Calvin McFarlane has faced years of struggle and tough times but he has persevered … always keeping his art in mind. Now, he’s hosting his own art show — the Hope & Healing Art Show Tuesday, Nov. 10, at Cargo Coffee East – that will feature his unique and inspiring paintings.

The Hope & Healing Art Show is an event hosted by Housing Initiatives of which McFarlane has been a longtime tenant. The event is a chance to find out more about his story and about the work that Housing Initiatives does to provide the city’s most vulnerable homeless neighbors with hope and healing. Housing Initiatives provides permanent, supportive housing to Madison’s homeless who struggle with mental illness. Over the past 20 years, Housing Initiatives has ended homelessness for nearly 600 people.

Calvin McFarlane's watercolor painting on Arches paper
Calvin McFarlane’s watercolor painting on Arches paper

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, McFarlane graduated college with a bachelors and masters degree in art. He worked as a graphic artist and held other various jobs, while always painting and creating art. Later in life, McFarlane’s struggle with mental illness and substance abuse escalated and made it difficult for him to hold a job. Even worse, he eventually became homeless.

Housing Initiatives brought McFarlane into a permanent, supportive home where he has gotten the help needed to put him on a path to recovery. For the past 5 or 6 years, McFarlane has been at Park Village Apartments on Madison’s south side where he has been subsidized by Housing Initiatives. “I was struggling and I got into trouble with my addictions – which is what led me to homelessness in the first place – but instead of Housing Initiatives discarding me as a client, they gave me a chance and moved me away from where I was getting in trouble and it allowed me to get myself together,” McFarlane tells Madison365. “For that, I am so grateful.”

Calvin McFarlane
Calvin McFarlane

The Art Show is part of Housing Initiatives campaign to raise awareness of what they do. “One of the things that we found out was about how little people knew about what we did at Housing Initiatives,” says Michael Basford, associate executive director of Housing Initiatives. “So, we’re doing events like this to raise awareness about what we do and the success stories of our program like Calvin. He is a raging success. The housing has provided him stability in his life and allowed him to pursue his art in a way that he loves.”

For over 20 years, Housing Initiatives has ended homelessness for hundreds of men, women, and veterans who suffer from a mental illness by providing them with a permanent home and supportive services to help them lead a healthier life.

Housing Initiatives is starting a capital campaign for the agency to purchase properties in Madison. They currently own 110 housing units in Madison that they use specifically for people who are homeless and/or suffering from mental illness. “The affordable housing crisis in our community has necessitated us,” says Basford. “We run a rental assistance program that people can live under the landlords throughout Madison, but it’s necessary for us to be constantly developing our own housing and to house people in these programs.”

McFarlane has been assisted by Housing Initiatives longer than Basford has been with the organization – more than a decade. McFarlane has been working on his art the whole time.

Calvin McFarlane’s watercolor artwork
Calvin McFarlane’s watercolor artwork

McFarlane says that it usually takes him about 10 hours to make his artwork pieces. “With watercolors there’s a lot of drying/thinking/processing time. It takes a lot of patience,” he says. “When I’m painting I get into my own little zone sometimes.”

McFarlane will paint at 2:30 a.m. in the morning if he feels like it. He listens to music while he paints and he hums along. “None of my neighbors have ever complained about the music; they have complained about my humming,” laughs McFarlane.

After years of struggle, McFarlane has found peace through his art and his stable home with Housing Initiatives. He is drug and alcohol free and his artwork has been sold around the world. He has had art shows in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, and Madison.

At the Hope & Healing Art Show, guests will also enjoy light appetizers, complimentary coffee, and a cash bar.

“Stories like Calvin’s are why I get up in the morning and why I go to the office,” Basford says. “It’s immeasurably satisfying when you can see that you can actually make a difference in people’s lives.”

“My stable home with Housing Initiatives gave me the opportunity to recover and move on with my life,” adds McFarlane. “I don’t even want to think about where I’d be without my friends at Housing Initiatives.”

Housing Initiatives will host the Hope & Healing Art Show featuring the artwork of Calvin McFarlane on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 5-7 p.m. at Cargo Coffee East, 750 E. Washington Ave.
For more information visit or visit Housing Initiatives’ Facebook Page.