The Collegian
Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Art for Social Change

When I received my writing assignment for The Collegian last week, I glanced at it and saw something about art and some place called UR Downtown.

I closed the e-mail and went back to frantically working on the layout for that week's Collegian (since we Collegian staffers get to spend our Wednesday nights holed up in the Collegian office cracked out on coffee, too much chocolate and excessive song-and-dance routines to Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream").

It was already 1 a.m., so I figured out of sight, out of mind.

When I went back the next day to actually read the assignment, what I read interested me. It interested me a lot and, surprise, surprise, I was actually excited about doing a homework assignment instead of the usual dread when faced with the assignment of writing a whole paper in just a few days.

The press release read: "As Richmond seeks to reconcile a painful past with the challenges of the future, what role can artists play as change agents? How can art improve people's lives?"

The panel discussion on these questions was held at UR Downtown's Wilton Companies Gallery. The exhibition featured in the gallery was titled "Voices for Change."

The exhibit featured works from a contest held for kids in either Virginia's foster care system or who had recently been adopted from the foster care system.

These kids, ages 12 to 21, submitted original artwork, photographs and writing that depicted their experiences in Virginia's foster care system.

As I looked at the works after the panel discussion ended, I realized that all of this talk of art for social change was something that I shouldn't just talk and think about, it was something that I needed to do.

I consider myself an artist, at least in some capacity. I love to draw and paint and craft, but most of all, I love to take photographs. I love to capture the expression on someone's face and in just one moment, create a biography.

The works of art created by these youngsters were sometimes about where they had been in life, sometimes about where they wanted to go.

The occasional downfall of a photograph is that it cannot lie, a trait which some of these kids desperately needed, the chance to idealize and the chance to imagine a different outcome.

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I think we Richmonders sometimes spend too much time working toward the perfect GPA and the perfect extracurricular schedule to complement our perfect GPA.

I'm guilty of this just as much as anyone else, but this discussion and the works by these youth were pretty moving. I don't know yet what one or two or 10 of my photographs might do to start a revolution, but hey, it's time to start thinking about it.

When I went back and read my writing assignment for a second time, I knew it would be a compelling discussion, but I didn't know it would light a fire.

The idea of using my art to create change lit a little fire under my ass, and I think I might just go out and do something about it. And you should too.

Contact Collegian staff writer Liz McAvoy at: liz.mcavoy@richmond.edu

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