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Stories abound at sixth annual UPwithART fundraiser

By Chris Montanini,
The Londoner

About six years ago, Marshall Custus, a resident at Unity Project for Relief of Homelessness in London, took a few moments to try and capture in a charcoal drawing the lifting fog of his mental depression.

“I was just starting to get my feet back underneath me again; getting a little bit more focus,” he explained. “Some of my memories of that period are a little foggy. Mental depression can in fact squeeze your thinking ability right out.”

Custus, more accustomed at that time to the graphite drawings he scrawls on a pad of paper he keeps in his pocket, was working on a piece of canvas someone at the Unity Project “stumbled across in a back room.” The drawing captures the laneway connecting the Unity Project’s main building on Dundas Street to their second building just behind it, a re-creation of an earlier attempt in his sketchbook.

“Coming up this laneway is something all residents have to do,” Custus explained. “You make this walk up towards the back building and you don’t really know what to expect if it’s your first visit. That’s what I was trying to capture. When you come here, there’s a lot of uncertainty and then when you’ve been here a bit, some of that uncertainty is sort of stabilized and settled down. That’s kind of where my head was at. I had a bit of stability and I was working on better answers.”

After a year living on the streets, “sleeping rough” by the Thames River, Custus began looking for help. His time at Unity Project — he said he spent two stays of about 40 days there — has made a difference.

Now Custus has a steady address and helps other Londoners still in the fog by hosting an all-inclusive art group called The New School of Colour. The group meets Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for three-and-a-half hours in the basement of the Ark Aid Street Mission.

Although there was a time Custus would never show his art to anyone, his charcoal drawing is part of this year’s UPwithArt event, an art auction and fundraiser hosted annually by the Unity Project. Custus said he’s happy to try and raise a few dollars for the shelter, along with other New School of Art participants and more established London artists.

“What they (the Unity Project) did for me, and what they rend to do for most clients, as I gather, is they showed me respect when they were talking to me,” Custus said. “They understood that there was some confusion in my head, but allowed me to express it in my terms how I thought things were. If I hadn’t have had that kind of interaction, I might still be stumbling around wondering what I was doing and where I was going. It’s for that reason I want to support them. They automatically and without question assume everyone is a human being to start with and you don’t get that with every agency.”

This year’s show, which takes place at the Palace Theatre April 23, includes quite a few things for art enthusiasts in London, or Londoners who perhaps want to learn more about how the Unity Project helps community members like Custus.

The Collectors Collection — a number of works donated by London art collectors — features an original piece by the late Greg Curnoe donated by Gerald Pedros. Besides those, the show also includes 52 original works donated by the Unity Project, New School of Colour artists, and established London artists such as Patrick Mahon, Wyn Geleynse, and Jamelie Hassan.

There will be five galleries in total and a live performance on the Palace Theatre stage.

“Unity Project participants have always been our inspiration,” said Silvia Langer, the Unity Project’s development director. “I think the reason why UPwithART is such a big success, why it garners the support it does, is because artists and collectors, people in the arts and culture community, they really do … see the big picture.

“They’re generous, they care from the bottom of their hearts about homelessness and appreciate what the Unity Project does. We are all here participating on equal footing.”

More information is available at

Source: The Londoner