Artist residency program provides artistic, mental health resources to Richmond youth

Chris Visions, artist-in-residence for the Art 180 gallery, presents the artwork in his home studio. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Grace McOmber, Contributing Writer

Two loudspeakers crossed out with a pair of black lines sit atop large graphic text that reads “silence is the most powerful scream.” 

The image, created by former Richmond Public Schools student and Art 180 participant Edward Robinson, serves as the poster for the organization’s newest program named in his honor, the Edward Dean Robinson Artist Residency.

“He [Robinson] was amazing,” said Ashley Short, Art 180’s youth engagement coordinator. “The work that he did, and the kind of student that he was, that is a reflection of the kind of students that we’re looking for to be in the residency.” 

Robinson, who died by suicide in 2018, inspired Art 180 organizers to develop a new program that highlights the importance of mental health, Short said. This summer, eight Richmond Public Schools students will spend the summer honing their artistic skills, learning mental health strategies and creating art for the community at the Atlas art gallery as a part of the residency.

The program aims to provide Richmond’s underrepresented students with artistic, social and emotional skills necessary to foster both artistic and personal growth, Short said.

“This is a very unique program because it’s for kids who usually wouldn’t have those opportunities. I just want them to feel free, and those chances get very slim, especially when we have to take on adult responsibilities.” — Chris Visions, artist-in-residence

Since its founding in 1998, the organization has partnered with Richmond schools and other community organizations to develop a variety of free or low-cost programs for underprivileged students between the ages of 8 and 18. These include gardening, photography workshops and sculpture courses, among others.

“We want to meet needs that are not met in our community,” Short said. “Art programs can be very expensive in the city, so we want to eliminate that cost barrier.”

During the nine-week summer program, the students will create a portfolio, practice their artistic skills under the guidance of a professional artist and learn skills to apply to both their art and other aspects of their lives. 

The students will design and install a mural at the intersection of Brook Road and West Marshall Street and receive a $1,350 artist stipend and supplies, the website states.

“We want to make sure that they understand that you can get paid to be an artist,” Short said. “You can live off your art, and you can create the life that you want off your passions.”

For the first installment of the program, Richmond freelance artist and VCU alumnus Chris Visions will act as artist-in-residence for the program and be responsible for mentoring the students accepted.

“I’m really honored that I’m the first one in this program,” Visions said. “There’s a responsibility with that, and I take that very seriously. My goal is to leave a mark that allows other artists and future students to blossom.” 

Visions works primarily as a freelance illustrator and has illustrated for companies like Marvel, DC Comics and Cartoon Network. He has also created art that centers on mental health and social justice, including the Hope Mural on West Marshall Street, which highlights victims of police brutality including Elijah McClain, Brandon Robertson and VCU alumnus Marcus-David Peters. 

Visions poses for a portrait in front of the Art 180 gallery. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

The artist said he wants to use this opportunity to emphasize the importance of mental health within the Richmond community, especially amongst underprivileged students. 

“I think sometimes we can be boxed into our environment or what we’re given,” Visions said. “And it can be hard to see a way out or see things beyond those circumstances.”

During his own adolescence, Visions said he attended programs that were similar to the residency like the Virginia Governor’s School and the Illustration Academy in Florida. 

“This is a very unique program because it’s for kids who usually wouldn’t have those opportunities,” Visions said about the residency. “I just want them to feel free, and those chances get very slim, especially when we have to take on adult responsibilities.”

Visions has a close connection to Art 180 organizers and was sought out based on his past work and presence in the Richmond community, he and Short said.

“We thought it would benefit them to have professional artists or people who look like a lot of the kids to be an influence,” Visions said.

In addition to assisting the students in building a portfolio and developing their artistic skills, Visions said he will emphasize the necessity of positive mental health practices and rituals by incorporating specialists and introducing healthy habits to cope with stress.  

“It’s going to be really exciting and fulfilling to provide them a place where they can … solely focus on the purpose of creating and expressing themselves,” Visions said. “And just having an inclusive environment where they feel safe and being able to walk away with tools that help them get closer to their goals.”

Any rising Richmond Public Schools high school junior or senior qualifies to apply to the residency. To do so, applicants must submit examples of their work and a letter of recommendation. The applications will then be reviewed by Art 180 staff and other members of the community.

Currently, the organization will only select eight students to be a part of the program in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, Short said. However, the coordinator has hopes for expansion in the future. 

“I would love for it to go national,” Short said. “To have all these youth coming to Richmond, just to fulfill their passion for art. I think that’s amazing because Richmond is a huge art city and that traffic into the city would also be helpful for the community.”

To apply for the Edward Dean Robinson Artist Residency and learn more about the program, visit Art 180’s website

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