning to end. Although homelessness is a dark and devastating situation for most people experiencing it, I was taken back by the multitude of colors that are shown throughout this Academy Award-winning documentary. These bright colors represented through her art, and through imagery, show the optimism and dedication that drives Inocente to continue to hope and dream for a better tomorrow.

“Inocente” tells the story of a 15-year-old girl experiencing homelessness but finding a will to live through her art. Her story is heartbreaking but also uplifting. At the beginning of the documentary, Inocente says “when I paint, I feel happy. It’s a good way to start my mornings.” And that’s how Inocente starts every morning, by painting what she dreams and what she hopes for her future.

Inocente at work painting in the film. Credit: Sean Fine.

What complicates her story even more is her strained relationship with her mother, Carmella. Inocente thinks her mother resents her because she was the reason they were separated from her father. Inocente’s father was very abusive and one night, afraid for her and her family’s lives, Inocente called the police to arrest him; and as a result they became homeless. With times being hard, and money being scarce, Inocente and her family were forced to move every three months or so to another place.

Inocente reading her signed guest book at her first major exhibit. Credit: Sean Fine

In the documentary, Inocente is a teenager, but she carries herself as a mature woman wise beyond her years. Her story is similar to the 1 in 45 children experiencing homelessness in our country, as mentioned in the credits of Inocente’s documentary. But what makes every teen experiencing homelessness different is the way in which they handle their grim situations.

For Inocente’s visit in September 2013, our project partnered with the Seattle Art Museum and Sanctuary Art Center to host an art advocacy project to engage the community in ending family homelessness. Inocente’s visit brought more exposure to her remarkable story.

Inocente at SAM 070September 27, 2013print
Inocente at the Seattle Art Museum screening with, L-R: our project founder, Barry Mitzman; Troy Carter of Sanctuary Art Center; and Inocente’s mentor, Matt D’Arrigo of A Reason To Survive in San Diego. Credit: Steve Schimmelman.

Streetwise Project: Another Art and Advocacy Partnership

Our project has partnered  with The Seattle Public Library to bring to light another marriage of art and homelessness through the screenings of “Streetwise” — including one on campus Oct. 7 — and “Tiny – The Life of Erin Blackwell.” As a new member on the project, I am always eager to learn more about different instances of homelessness and different solutions and actions that people devoted to this cause can take, so I can’t wait for these screenings.

Homelessness is a tragic occurrence for our region. In this year’s “One Night Count,” more than 4,505 homeless people in King County were counted within the short span of three hours. With the City of Seattle taking aggressive actions to end homelessness including surprise sweeps of homeless encampments, the hiring of a new homelessness czar and other actions I’m learning about, it’s important for residents of Seattle to remain open, understanding and compassionate of people struggling to find constant affordable housing.

How Art Can Change Lives

The story of Inocente turns out well, as she finds a haven in Toussaint Academy, a teenage shelter, and participates in a program called “A Reason To Survive” that encourages teens to use art as a coping mechanism. But the same cannot be said for the other thousands of youth and adults experiencing homelessness.

Inocente at SAM walking down aisle by Steve Schimmelman
Inocente takes the stage at Seattle Art Museum. Credit: Steve Schimmelman.

In a post published on the Impatient Optimist blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, our project director Catherine Hinrichsen detailed eight ways that art advocacy can be used to end homelessness. My favorite action is to “empower the people telling the stories.” What that means for me, is to bring to light stories similar to Inocente’s and Tiny’s, but to also use their experience to further the discussion on family homelessness.

I’ve only been with the Project on Family Homelessness for a short time, but I’m excited to learn more about different instances of the use of art and advocacy in ending family homelessness.

What You Can Do

  1. Read more about Inocente’s visit to Seattle, and see the photo gallery, on our recap page.
  2. Come to our free screening of “Streetwise” at Seattle U, Friday, Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets here.
  3. Participate in the community conversation during the Streetwise Revisited project at The Seattle Public Library.
  4. Watch “Inocente” and learn about local programs like Sanctuary Art Center.
  5. Vote! Learn how to register in this new Firesteel post.

Learn more about Khadija and the rest of our new team here


One thought on “Three Years After Inocente — Overcoming Homelessness Through Art

  1. Pingback: Published Written Pieces | Khadija Diallo

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