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NTU Fine Art Student Gill Howell-Jones Exhibits Shoes for Homeless Fundraiser

16 March 17 interview: Ali Emm

Gill Howell-Jones, an NTU fine art student, has put together an exhibition of student-designed canvas shoes that she is auctioning off. The money raised will be used to buy new trainers for homeless and vulnerable people in Nottingham in an exchange at Emmanuel House. We caught up with her to find out about the project and how people can get involved in the auction…

The focus of your degree, especially in this project, is about socially engaged art – what was the inspiration for this?
I’m a mature student, and although retired now, I come from a social work background and, inevitably, it has fed into my art. I started out doing work about things that were impacting on my life, things like migration, but then decided to work closely with people I would actually engage with and get more personal stories. I want my work to have a realism, an authenticity, really. This year and last year I’ve been doing work around homeless people and also looking at some of the underlying factors such as mental health and substance misuse. The whole idea of this specific project is new shoes for old, a fair exchange – I need their shoes for my degree show.

So you’ve got the other students on your course to help out with all the designs?
Yes, I’ve got thirty pairs made by other fine art students, they were all so on board with the idea. The ideas are very diverse and interesting. Some of them are really wearable, fun to wear, or to keep as a little art work. The money raised will all go towards new shoes – when I say shoes, I mean trainers. Although I’m not sure how many shoes will be sold or how generous people will be, I’m hoping to be able to buy twenty to thirty pairs.

How did you get involved with Emmanuel House?
I’ve met and talked to homeless people in the street in the past, but I wanted to do this a bit more privately so I approached Emmanuel House. I’m doing the swap / taking orders on Friday 31 March. I’m giving them choice – because often they don’t get much choice – but obviously it’s from a selection I’ve made in the price range. I’ve tried to get ones that have been reduced so they’re getting a half decent pair, a sturdy trainer, not designer stuff but decent.

What will happen to the shoes that you are exchanging them for?
It’s for my final degree shoe, the idea started with the reference “Walk a mile in my shoes.” I was going to do a walk for people in the shoes, but then I got quite defensive, quite protective, of the shoes, because I think they carry traces of their previous owners and it felt a bit disrespectful to do that. I want to protect them from judgement and any discrimination; I think the owners have suffered enough. I’m probably going to make a crate and put their shoes, wrapped, very carefully in there; it’ll signify the belief that people can grow, develop and move from one situation to another given the right support.

If you want to see the shoes for yourself, bid on a pair or go and show your support, pop to West End Arcade from Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 March, 12pm-5pm. There is also a launch event on Thursday 16 March, 7pm-9pm.

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