Children’s artwork shines in downtown Richmond

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Outside Richmond’s BART station last week, kids in colorful outfits—one wore a tutu—ran around an exhibit of artwork made by, well, them. Drawings of animals, paintings of outer space, and collages featuring pop stars like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus hung in the windows and on the walls of an empty storefront space in the Richmond BART garage.

“This is our first year showcasing children’s art,” said Alicia Gallo, community outreach coordinator for Richmond Main Street. “The community suggested we put children’s art in the windows, and we love the energy.”

The exhibition was the product of a partnership between Richmond Main Street’s annual Art In Windows program and the Love Your Block program. Art In Windows, funded by the Richmond Main Street Initiative and supported in kind by the Richmond Arts and Culture Commission, aims to beautify downtown Richmond by turning empty storefront windows into gallery space for two exhibits each year. Love Your Block, a neighborhood revitalization program, gives grants to citizens who want to improve Richmond neighborhoods through community-led projects.

The two organizations share a similar ethos: the revitalization and beautification of Richmond through community involvement. Richmond Main Street and Love Your Block decided to collaborate on the downtown exhibit when Gallo realized that 10-year-old Love Your Block grantee Azia Banagan’s art workshops were a perfect illustration of the relationship between community engagement and public art that Art In Windows seeks to showcase.

The downtown exhibit features two major projects. Forty finished paintings, drawings and collages from art workshops led by Banagan hang on the walls, depicting everything from trucks and airplanes to gardens and cupcakes.

“It’s a huge inspiration to see the artwork on the walls. They’re all equally awesome,” Banagan said.

The exhibit also features illustrations done by students at Mira Vista Elementary School in conjunction with the Scribbler Artist’s Project (SAP).

The illustrations are a product of the 14 book-making workshops SAP creator Tatiana Ortiz held at the school in 2015. Ortiz led the workshops—which taught students how to write their own stories, draw their own pictures and put together a hardcover book—with the help of a Neighborhood Public Art (NPA) grant.

“I never thought I’d be entrusted with the money to make my neighborhood better, especially through doing what I love: giving children the opportunity to make art,” Ortiz said.

The NPA grants, however, were discontinued earlier this year. Linda Kalin, a Richmond community member of the Public Art Advisory Committee, said that grants supporting public art programs, especially those for children, are important given the absence of art classes in the schools.

“When I was in school, we had art class. But at Richmond public schools, kids don’t get that opportunity. So the fact that they can benefit from these art grants is wonderful,” Kalin said.

Michelle Seville, Arts and Culture Manager for the city of Richmond, agreed: “When art and music were taken out of Richmond’s schools, it created irreparable damage.”

“Art teaches flexibility, being creative and being open to the world around you,” Seville said. “That’s why public art grants in Richmond are so important.”

Richmond residents can still apply for Love Your Block grants, which will now award $2000 to each grantee.

“We hope this extends our impact, and allows the projects to be more sustainable,” said Stephanie Ny, a Community Service Associate with the Love Your Block program.

Outside the Richmond BART station, another public art piece created by Love Your Block stood grand and tall: a big square sculpture, painted with chalkboard paint, on which children and adults used sidewalk chalk to answer the question, “With $2,000, how would you Love Your Block?”

One little girl’s answer captured the spirit of the downtown exhibit: “Paint a big mural,” she wrote, in big, bold, pastel-colored letters.

An earlier version of this story said that Art in Windows was funded by the Richmond Arts and Culture Commission. All funding was provided by the Richmond Main Street initiative.

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