"Being in a terrible situation can push you to extremes - extreme negatives or extreme positives," photographer Damiano Austin said, thinking back to the tumor diagnosis, surgeries, and resulting financial turmoil that pushed her into homelessness.
In her quest for extreme positivity, Austin discovered an organization that helps artists with disabilities or facing homelessness. Through that organization, ArtLifting, Amazon has purchased some of Austin's photographs and installed them in a building at its headquarters in her hometown of Seattle.
"I don't think words will suffice," she said, trying to capture how validating the sale to Amazon has been in enabling her to do "what you feel like you're on this earth to do."
Siblings Liz and Spencer Powers founded ArtLifting in 2013. Since then, their Boston-based public benefit corporation has helped 160 artists living with disabilities or homelessness in 23 states.
"I've seen artists secure housing, gain confidence, and overcome obstacles through the sale and celebration of their art," Liz Powers said. "My goal is to make their invisible talents visible and, by doing so, change stereotypes."
ArtLifting helped Austin get back on her feet. She has a home again. "To know that there's a company out there that's making a difference in the world, and they see the beauty in what I saw as beautiful, it's amazing for confidence and for determination and inspiration," she said.
Austin, whose art career has ranged from electronic dance music to painting, hopes Amazon's purchase of her photographs will lead her to "become a staple in the arena of corporate photography, nationally and internationally. It doesn't matter if it's Singapore or Seattle. If someone enters an office space or a lobby or checks into a hotel, I want them to be taken aback and say, 'Wow, that's a Damiano.'"
Amazon also bought six art pieces by Vito Bonanno, a Connecticut-based painter who was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old.
Bonanno is non-verbal, and his mother, Karen Bonanno, said he struggles with self-esteem. She added that the purchase from Amazon enabled her son to rent new studio space to produce his art, which has been featured at Art Basel in Miami and at prominent New York City galleries.
"When he saw the pictures of his artwork hanging on the walls at Amazon, the look of pride on his face will stay in my heart for a long time," she said.
The artist's work is also having a positive effect at Amazon. "Amazonians in our Seattle office were extremely supportive of our initial work with ArtLifting," said John Schoettler, Amazon vice president of Global Real Estate and Facilities. "They connected with the artists and their personal stories immediately. We are ready to take this partnership to the next phase and help elevate the lives of many by including more pieces across our corporate offices and Tech Hubs in the United States."
ArtLifting Chief Growth Officer Christina Bailey said "This team wants to create special moments and experiences for their fellow Amazon colleagues, and they truly care about making a difference and positive impact on the lives of others," she said. "They don't limit creativity. They push for and embrace it."