Photo Essay: Unhoused Artists Thrive at Cortez’s Turquoise Raven Gallery | LOR Foundation

Photo Essay: Unhoused Artists Thrive at Cortez’s Turquoise Raven Gallery

Through the No Fixed Abode program, a local gallery owner in Cortez is helping artists experiencing homelessness create and sell art.


Jason Lujan poses for a portrait with his art at Turquoise Raven Gallery in March 2023. Photo by Matthew Tangeman.

Mary Fuller was keeping busy in her Cortez art gallery last spring when she heard her door open and turned to see a man walk in holding a handful of drawings. He glanced shyly at the paintings on the walls before introducing himself as Jason Lujan. He was living at the Bridge Shelter in Cortez, Colorado, he explained, and he sketched throughout the day to keep his mind occupied. “Is there any way you could sell this?” Lujan asked, offering her a collection of striking ballpoint pen and colored pencil drawings on recycled paper.

Fuller, who had opened Turquoise Raven Art Gallery only nine months before, recognized the talent in front of her—and also a second chance at an opportunity she’d regretted missing years before: In 2019, Fuller, a lifelong educator, was helping adults prepare for their GED tests, and as she worked with a young woman experiencing homelessness, Fuller was struck by the quality of the sketches in the students notebook. Fuller wanted to help the woman find a home for her art, but she never saw the woman again. She promised herself that when she was finally able to open an art gallery in Cortez, she would find a way to assist artists experiencing homelessness by helping them not only create art, but also sell it and produce income.

Owner Mary Fuller at her Turquoise Raven Gallery. Photo by Matthew Tangeman.

When he walked through the door at Turquoise Raven Gallery that day, Jason Lujan gave Fuller a chance to make good on that promise. “Jason coming in spurred me to say: ‘Okay, it’s time,’” Fuller recalls.

Fuller began calling shelters and soup kitchens in Cortez to see if they knew of any artists who were experiencing homelessness and might need support. She reached out to the Bridge, as well as Hope’s Kitchen at the First United Methodist Church, and Grace’s Kitchen at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. The kitchens welcomed her during mealtimes and the shelters let her in at night, where she introduced herself to people who were interested in producing art—and as folks came forward, it became apparent that they lacked something important: supplies. When she met the LOR Foundation’s Cortez community officer Nicci Crowley at an event in June 2022, Fuller realized the foundation might be able to help.

Back at Turquoise Raven, with a small grant from LOR, Fuller started making kits for the artists that included watercolor supplies, gouache, pen, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, colored pencils, and mixed media paper, which she distributed to the shelters. Within weeks, word had spread among the shelters, and she had artists knocking at her door requesting more. Artists began bringing finished work into the gallery, where Fuller would list it for sale—directing all money back to them.

Back row (left to right): LOR community officer Nicci Crowley, Turquoise Raven Gallery owner Mary Fuller. Front row: Artists Alanzo Yazzie, Hope Johnson, and Jason Lujan. Photo by Matthew Tangeman.

Fuller was ultimately able to get more supplies to the artists she was working with, recruit a handful of new artists, and create a dedicated space at her gallery for their work. She called it No Fixed Abode. LOR’s support also helped Fuller put on the No Fixed Abode Art Show in November 2022, which featured the work of 12 artists experiencing homelessness.

The show generated more than $2,000 in sales for the artists, providing them with enough income to purchase food and other essentials. Building on that success, Fuller was able to recruit more artists and over the past year, has featured more than 25 artists experiencing homelessness at the Turquoise Raven Gallery. While the revenue from the sale of their art isn’t typically enough for rent (the average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in Cortez is $950), it’s a piece of the puzzle that’s helped some artists find more stable living conditions.

Similar programs have been piloted in urban areas across the country, among them Redline Gallery in Denver and Art From The Streets in Austin. What Fuller has created, though, is among the first of its kind in a rural area—and it’s something she hoped would not only help the artists earn income but also be dignifying. “Some of these artists are hidden,” she says. “They’re not known because they don’t have basic shelter, and that makes everything harder.”

