Art Gallery for Homeless to Get Boost in Funding

In the nine years that she has lived in Harlem, Aliza Koszuk has spent time in and out of psychiatric wards. Each time she was released, she could return to a part-time job at Gallery M, a storefront gallery in Harlem where those affected by mental illness or homelessness can earn money by producing art or doing retail work.

“I’ll always be part of it as long as the gallery is here,” Ms. Koszuk, 48, said. “I got a lot of support. Everything is not clinical, and you have something that is creative and artistic.”

The gallery’s budget began to dwindle about five years ago when it lost funding from the city. Ms. Koszuk said she felt the pinch and started to wonder if Gallery M, on Lenox Avenue at West 135th Street, would still be around for her.

When the city withdrew funding, Gallery M lost its employment programs that paid workers and taught them practical skills so that they could transition into other workplaces. Now, when Ms. Koszuk comes to the gallery, she volunteers.

Windows at Gallery M display artwork by high school students in the City College of New York's after-school art programs. Alyssa Pointer / NYT Institute

But after a few years of uncertainty, Gallery M may finally be getting a financial reprieve. It is set to receive a new round of funding in the next few weeks from New York’s Home and Community Based Services, which may enable the addition of more programs to the gallery.

“We will be able to provide pre-employment opportunities,” said Jean Newburg, CEO of Weston United, which is a Harlem-based social-service organization and Gallery M’s parent company.

Ms. Newburg said that in the past 30 years, the gallery has helped several hundred Harlem residents move toward independent living by encouraging them to learn new skills and earn their own money.

Rose Seccareccia teaches art at Gallery M and said it is therapeutic for the students because they can express their moods calmly through their creations. Alyssa Pointer / NYT Institute

Weston United was designated as an agency to receive the state funding in June 2015, Ms. Newburg said. It runs an array of permanent and transitional housing centers and provides counseling services for men and women.

Because of the coming funds from the city, some workers will be able to spend two or three hours doing inventory or accounting for the gallery. Others will handle the front desk to become comfortable interacting with a wide variety of customers.

Sandra Wheeler, manager of the gallery, said when she started at Gallery M in 1999, there were two other full-time staff members. Now on a typical day, only she or a part-time art teacher greets those who come through the door.

“Weston has tried to keep it afloat,” Ms. Wheeler said. “I don’t know how they do it, honestly.”

This program is so needed,” she continued. “You can see people on the street and you can tell that they really just need someone to go to.”