"If we are going to build the city we all want to live in," says Hope McMath, "one that is resilient, dynamic, interesting, beautiful, viable, and welcoming to all it is important that we cultivate young artists. They will build that city." And by all accounts, they are well on their way. Two new exhibits highlight the ways in which the visual and written arts combine, while shining some much-needed light on the next generation of creators in our community, young men and women whose efforts will no doubt exert influence on local culture for years to come.
FSCJ's downtown campus is looking better than ever after millions of dollars' worth of upbuilds and renovations, part of which includes the art gallery in Building A, Room 1202. That's where you'll find 1,000 Words: The Intersection of Art & Poetry, showing now through the fourth of May, featuring a cadre of student artists from all the schools campuses. Across the river sits Yellow House, opened by the former Executive Director of the Cummer Museum, the inestimable McMath, who's used her position to empower young artists and those whose work has slipped through the cracks of visibility in the existing gallery infrastructure.
Yellow House's latest show is Voices Unearthed: Young Creators, Seeking Truth, which opened April 13 and will remain through May 19. It's the second in a series of events designed to put the focus squarely on youth empowerment through the arts, and it represents a particular passion for the curator. "The entirety of Yellow House is about young artists right now," she says, "and the results are excellent."
Voices Unearthed represents a multi-generational collaboration between Yellow House and students from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. Several students (Evelyn Alfonso, Elma Dedic, Lex Hamilton, Ana Shaw, Kathryn Wallis and Lexey Wilson) have taken a direct hand in helping curate the event, while a number of others will see their own works on display.
For Voices Unearthed, McMath teamed with Tiffany Melanson, who teaches creative writing at Douglas Anderson. Melanson also serves as faculty advisor for the school's Elan Literary Magazine, which has produced a number of the writers featured in this exhibit. "This is not just about teaching the students to curate or create," says McMath. "We are trying to provide opportunities for young people to lead the way and to journey towards their dreams."
"There are organizations/adults that are supporting that work and have for a long time," says McMath. "I am especially grateful to those who have made sure all of our public schools students receive arts education and have access to great artful experiences. Any Given Child, CAP, Jax Kids Mural Project, Babs' Lab, Hope at Hand, the museums, and our teachers are doing the good work. Yellow House is trying to add to that work by providing a platform for student-centered exhibitions and outreach programs."
Many of the adults helping administer these programs were just kids themselves when they got their start in the scene, and the idea of giving back to the business carries serious appeal for them, if not an outright responsibility. "This is not just about teaching the students to curate or create," she says. "We are trying to provide opportunities for young people to lead the way and to journey towards their dreams. It takes a bit of mentoring, but then we need to get out of the way. Empowering youth leaders means providing support, but flattening or flipping the hierarchy. As adults we then become witnesses to these raw and emerging stories, which can alter how we see the world, each other, and ourselves. There are fresh perspectives and radical solutions to be found when we lift up and then listen. By entering into an authentic partnership with young people, we will create the change we want to see in this world."
As stated earlier, this is only the second of three events planned to help matriculate student artists into the local scene. "The next exhibition will be a bold collection of stories and artworks that celebrate the young activist voices in our community," says McMath, including "the EVAC Movement of young black male leaders at Lee High School, activist artists from UNF, Paxon High School students who are doing hard hitting, socially relevant artwork, and a 15-year old artist who exemplifies the brilliance to be found in our young black women." All this going on, and it's still only spring. It's looking to be one of the best years ever for the local poetry scene, and for that, we can thank the youth, who have stepped up mightily to fill in the gaps left in leadership, locally and around the country, as the adult population slowly loses their minds, a process that itself is only just beginning.
Featured artists and writers in include Meredith Abdelnour, Knowlton Anderson, Winnie Blay, Reece Braswell, Valerie Busto, Antonio Colon, Maria Cortina-Sainz, Madison Dorsey, Kashta Dozier-Muhammad, Kinley Dozier, Isabella Gardner, Katherine Harrison, Kianna Henshaw, Jasmine Hernandez, Corey Kreisel, Montana Kromann, Dane LaRocque, Kristina Lowry, Luz Manuga, Sharya McCray, Noah McGahagin, Emma McLaughlin, Olivia Meiller, Samantha Moody, Harleigh Murray, Audrey Phillips, Savannah Rahn, Oona Roberts and Victoria Sherwood.