With Fuller’s help, unhoused artists in Cortez are no longer hidden—rather, they’re sharing their talents with the community. No Fixed Abode artists’ work now hangs on walls across Cortez, including at the LOR office of Nicci Crowley. “The No Fixed Abode project has created deeper compassion for our unhoused artists,” Crowley says. “I knew when I saw the show, I would want to purchase a piece for myself, and I’m proud to have it hanging in my office.”

This spring, we visited with three No Fixed Abode artists to learn more about how art became part of their lives, how the No Fixed Abode project is helping them, and what they hope for the future. Here, you can meet them, too.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Photography by Matthew Tangeman

Hope Johnson

Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
I’ve been an artist since I was 12, although I almost took a different path when I was at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. I initially majored in engineering, but then realized I like people more than computers, so I changed it to philosophy and kept doing art. I’ve tried a ton of different mediums over the years—from photography to acrylic painting—but I’m most drawn to creating large-scale pieces like geometric mandalas. I hope to share myself, but I also hope to inspire people to believe in natural beauty or universal truth. That is beautiful. That’s what seems to draw me. I landed in Cortez in July 2019 to live near my mother, who had moved here. I met my partner here, but it’s taken us a while to find stability; we’ve experienced homelessness three separate times. Things seem to be more secure, though, and I think we’re technically not homeless right now. We live at the Circle C in a fifth wheel. We’re in a safe space for the first time in years; we’re so freshly not homeless that I’m still in shock. But it’s going to take every penny we have to pay rent and electricity. We won’t have any money left over for propane. The extra income from No Fixed Abode is helping, though. The program is such a good idea. Creating physical value that comes back to me—that’s the way out of poverty. What’s struck me in Cortez is that so many people working to help me are also in need of help themselves, and I’m looking for ways to give back and help others.

Alonzo Yazzie

Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
Age: 32
The first thing I ever remember drawing was Timone from the Lion King when I was six or seven years old. I draw a lot of sunsets, because a Native American artist came to my elementary school one day and showed me how, and I wanted to see if I could recreate that sort of style. I really go back to my culture for inspiration, part Navajo and part Mexican, and my art has become a lot more detailed over the years. Lately, I try to sketch and work shading into my art. I use graphite and a lot of acrylics, and I would like to paint more on canvases that can be displayed in the No Fixed Abode gallery. I met Mary because I was at the Bridge Shelter one day, and she came in and was meeting with people. I hadn’t been doing any work for months until I met Mary. Having the No Fixed Abode project has helped me a lot. It’s inspired me to do more—I’ve even thought about enlisting in the Air Force. For now, it just feels good to have my work in the gallery, to sell some of my work. It’s a little surreal, but it’s super validating.”

Jason Lujan

Hometown: Durango, Colorado
Age: 47
After I got to Cortez a little over a year ago, I began sketching with pen and pencil. I just picked up a pen and drew a 3D tunnel—and I kept going with it. I primarily work now with pen and colored pencils, but I also take old photos and flyers and add drawings to those. I’m planning to start doing some wood burning soon, too, and I even write a little poetry. I moved to Cortez just for a change, and I’ve been living at the Bridge. Typically, my day consists of a lot of self meditation, and being around friends at the shelter has really helped. My goal is to get to Denver; I’ve heard there’s more demand for art up there, and I want to try to place it in a gallery there. Working with Mary, having my art here at the gallery, that’s helped me keep creating and trying new mediums, and making progress with my art. I hope, one day, that I’ll be getting paid on a regular basis if I can keep doing this.”

Learn More About No Fixed Abode

If you'd like to contribute art supplies, make a purchase, or view the work of No Fixed Abode artists, visit the Turquoise Raven Gallery on Main Street in Cortez or visit the gallery online.

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Nicci Crowley

Nicci prides herself on being a connector of people and ideas—a trait that’s central to her work as the LOR Foundation’s community officer in Cortez, Colorado. She listens to community members to understand the challenges they collectively face and then… Meet Nicci

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