The Collegian
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

ART 180 helps disadvantaged youth spark positive change

Ten years ago, Richmond native Marlene Paul noticed that although Richmond had several organizations to help disadvantaged youth, most of them were without art-related programs.

Paul believed that artistic expression would promote positive change, so she decided to begin a nonprofit organization, now known as ART 180, to supplement Richmond's existing youth services with an art component, she said.

Today, Paul's idea has grown into an organization offering underprivileged children the opportunity to choose from 10, 12-week-long after-school programs during which children can express themselves through everything from film and fashion to drumming and stained glass.

Although ART 180's office is located downtown within Artspace Gallery, the free programs are run at different youth facilities such as The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, William Byrd Community House and Elkhardt Middle School.

ART 180 Development Manager Amy Koch, who had been working for the organization for one year, said that the programs were run like classes where the children developed their skills each week and worked toward a final exhibition, performance or recital. This helps make the organization not just about promoting personal changes within the children but also about uniting the community, she said.

"Everybody is an artist, everyone has a voice and that voice matters," Koch said.

She expected to have around 100 students participate in the programs that are scheduled to run this fall, she said.

Senior Sara Perkins, who has been volunteering with the organization since she was a sophomore, said that one of her favorite encounters with children had been helping to organize a "Project Runway"-style fashion show as the finale to a fashion design class she helped teach.

"The kids are so cute," Perkins said. "I miss them!"

This fall she is volunteering to help fifth-graders at Broad Rock Elementary write and design comic books with superheroes that promote the changes the kids might want to see happen in their lives or communities.

"More than teaching them technical skills, the programs are about giving kids a voice to speak out about issues in their lives and communities," Perkins said. "We provide them with an environment where they are allowed to be kids again. This is something they get really excited about every week."

Perkins was also raising awareness at the University of Richmond by encouraging students and faculty to participate in their coming 10th-anniversary fundraiser, "Change for a 10." For every $10 that is donated, the sponsor is given a template to design their own $10 bill, Perkins said. These designs are being collected from communities throughout Richmond and will be displayed at the opening of Virginia Commonwealth University's Brand Center on Oct. 10, she said.

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"'Change for a 10' is sort of taking our mission and turning it inside-out by getting the entire community involved and aware through making art," Koch said.

Although Perkins is a studio art major, she said an art background was not necessary to get involved. Junior Katie Sunderman is an accounting major who became interested in ART 180 when she heard about its year-long mentoring program called S.O.H.O., Space of His/Her Own, which she plans to begin participating in this fall.

This new program matches mentors with one child that they spend time getting to know each week by making crafts or doing homework, Sunderman said. During the fall session they will decorate picture frames, mirrors and chairs, and in the spring, the mentor gets the opportunity to redesign the child's bedroom to ensure that they have their own space to do work, make art and express themselves, she said.

"I had heard about a lot of other mentoring through art and art therapy programs back home and this one just sounded really interesting to me," Sunderman said. "ART 180 is not just a small-scale thing. It seems pretty well-known throughout the Richmond community."

You don't have to commit time every week to get involved, Perkins said. ART 180 is always looking for volunteers to help with fundraisers and special events. For more information about volunteering or donating visit

Contact staff writer Emily Viviani at

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