ART 180’s name “refers to the 180-degree change we hope to encourage within the young people we serve, and in the larger community through publication and exhibition of our young people's work.” Founded in 1998, ART 180 has grown to offer diverse art programs for young people living in challenging circumstances. There’s no way a short Q&A or any photograph could capture all that they do for Richmond’s youth. I had a chance to meet Trey Hartt, Deputy Director, and here’s our attempt to bring a little bit about ART 180 to you.
H5RVA: How does art connect us and effect change?
Trey: I am one of those who believe art, or creative and cultural expression, is an essential aspect to humanity. You can see throughout history that those who try to dehumanize us attack artists, because it’s a core function of living just like eating, breathing, and all those other essential details that meet our needs. So if you consider that art is a core function of being human, then by its very nature it is bound to connect us and effect change. Art fills some essential developmental buckets. It allows our voice to be heard (whether literally through a spoken poem or song or metaphorically through a painting or sculpture). Creative expression and the acceptance of that expression, even when we may disagree, allows us to feel validated. Art lights up parts of our brain that are continuously dampened by a fast-paced, media-crazed world, high expectations to “make it,” school environments that are so rigidly test-based, and now a political system that requires that we fight for human rights.
In the work we do at ART 180, whether it’s a painting program that explores our future selves, a textile program making super hero capes, or an advocacy program that allows our teens to share their visions for our community, the practice of art-making and the space we create for community expression ensures that the voices of our most marginalized youth are present in our community. And when you read what they have to say, like Stephon Sheffield who said, “I want to tell future generations that if you look up, the future and the present will be as bright as the sun, bright as the stars. Hopes and dreams are in the light in front of you, you just have to follow it.” It’s hard not be changed by that innocent truth.
H5RVA: ART 180 does so many things! If you had to fill in this blank, how would you? “Consistently, the single most important thing we hope to accomplish in everything we do is ___________________?”
Trey: To provide young people a supportive, safe environment to be unequivocally them, which through the process of creative expression they come to discover.
H5RVA: In her nomination of ART 180, Risa Gomez specifically mentions the Performing Statistics project. What is that and how did it come about?
Trey: Performing Statistics started out as a summer project in 2015 with ART 180 and Legal Aid Justice Center, led by artist Mark Strandquist. He had a big vision, and we had the capacity to say, “Yes! Let’s do this.” We didn’t know when we committed to that summer project that it would turn into a movement. Now, thanks to the Robins Foundation’s Community Innovation Grant and a bunch of dedicated warriors, it’s a full-fledged program in partnership between ART 180 and Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren program, specifically their RISE for Youth campaign (www.riseforyouth.org). The program is called Youth Self Advocacy Through Art (still known as Performing Statistics to the public), and each summer we work with a group of teens from Richmond’s Juvenile Detention Center, provide them creative opportunities to talk about their experiences being incarcerated and their vision for a more just community. Their work is then paired with the RISE for Youth campaign, traveling the state to advocate for juvenile justice reform. We also help Legal Aid Justice Center run Youth for RISE, the youth advocacy network of the RISE campaign made up of formerly incarcerated youth and other young people dedicated to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition to traveling the state, we work with the Richmond City Police Department to train all of their officers in adolescent brain development, teen/police interaction, and trauma-informed approaches to policing, and we have a teaching curriculum so that teachers can use the project to inspire conversations in their classrooms and school communities. The whole premise is that in order to truly transform our juvenile justice system we need to take the lead from the experts, youth most impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline and their families.
H5RVA: How can non-artists help?
Trey: Showing up is always a #1 way to help. It can be life-changing for a young person to hear from an adult that their work is inspiring. Whether you attend an exhibition, show up at our annual justice parade, or are knocking on the doors of our state legislators, showing up is half the battle as they say. And donations, of course, always make a difference. Because of the program and other organizational needs, we’ve grown our budget to almost a million dollars! That’s a lot of dough to raise in one year.
H5RVA: What are you going to do with this High Five?
Trey: Spread more high fives, of course! There’s always room to spread the love and lift up those of us digging in deep to make sure our community is the best it can be.
You can find out more about ART 180 here!