THERE’S a famous diagram in psychology called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Invented by the American Psychologist Abraham Maslow in the late 1940s, it’s a simple pyramid of human needs: survival at the bottom, then security, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation at the top.

In recent years, some wag has extended the pyramid downwards to add in Wi-Fi and battery.

I wasn’t expecting to find myself talking about Abraham Maslow when I met up with local artist Susan Francis to discuss The Word on the Streets (Do I Know You). The project is a multi-media art affair focusing on homelessness in Salisbury. It will begin with a walk on Wednesday, February 22 (starting at Salisbury Arts Centre, 7.30pm), where a series of films will be projected onto locations around the city. A panel discussion and film screening at Salisbury Cathedral follow at the start of March.

The events are the end product of a year that Susan has spent working with homeless people in the city, with their thoughts and creations being turned into film by her and into music by composer Howard Moody.

The original spark for the project came from seeing the Ikea advertising slogan, ‘Home is the Most Important Place on Earth’. Susan wanted to capture the experiences of those living on the streets, and also to challenge our own perceptions on the subject.

Talking about the project, Susan has clearly been moved by what she discovered: the there-by-the-grace-of-God stories of redundancy, marital breakdowns and broken backgrounds. It was clear how even the smallest political decisions can have a huge impact: a cut in housing budget or social care policy is not some theoretical exercise, but one with ripple effects in the real world.

But what Susan also witnessed was an upending of Maslow’s psychological pyramid. According to that, creativity (self-realisation) can only be achieved if our more basic needs are sated. In fact, Susan experienced the opposite: ‘Howard and I have had the privilege of seeing people with next to nothing, struggling with the most brutalising of addictions, soar for a moment in their individual creative expression . . . even in their given circumstances they have something that they, and only they, can offer.’ I’d hoped we’d moved on from the days when a Conservative minister described the homeless as ‘what you step over when you come out of the opera’. Instead, the stories in the press this week about a Cambridge student taunting a homeless man by burning a £20 note in front of him show how timely Susan’s art is.

For more information on the project, visit

Follow Tom on Twitter @bromleyesq.