John, artist at InVisible (1)
John, who now lives in transitional housing, paints or draws every day for the calming effect on his bipolar disorder. Photo by Lauren Fasbinder


MarksNelson sponsors art exhibit created by homeless

By Jill Draper

An exhibit of art created by the homeless is on display in the Museum at Prairiefire through December. Titled “InVisible,” it showcases the works of 12 artists who have lived on the edge of society while dealing with addiction, mental health, domestic trauma and other problems.

“We’re hoping to start a conversation and spread a little kindness,” says Kim Woirhaye-Reid, marketing specialist at MarksNelson, a south Kansas City accounting firm that conceived, compiled and funded the exhibit.

The art ranges from matted poems to acrylic paintings to mixed media. It’s all available for purchase and any proceeds go to the artists.

John is one artist who spoke about his work on the opening day. He now lives in a transitional apartment building. His pieces include a pen and pencil portrait of a woman superimposed on a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing.

“I’ve lived my whole life without all the pieces,” he explains. “I wanted to show something not quite finished.”  A self-taught artist who once colored alongside his young daughters, he now paints or draws nearly every day for the calming effect it has on his struggle with bipolar disorder.

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Michael created this full-sized image of himself behind a fence panel interwoven with spray-painted strips of privacy tape. Photo by Jill Draper.

Another artist, Michael, drew a lot when he was a young boy, but stopped after he started using drugs at age 10. After a stint in jail, he was placed in a respite house where he created a full-sized image of himself behind a fence panel interwoven with spray-painted strips of privacy tape. He also spray-painted various pairs of shoes.

“I’d forgotten how much fun you could have while being sober,” he says, adding he recently earned a high school diploma and plans to start college in January as a nutritional science major.

“Can You See Me?” is the title of a multi-media painting by Lexy, who created a series of paintings on pieces of plywood she found on Beardsley Road by the West Bottoms. She and her husband lived near there at a ridgetop homeless camp for several years.

“I want my art to show that we’re just like everybody else,” she says. “Everyone is struggling with something.”

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Lexy wanted her art to show that the  homeless are like everybody else.  Photo by Jill Draper.

MarksNelson got the idea for the art exhibit last winter when staff members were handing out more than 2,000 scarves, hats and gloves as part of their “Wrapped in Warmth” project. When they stopped to speak with two homeless men sitting on a downtown park bench, the men were surprised and admitted they often felt invisible as others walked by.

“That phrase stayed with me,” says Woirhaye-Reid. “That’s how the InVisible exhibit was born.” She and other employees stumbled across some homeless artists at highway ramps and others were found when Woirhaye-Reid volunteered with the Free Hot Soup group on Facebook. They also received referrals from Kar Woo, who runs a nonprofit called Artists Helping the Homeless which contributed to the project.

The art exhibit coincides with the 50th anniversary of MarksNelson and is an example of how the firm likes to think outside the box regarding ways to make a positive impact on the community, says Woirhaye-Reid.

The Museum at Prairiefire is located at 5801 W. 135th St. in Overland Park. The exhibit is free and is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. More information about MarksNelson is at