Degage enlists artist Derrick Hollowell to engage its patrons through art

Artist Derrick “VitoArt” Hollowell has made Heartside his home for more than 15 years. An original resident of one of the first artist live-work loft spaces in the neighborhood, his second-story apartment’s large windows have given him a birds-eye view of Heartside’s businesses and people over the years. He also saw the people experiencing homelessness struggle to survive on the sidewalks below — and was familiar with the services that neighboring Degage Ministries provided for them.

Derrick Hollowell

“The things that cause homelessness are still prevalent — poverty, racism, oppression, mental illness. Until you start to make a dent in those forces, there is always going to be a problem,” Hollowell says. “But the fact that we do have some organizations that provide some form of refuge from those crisis situations, at least that helps the problem. It can be something that can help them get through what hopefully is a temporary situation in life.”

Noted for his illustrative renderings of music and pop culture icons and afrocentric expressionistic portraiture, Hollowell's original work can also be viewed in Grand Rapids at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, University of Michigan Health-West Hospital and HopCat Brewery.

When staff from Degage saw Hollowell’s 2022 Festival of the Arts’ award-winning painting at the Bayard Gallery, they decided to commission him to create a large mural-like painting to complement the new Degage donor wall. Hollowell created a collage-like 48-by-60-inch painting depicting ten Degage “regulars.”

“A lot of the people I had seen in the neighborhood just looking out my window, so I was familiar with some of their faces,” Hollowell says. “One of the most fulfilling things was for the people who I pictured to see it and be inspired, just seeing that they are worthy to be an art subject and be part of a permanent piece of public art.”

“It’s really powerful,” adds Bob Kreter, Degage marketing manager. “Our patrons were so excited when they saw all these folks that they know in painting. It really meant a lot. It's a beautiful piece, and they feel honored by it.”

The wall where Hollowell’s painting now hangs was originally intended to honor donors who contributed funds for Degage’s new building. When the painting first went up, Degage’s patrons were excited to see it and to recognize the people pictured in it.

“This was an awesome idea, because it really features those people we serve. They become the primary part of that,” Kreter says. “They're the ones who see it every day. So, every day it's that reminder that we're all in this together. We're all the same. We're all here to help each other. We're all children of God.”

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