Giving Voice to ART 180's Teen Leaders

I’ve lived on the periphery of ART 180 for most of the organization’s 14 year history. My wife served on the board – along with some of my favorite Richmonders (folks like Tristana Nesvig Trani and Sue Ann Messmer) – and our daughter is often found in the South of the James corn box next to ART 180 founder Marlene Paul’s daughter.

It’s a small town sometimes, Richmond is.

And then you walk into a room with 12 teenagers and realize it’s actually a little bigger than you might imagine.

These particular teens come from all over the city. They’re black and white, male and female, outgoing and introverted. They are an eclectic and talented group of ART 180 alum.

These teenagers have gone through the organization’s arts programming for several years, and are now meeting weekly to make art, build relationships and create a vision.

Part of the vision is for a new ART 180 building, the organization’s first permanent home. Fingers are crossed for that home to be on Marshall Street in Jackson Ward.

And so I found myself in the basement of UR Downtown’s expanded campus on West Broad Street with 12 teens and two program directors. If there’s anything more awkward than a group of teenagers in a classroom setting, it might be a 40-year-old facilitator trying to engage them in brainstorming.

We broke some ice, made introductions, talked about what it means to be part of a group – to be part of this particular group. And then we broke out the balloons.

The balloon tower activity is amazing with 100 people and 1,000 balloons. It’s still pretty cool with 14 people and 150 balloons. As they group worked in varying configurations to build a balloon tower, we paused and debriefed around the dynamics of the team.

We spent the last part of the evening capturing the a sense of the energy they hoped to create – awesome, loco, bumpin’ and full of expression, but also welcoming, cozy and chill. Almost 100 words reflecting a wide range of personality and youthful expression, and an opportunity for the ART 180 team to think creatively about a space that can balance the powerful tensions of #RVA’s teens.