This conversation, as part six in our weekly Nashville Quilt Project round-up, features Poverty & The Arts client Kateri Pomeroy. The painter waxes poetic on the creative process, which she calls “her personal way of making something out of nothing.” Her greatest enjoyment comes from bringing forth more than what was already there. The Nashville Quilt Project is a 50-foot mural located on Charlotte Pike for which founders Jake and Hana Elliott, photographer Elizabeth Ratliff, and I partnered with four nonprofits to highlight their exceptional arts programming post-national budget cuts. Poverty & The Arts, a social enterprise program launched by founder Nicole Brandt in 2014, help homeless artists, such as Pomeroy create, market, and sell their artwork. By offering supplies, studio space, training, and exhibitions, Poverty & The Arts empowers the underserved.  As Pomeroy explains below, art is a spiritual experience in her life and the healthiest addiction she’s ever had. 

Just to start, can you tell me a little about yourself?

KP: I was born in November 1950 in a small, farming town outside of Denver, Colorado. My earliest memories are of my mom and I coloring together on the floor. I’m so grateful to her for introducing me to art, which became part of my identity. When I got older, life got in the way but I always pursued my artistic endeavors on the side— even if it was just decorating my apartment.

How did you become homeless?

KP: I was a bus driver for ten years in Denver before I lost my job one day. When I became homeless, I initially moved to Florida because I wanted to be somewhere warm if I had to live outside. In my previous life, I made good money working in manufacturing.

What do you love about art?

KP: Art is a healing process that has helped me to overcome a lot of the traumas I’ve faced in my life. I grew up in an alcoholic household and like many children of alcoholics grew up to be a drinker as well.

Art has also helped me to get out of myself in ways other than drinking. 

KP: Exactly. It helps you get out of your head. I always knew that I had artistic talent but didn’t consider myself “an artist.” Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate my gifts and have actually felt incredible guilt for not using my abilities. For the last six years I’ve tried to activate them as much as possible. Room at the Inn’s art classes helped me gain confidence in my craft and get back into the rhythm of creating. My teachers were very encouraging and made me feel as though I could be successful. Through them, I also discovered Poverty & The Arts, which has been the biggest blessing. Before meeting Nicole (Poverty & The Arts’ founder) my daily prayer had been, God, how can I use my talents to the fullest? Poverty & The Arts provided the materials and space that I needed.

What does the word community mean to you?

KP: Community has always been important to me because I lack relationships with my family. I am also a loner and need a lot of contemplative time. I like to think about my life a lot. Yet, while I am an introvert, I love nothing more than to meet other artists. Like most people, I receive energy from others and seek out those with whom I share commonalities.

How did the Nashville Quilt Project differ from the art you normally do?

KP: While at first I was intimidated by the scale of the project, now it has made me excited to do bigger pieces. Artists create art because they want it to be appreciated so it’s thrilling to have my piece featured on a high-traffic strip. I also hope this project will help Nashville’s residents realize that homeless people aren’t less than human. We are not throwaways. Like everyone else, we are just trying to survive.

What’s your number-one piece of sage advice?

KP: Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile, because we all like the familiar, but life is a series of transitions. All you can do is go with the flow and focus on the decisions that you make. It’s all about how you react to the bumps in the road.

How do you view Nashville’s art scene?

KP: I love going to see gallery shows, seeing the city’s architecture, and especially people watching. Everything about other humans is inspiring from their manners to the way they smile. Really seeing what is happening around you can open up a whole new world.

What did you paint for the Nashville Quilt Project, why did you paint it, and what does the piece represent?

KP: For this piece, I incorporated a lot of the colors that can be seen in many of the world’s flags. This is to represent the global diversity of Nashville especially in terms of the artistic community, which ranges from music to writing to art. As an artist, I want to create beautiful work that projects good vibes. Hopefully that will rub off on the viewer.

What do you envision for the future of Kateri?

KP: While no one ever knows what will happen, I would love my own studio and to become a known, local entity. I see myself owning my own gallery and living, breathing, and seeing art all day long. That would be a dream.

Learn more about Poverty & The Arts here

Portrait by Elizabeth Ratliff.

Interview by Jake Elliott. Edited by author Lily Clayton Hansen

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