Youth group #Groundswell aims to expand #art and #activism work

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In 1996, Groundswell’s first mural went up on a building in Williamsburg. That piece, addressing the topic of tenants’ rights, no longer exists. It’s been whitewashed. But the nonprofit, which is dedicated to student art and activism, is still making its mark across the city with 500 murals and counting.

Robyne Walker Murphy, the social justice organization’s new executive director, has noticed Groundswell’s work as long as she’s lived in New York, some 18 years now.

“These murals were just a part of the landscape — part of my daily walk or just being in the neighborhood,” said Murphy, an art and social justice educator and administrator who joined the organization a year ago. “You would just see them everywhere.”

The murals are a large part of the organization’s mission — working with teaching artists, students primarily from ages 16 to 19, local groups and schools to address issues affecting the community and creating public art that reflects those issues.

“We’re not just painting things to make it really beautiful,” Murphy said. “We’re speaking to issues like police brutality and sexual harassment. We’re also talking about possibility and celebrating the beauty in these communities, too.”

In recent years, Groundswell has also expanded its programming to reach more students and people interested in “artivism” — a portmanteau of art and activism.

Teacher #GiannaRodriguez helps kids across #Baltimore transform themselves through #art

Image: Bruce Weller.

Image: Bruce Weller.

After school in a Baltimore art space, a dozen kids lean over canvases, their hands busy. One draws the word rookie in graffiti script, the o's doubling as eyes on a cartoon face. Another puts the finishing touches on a pair of tattooed, praying hands.

These students, many of whom have spent time in juvenile detention or jail, are exploring their talents and earning extra money through Baltimore Youth Arts (BYA), a nonprofit founded by 32-year-old artist-educator Gianna Rodriguez.

At BYA's Community Studio, Gianna and other instructors offer classes on fine arts, creative writing, DJing and life and career skills, such as registering for an ID and drafting a résumé. The kids, who act as apprentices, are paid $10 for every hour they attend class or work in the studio. During the summer they sell paintings and screen-printed clothing in local galleries and on BYA's website. They keep 70% to 90% of their profits, and the rest goes toward supplies.

"Kids sometimes resort to illegal activities when they need money," says Gianna. "We want to create opportunities so they can step back from that."

Gianna grew up as an artist and dancer, but also had brushes with a tougher crowd. "People close to me went to prison and some struggled with substance abuse," she says. "But my mother taught me to see the best in others."

For more than six years, Gianna taught art to at-risk and incarcerated young people in her hometown of Providence, RI. Then, after earning her master's degree in arts education in 2015, she moved to Baltimore and established BYA. Today, the organization reaches about forty 7- to 22-year-olds per week in detention and recreation centers, in addition to the studio. All told, BYA has worked with more than 250 kids in the past two years. Private foundations help pay for supplies and instructors, and Gianna earns a full-time salary through a fellowship.

Many of Gianna's students tell her that before joining the organization they'd never had an interest in art, been exposed to painting or drawing, or had help with life skills.

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#DumpsterArt: Artists beautify city

Image: LaShaunda Jordan. Charlie's Angels work on dumpster to beautify the city.

Image: LaShaunda Jordan. Charlie's Angels work on dumpster to beautify the city.

VALDOSTA — The second annual dumpster art project was held Saturday in the City Hall Annex parking lot. 

The project was made possible through a collaborative effort between the City of Valdosta, Valdosta Main Street, the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts and the Public Arts Advisory Committee.

Artist and artist teams transformed four downtown dumpsters into public pieces of art.

The team painting Dumpster No. 1 were employees from Barnes Healthcare Services; “Charlie’s Angels,” was named after Charlie Barnes III, owner of Barnes Healthcare Services. The team was led by Karen Lewis, a fine arts graduate of Valdosta State University.

“It’s a visual of our history. A visual of what makes Valdosta. Most people know Valdosta as being Winnersville football town and that tradition is what most people associate it with. We wanted to bring something to life that celebrated everything, you can really look at this and tell what Valdosta is all about,” Lewis said.

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St. Louis #StoryStitchers Artist Collective use art to fight #gunviolence

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It's urban storytelling with an anti-gun message. “We do a lot on gun violence because it is the main issue that the youth want to work on,” said Susan Colangelo, president of St. Louis Story Stitchers Artist Collective, a nonprofit based in University City. “We work collaboratively here, so we look at and listen to what’s happening in the community and we generate ideas.”

Story Stitchers provides a creative outlet for young artists ages 16 to 24. Ideas for Story Stitchers include dance, spoken word, hip hop, videography, photography, writing workshops and publishing.  

“We help them get their voices out,” said Colangelo. “We do discussions with youth that are youth-led. We take that information and generate books, songs, plays. We are picking the city up. I think what we’re doing is community building.“

Story Stitchers member Antonio Clark is a student at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. “It’s a habit. I can’t stop dancing,” he said. “I love it and that’s why I do it.”

Clark, who enjoys dancing, joined Story Stitchers to be a role model.

“I like standing out, you know what I’m saying? You’re not gonna see me with guns or anything like that,” he said. “I just want the rest of my youth, the rest of my generation to understand that there’s no point in what they’re doing. I know a lot of people that lost their lives to violence, family members, friends, people that I knew from school.”

The message to drop the gun is personal for some of the Story Stitchers and that’s why many of the organization’s performances take place in the neighborhoods where members live. “We have been going into the neighborhoods where our youth live, so Walnut Park, Jeff Vander Lou, we’re going to the juvenile detention center.”

Story Stitchers goes beyond performances, organizing community forums like gun violence summits featuring stakeholders and experts from the community. It’s young people using their skills to be part of the solution.

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Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Turn City Youth Into Artists

Art by Lajachanae Minter of East English Village Preparatory Academy is on display.  Rachel Woolf, Special to the Free Press

Art by Lajachanae Minter of East English Village Preparatory Academy is on display.  Rachel Woolf, Special to the Free Press

Kenneth Holloway never saw himself as an artist. But then his teacher, Gloria Byers, challenged him to create a piece of artwork using corrugated cardboard, a selfie, pastel chalk and other materials.

The result: A colorful self-portrait using mixed media that was so good, it was selected to be on display during the Detroit Public School Community District Student Exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

"It feels good to let people see my work, to see that it means something," said Holloway, 17, a senior at Osborn College Preparatory Academy.

His artwork is one of hundreds of pieces on exhibit beginning Saturday at the DIA, an annual display that gives students a unique opportunity to showcase their talent.

It's the 80th such exhibition at the museum, and is the longest-running partnership the DIA has with an educational organization. The Detroit Public Schools Foundation and the Ruth T.T. Cattell Education Endowment Fund funded the exhibition.

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