Paper As a Luxury: acknowledging and celebrating the ingenuity of the working poor



Working Poor. What does that mean? It means your family makes too much money for government assistance i.e. food stamps, public housing, childcare vouchers, etc. but not enough to sustain you and your family. It means living one flat tire away from eviction.


For those living near or below the poverty line, everyday items, such as paper towels or tissues, are a luxury. These are consumable goods that can be replaced by free items such as fast food napkins, in an effort to save every penny and make it to payday.


Those who grew up living a life of affluence or even middle class comfort often think of poverty as hunger, homelessness, and/or inadequate housing, but rarely do they get a glimpse of what it is really like to live as an impoverished American.



Each day holds unique challenges that require creative and often innovative solutions. Such as the two examples below from my personal experiences in poverty, and numerous stories not articulated here that have been shared with me in my healing arts workshops, social media surveys, and work in the community:


  • only taking right hand turns when the left turn signal is out on the car and a traffic ticket nor a repair can be afforded

  • knotting a child’s hair together as makeshift stitches when a gash on the head requires a trip to the ER, but the family cannot afford to pay for such services


This type of living requires ingenuity, resilience, and bravery. Three things our society reveres, yet remains blind to the details and the journeys to forced genius.


In collaboration with Drew Baron and Crisis Assistance Ministry and generously funded by the Arts and Science Council, I seek to acknowledge and celebrate the ingenuity of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area working poor by documenting their lived experiences via video and mixed media fiber art.



Project objectives:

  1. Hosting free, collaborative, expressive arts workshops within the community, in homes, and community resource centers. Community members will be financially compensated for their time.

  2. Documenting participants through video interviews and recording the collaborative process to share their stories of struggle and resilience with the greater Charlotte-Mecklenburg community and beyond.

  3. Creating a new body of work in response to conversations and collaborations with participants.

  4. Exhibiting interactive, mixed media fiber art with a video installation in a public space such as a Charlotte area museum or gallery.


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This project is made possible, in part, with funding from ASC, and the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Workshops are part of Elizabeth Palmisano's ongoing project "Paper As a Luxury" in collaboration with Drew Baron and Crisis Assistance Ministry




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© 2019 Elizabeth Palmisano, Ella Fae Art | Contact | elizabeth@ellafaeart.com