Shades of blue, yellow, pink and cream flow cohesively over a gray canvas. Different colored hands surrounded by rainbows, clouds and a night sky cover the once-blank wall outside the Artful Dodger, expressing the different underlying emotions often illustrated in art. The Shenandoah Valley Art Mobile has a proverb it relies on — “Art is a language we all speak.”
SVAM, a nonprofit organization in the Valley, aims to provide opportunities for art and creative expression in communities that might not have that ability. The organization has created a yearly mural project to include the youth of Harrisonburg in cultivating imaginative pieces they’ll see for generations.
“They painted this,” Emily Reese, president and executive director of SVAM, said. “When they drive by for years to come they can say, ‘I helped create this, I have agency in this,’ and it makes it all that more meaningful.”
The mural is only one aspect of SVAM’s current ongoing project. The organization is fundraising for an art mobile — a bus of sorts — that’ll contain art supplies and travel to different communities in the area to give underprivileged students the opportunity to create.
“In Rockingham County and Harrisonburg, there are about 18,000 students and 30 art instructors, which means that for every 600 students in the city and county combined, there’s one art teacher,” Reese said. “We want to help bring art and the creative process to people who might not otherwise have access or whose access is limited.”
The goal for the mobile unit is widespread. SVAM hopes the community will see art as an imaginative and personal experience while hoping to provide that opportunity to youth of the community with no cost. The youth drive SVAM’s organization and provide a purpose for the mobile unit.
According to Reese, funding for creative programs in educational institutions is being cut across the nation, and art is often the first to go. SVAM is working toward creating a free artistic experience for anyone willing to pick up a paintbrush.
Leah Gingerich is the vice president of the SVAM board. She calls art “creative expression” and has an alternative outlook on the process. Gingerich also believes art should be a positive experience for those who want to participate.
“I often go to ‘creative expression’ because I think we limit ourselves when we think about art,” Gingerich said. “I think about creative thinking. I think about creative processes that involve creative thinking. So in education, art is actually really critical and valuable, and yet, we live in a context where it isn’t as valued when it comes to funding, and so something like this can be part of that kind of learning and development.”
The completed mural outside the Artful Dodger was designed by a panel of seven local students who discussed what art meant to them, the community, education and the world. After multiple meetings, Sarah Hade, a JMU alumna (’15) and artist, combined those aspects into one complete mural, encompassing what each student envisioned. Hade believes working with the youth was refreshing.
“As you grow a little older, you kind of put limits on yourself, especially in art,” Hade said. “If you’re a practicing artist or work in the art field, you kind of find your rhythm. Working with the kids was super inspiring.”
Hade also believes the youth who worked on the mural have a distinct, yet abstract, view of art. According to Gingerich, it’s youth who are the driving force of creative expression.
“We hope to continue to have youth involved in those ways,” Gingerich said. “Rather than us just saying, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do you guys, here it is,’ we’re saying ‘Hey, youth in the community, you’re invited to come so that we can hear your voices,’ and this is part of the inclusion.”
The mural is one example of how SVAM aims to include local communities in one mobile unit. The members of the board hope to create a diverse experience of creative expression. They believe anyone can create art, especially younger kids who are capable of vast creativity.
“Their voices are alive in the organization,” Gingerich said. “They’re alive in how this art organization has an impact on the community in a real way.”
Contact Madisson Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.