Artist Caledonia Curry, also known as Swoon—one of the most famous artist activists today is currently working on a project called “The Sanctuary” in North Braddock, Pennsylvania.
Swoon grew up with drug addicted parents who went through the U.S. incarceration system. This left a major impact on her and her practice, leading her to start the nonprofit The Heliotrope Foundation to help communities in crisis through artist collaborations. And in 2007, Swoon and a group of friends were invited to purchase and restore one of Braddock, PA’s landmark buildings: an abandoned church. They saved this structure from a tide of demolitions that were ravaging the area, alongside economic blight and lack of job and educational opportunities, and turned it into a creative space with community tile-making workshops.
Now, Swoon is working with Za’kiyah House to transform the Braddock, PA church into an art-filled community center and transitional living space for the homeless and people with addiction issues and criminal records. “The Sanctuary” will become apartments, a social hall and a sanctuary space.
The Sanctuary will become apartments, a social hall and a sanctuary space serving the community of North Braddock, PA. It will address the housing discrimination faced by people with criminal records and strengthen family bonds by providing apartments where families can stay together, rather than risk having children lost to the foster care system.
While this work is local to one place, with its trauma informed model and restorative-justice based philosophy, The Sanctuary is creating a beacon that many other communities can steer by as we ask ourselves how we reckon with our notions of justice, and how we will learn to heal the intergenerational cycles of trauma that so often lead to devastating outcomes such as homelessness and incarceration.
After successfully fundraising and constructing a new roof the team is now raising funds to replace the windows. There are 38 custom windows that need replacing as well as a large stain-glass window designed by Swoon.
Swoon launched a Kickstarter campaign (ending May 30) to raise funds for the space. Rewards for Kickstarter backers include pieces by fellow artists Shepard Fairey, Scott Erickson, Michael Reeder, Strange Dirt, Nelson Makamo, Ebony Patterson, Rajni Perera, Jean Jullien, Cara To, Komikka Patton, Shehzil Malik and Swoon.
“The opportunity to contribute to this work means so much to me. Both of my parents went through incarceration and rehab as a result of drug addictions, and the presence of houses like this meant that they could come back into my life in much stronger ways. I’ve seen what happens when someone has a chance to rebuild their life, and how their second chance impacts everyone around them. I see this work as a step toward healing the cycles of intergenerational trauma that fuel so many of our societal crises.”
“Also tremendously important is the chance to re-enfranchise the black community with land and property ownership. In 2020 I made the decision to donate a home that I owned to become Donnelle’s Safe Haven. There were many factors influencing this decision, and one of them was discovering the role that my own ancestors played in the enslavement of African people, and the recognition of the impacts that this history still has on the present day. As we work to address systemic racism in all of its manifestations, creating stability and empowerment through long term resources held within the black community is key. It’s my hope that some of the tens of millions of Americans with ancestors who benefited from our country’s brutal history will consider participating in projects like The Sanctuary as part of a larger movement toward reparations ” Swoon stated.
This collaborative endeavor is the result of over a decade of community based arts and justice work. It is built on many many relationships and made possible by hundreds of people who have donated resources or lent a hand because they believe in Ronna Davis Moore’s vision, and want to support a new way forward. Please join in this big barn raising for healing-justice and creativity. To know more about the project, visit The Sanctuary’s page.