The premiere of a new musical, an outdoor photography exhibition, visual art and an open mic session will be some of the highlights of a nine-day festival in Coventry, which has been co-produced by people who have lived experience of homelessness.

Coventry City of Culture Trust has worked with Arts & Homelessness International and other partner organisations in the city to create HOME: Art and Homelessness Festival, which is taking place in venues across the city from October 8 to October 16.

It marks a week-long celebration of arts and homelessness projects, coinciding with World Homeless Day on October 10.

Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “When we set out to create UK City of Culture in Coventry, it was clear that our citizens and communities wanted to have meaty conversations and draw attention to some of the big local global issues in the city.

“Creating joyful and memorable shows and events, but with a strong social conscience. I am delighted that we have been able to work with residents with experience of homelessness, to discuss the state of the nation in the 21st century, to throw a spotlight onto the incredible work the city council and housing sector are leading but also developing our aspirations for the future, co-created with citizens.

“It is testament to the collaboration, innovation and creativity of all involved, local and national partners, and a huge range of people taking part, that we have this broad and fascinating series of events taking place in the city.”

Cardboard Citizen’s electrifying new musical, The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency, a co-production with Coventry 2021, will premiere at the Belgrade Theatre, while an outdoor photography exhibition, Agency, by acclaimed photographer Anthony Luvera, will be unveiled in Warwick Row.

ART = HOME, a visual art exhibition, which presents artwork by local and international artists, all with current or previous experience of homelessness, will take place in the Belgrade Theatre.

Additional events include a Variety Showcase and Open Mic night featuring music, poetry and spoken word at Coventry Central Library and the Coventry Sleepout at Coventry Cathedral in partnership with St. Basil’s.

Send a Smile, postcard exhibition by Hayley Harmen and Beth Fiducia-Brookes in partnership with Underground Lights, Crisis, the Belgrade Theatre and Arts and Homelessness International, will appear at the Coventry City of Culture shop and the West Midlands Police Museum.

There will also be talks, debates and practice exchange at the second International Arts and Homelessness summit lead by Arts & Homelessness International.

The festival is a co-creation between the Coventry City of Culture’s Caring City team, Arts & Homelessness International and the Arts & Homelessness Steering Committee, more than half of which are or have been homeless.

The project, which is supported with funding from Spirit of 2012, aims to nurture and develop skills and provide a legacy of experience to continue this creative work beyond the life of City of Culture.

This is being achieved through a pioneering three-year project to embed arts and creativity into the homelessness strategy of Coventry City Council and strengthen and connect arts and homelessness practice around Coventry.

This has already had wide-reaching impacts – during the Covid-19 crisis, the City Council ran the largest arts programme in any Covid hotel in the UK in partnership with Crisis, City of Culture and Arts & Homelessness International.

The City Council is also deepening commitments and methods to co-create homelessness policy with homeless people themselves using theatre.

Councillor David Welsh, Coventry City Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities, said: “We are always looking at different ways to engage with rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness and improve the service we and our partners provide. The Art and Homelessness Festival is one way we can explore where we are and the challenges we face as a city, and that is why it is so important.”

Ruth Hollis, CEO of funder Spirit of 2012, said: “Big events like Coventry UK City of Culture and participation in arts and culture have the power to transform people’s lives and build stronger communities, creating lasting change. The HOME: Arts and Homelessness Festival shows how this can be done − creating opportunities for people who are homeless and at risk of being homeless by working directly with artists, listening and sharing their stories and channelling their creativity. We’re delighted to support this festival within a festival, and really looking forward to the launch.”

Matt Peacock MBE, Arts & Homelessness International, said: ‘We are excited for the world to see the incredible skills and achievements of artists and creatives who are or have been homeless from Coventry. And, also, to show how the Home Festival is part of an ambitious city-wide approach to unite behind the arts as a powerful tool to enable people to thrive not just survive.”

Anthony Luvera said: “People experiencing homelessness are often excluded, overly spoken for, or depicted in ways they have no control over. By inviting people who are or have been homeless to use photography to represent themselves and their experiences through the creation of Agency for Coventry UK City of Culture, this work challenges preconceptions of homelessness and depicts Coventry in completely new ways. The Assisted Self-Portraits and photographs made by participants in Agency, I believe, are a valuable document of the city of Coventry in the year 2021, and an important progression of the long-term projects I have created with people experiencing homelessness in cities and towns around the UK for almost twenty years.”

Amy Howard, a participant of Agency by Anthony Luvera, said: “I liked taking pictures for Agency. Anthony was very nice, kind, and supportive. I enjoyed coming to the workshops and seeing my friends and Ben from Crisis. Working with Anthony to create my Assisted Self-Portrait in a special place brought back good memories.” 

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