Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Context of Cardboard: New exhibit emphasizes crisis of homelessness

Cardboard is a material with many uses. It can be used for packaging, for storage, even as a plaything.

When adults and children living on the street rely on that same cardboard for shelter, it also becomes a home, which too often is the harsh reality in our society.

This weekend, an art exhibit began its run at the Carlisle Arts Learning Center employing cardboard as a way to emphasize the cultural crisis of homelessness, a national dilemma that also strikes close to home. On Friday, the exhibit in the Upstairs Gallery opened to a packed house of caring, compassionate citizens, nonprofit organization board members and art patrons alike.

Carrie Breschi is not your typical artist. Her installation demonstrates this in its unique take on the subject. Humankind, the exhibit demonstrates, is universal. We are all one people in that we live and breathe, yet life can impose hardships that, for some, are temporary and, for others, can last forever.

Breschi’s exhibit offers thought-provoking commentary, making the plight of homelessness all the more poignant as it is delivered with no photography or paintings but solely with the power of cardboard.

Facts aligned by each installation share the ramifications and realities of life within a box, on a box and outside the box. A stenciled park bench denoting “Home Sweet Home” sets the tone for the art display under the cardboard banner of “The Faces of Homelessness.”

The exhibit bleakly shows the ever-growing group of humanity who, out of dire necessity, has become scattered survivalists across America. A geographical map of the United States depicts detailed numbers state by state, chronicling the alarming rate of homelessness stretching from coast to coast.

Another vignette features discarded sleep mats of foam cushion, seven years old, donated by Community CARES, stacked like fallen soldiers one atop the other on the battlefield of life. Miniature cardboard houses form a birdlike phalanx of a migratory miasma as if a stiff wind could scatter them to the vagaries of fate.

Yet another installation spotlights a pup tent entitled “affordable housing,” which brings attention to a Florida program that determined that a basic housing unit cost $10,000 annually, far less than the $31,000 needed to keep a person on the streets.

In a chilling nod to Banksy, the maestro of graffiti art, a child’s silhouette in black and white shines a spotlight on the staggering number of homeless youth. All of this needs not only to be seen but digested, discussed and disentangled for the present day and into the future.

One of the agencies instrumental in aid to the homeless is Community CARES in Carlisle, under the direction of program director Beth Kempf. Their efforts currently house 39 women and children, as well as 35 men, both numbers beyond their capacity. Local churches have stepped up to accommodate the overflow. In the exhibit, ladders propped against a wall beg the question—what is the underlying meaning here? Are the homeless able to rise above their plight? The answer is a resounding “yes,” with organizations like Community CARES and Family Promise offering help and a start at a new life.

Thanks to Carrie Breschi, a topic that is often cast in the shadows of consciousness has been lifted to the foreground and main stage. So meaningful in its delivery, it is both translucent and transcendent. Who would ever think cardboard could pack such a wallop? When art connects with social commentary, the impact goes far beyond the exhibit itself and cuts to the very heart of why art exists in the first place.

“Home Sweet Home: The Real Face of Homelessness” runs through June 1 in the Upstairs Gallery at the Carlisle Arts Learning Center (CALC), 38 W. Pomfret St., Carlisle. For more information, visit

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