Homeless Citizens’ Survival-Based Creativity, Elevated To An Art Form

“The Starving Artists Project” collects imaginative signage created by homeless people for the near-futile feat of catching the attention of hurried passersby.

Not everything that people say about New Yorkers is true, but this assessment is: Pretty much all of them are in a hurry. Headphoned commuters make a tunnel-visioned beeline for their destination and try their damnedest to tune out any distractions along the way. What that means for the city’s homeless, though, is that they have to try harder to break through all the clutter and get people’s attention. Sometimes this imperative manifests itself in louder requests for spare change, but other times it means something more creative.


The Starving Artists Project is a social art initiative in New York City that shines a rare spotlight on the homeless community’s artistic cries for help. Rarely are the signs the city’s denizens create even noticed by their intended audience, but now they are getting a much larger platform to be seen by people who would never had the opportunity before–and to perhaps spur people into action.

Founded by Thompson Harrell and Nick Zafonte, two independent creatives living in the city, The Starving Artists Project gathers images showing the dignified side of a group of people forced to create by necessity. Photographer Andrew Zuckerman, whose work has been featured everywhere from the BBC to Architectural Digest, has captured a series of photos, displaying both the “artists” and their handiwork.

The signs vary from inspirational quotes to rudimentary drawings, to plaintive requests for money, and most of them are scribbled on a section of cardboard. The makers of the signs themselves are cleaned up and presented in a shining, minimalist setting, but with a look on their faces that betrays their unfortunate circumstances. The photos are on display in a gallery at The Dumbo Arts Center in Brooklyn, where donations are collected in a four-foot-tall universal change cup.

Look through more images from The Starving Artist Project in the slide show above, and watch a video on it below.