The Stewpot, established by the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas in 1975, began with a focus on serving food to homeless neighbors.
But through the decades, the ministry has expanded to include a range of social services, including art classes.
“One of the things I love the most about Stewpot is taking care of all the needs of those who are experiencing homelessness,” Betty Heckman said. “As well as feeding their bellies, we feed the soul here with the art program.”
Heckman, the art program’s director, said that providing a safe space for the homeless to create is as important to their recovery as food and shelter.
The Stewpot’s art program includes classes throughout the week, art supplies for those in the program, trips to museums, and exhibitions where the artists can display and turn a profit for their work.
More than eight years ago, Leon Pollard was with the program when Cynthia Brannum was the art director.
In those days, Pollard participated in the Pillar Park homeless project, where he painted the mural of Stevie Ray Vaughan that can be seen near Deep Ellum.
“The Stewpot gives you a new beginning,” Pollard said. “A new hope, a new life, and a perspective. I’ll be 65 this year, and I sit and wonder and ponder, but I try to give back to what society has given me.”
Pollard sees his time with the art program as a respite between being on the streets and working a job.
“I’ve been doing art since I can remember in high school, but I got away from it and was doing carpentry work,” Pollard said. “I made pool tables, Benihana sushi bars, and even Zales 5th Avenue showcases. But this program brought me back to my first love, which is art.”
Of all that the program has done for him, Pollards said that visiting and learning from museums is his favorite part.
“I call it continuing education,” Heckman said. “We go on field trips to museums that are guided. We sit in the stools for 30 minutes in front of one painting and learn about not just the color schemes, but the history of the painting, what the artist is trying to convey, how this makes them feel, and we sketch. It’s really very lovely.”
Heckman explained that for those in and around the program, the work done at the Stewpot is about more than just addressing immediate needs.
It’s about opening the door for deeper conversations, building relationships, and ultimately creating a space where everyone can feel at home, she said.
Pollard describes it as a community.
“The caseworkers and the people that work over here are really cool,” Pollard said. “You get to know people. We talk about everything.”