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The HOPE VI Blackwell Children's Summer Arts Program was a collaborative project between the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), Virginia Commonwealth University's (VCU) Department of Art Education, the Blackwell Community Civic Association and other partners to provide the opportunity for the youth of the Blackwell community to develop a vested interest in the redevelopment of their community, through art.

Over the years, the participants created artwork that reflected their vision of a new Blackwell community undergoing major redevelopment through the HOPE VI program; designed a new community park; created an outdoor art wall; produced fabricated mosaic tiles featuring sport imagery; produced clay art forms depicting healthy eating and lifestyle activities; and design two gardens in the Blackwell community.

The children's efforts are supporting a successful, well-planned community and fostering community involvement for all segments of the neighborhood.

Themes and activities of the HOPE VI Blackwell Children's Summer Art Program:
1999 - Painting a new vision
2000 - Designing a park for the new community
2001 - Building an Art Wall
2002 - Sports and Art
2003 - Nutrition and Art for a Healthy Community
2004 - Community Horticulture: Exploring Art, Plants and Gardening
2005 - Sharing a Place Called Home

Summer Arts 1999: Painting a new vision

In 1999, children from the former Blackwell public housing development participated in the first HOPE VI Blackwell Children's Summer Arts Program. They created paintings and collages to express their ideas about Blackwell's revitalization. Many of these images were of trees, green grass and parks, and of community residents together enjoying the outdoors.

Summer Arts 2000: Designing a park for the new community
In the summer of 2000, the children returned to the summer arts program to design a park for Blackwell, a park to be built between Maury Street and Dinwiddie Avenue. Before concluding the program by building a 6-by-10 foot topographical model of the park, the youngsters learned about urban planning, horticulture, landscape design and water control and were taught by artists, architects, ecologists, horticulturists and city planners. The park the children designed may be the first in Richmond designed by children.

The 2000 program gained national recognition and in January 2001, the Blackwell children were invited to attend Leadership by Design Development, the first national conference of the National Congress for Community Economic Development (NCCED). At the conference, held in Washington D.C., the Blackwell youngsters told youths from around the nation that they too can affect positive community change.

Summer Arts 2001: Building Bridges by Building Walls
In the HOPE VI Blackwell Children's Summer Arts Program 2001 the children designed an "art wall" that now stands on the south side of Maury Street, along the entrance of the park they designed in the summer of 2000. As in previous summers, approximately 25 middle-school-aged children worked for six weeks under the guidance of professional artists meeting at the HOPE VI Site Office.

Learning about sculpture and tile making, the Blackwell children created a model for a wall that will entice passers-by to peer both at it and beyond it. The wall will announce an exciting new space that offers recreation for children, adults and the elderly, featuring everything from meandering paths and a creek to tennis courts and a community vegetable garden.

Individually, the children created and decorated tiles that will be installed on the wall. Then, in teams, the children examined themes that their wall may address, for instance, "big community," "a place for everyone" and "future." The teams constructed scale models of the art wall and critiqued each other's models. Finally, the children chose the design that will become the art wall - one that holds brightly colored shapes that evoke thoughts of fun and recreation.

In addition, each art session taught the children various leadership skills, including developing and presenting ideas. The children also learned how to conduct research and to use mathematics to create scale models.

Like the summer arts programs in 1999 and 2000, the 2001 program continued to teach the children that they can use their energy and creativity to change Blackwell for the better, and that adults and community officials are interested in what the youths have to say.

In the fall of 2001, the children directed adult community leaders in installing the children's art onto the existing chain link wall at the park's Maury Street entrance.

Summer Arts 2002: Fitness and Healthy Lifestyles
Organizers of the arts program asked participating youngsters to create images that depicted the importance of fitness and a healthy lifestyle. During six-weeks of art workshops, local artists and VCU Department of Art Education staffers took digital photographs of the upper elementary and middle school youngsters as they participated in various sports and fitness activities, including a mini-Olympics. RRHA youngsters interacted with various VCU athletes and art instructors who discussed the importance of leadership skills, healthy eating and the work ethic required to be successful in athletics, the arts and life/ Based on digital photos and drawings, youngsters created images for tile plaques that were colored with a ceramic glaze and eventually fired. Ultimately, the tile plaques will be placed in various stages of the proposed Vita-Course track in new Blackwell Park.

Nearly 25 youngsters, who participated in this summer's program and are former residents of the Blackwell public housing development, presented their ceramic tile plaques to the Blackwell community during a ceremonies and a reception that honored their hard work and creativity.

Summer Arts 2003: Building a Healthy Community
The 2003 Blackwell Summer Arts Program involved over 20 children from the former Blackwell public housing development that spent four weeks of their summer break learning about the importance of healthy living and good nutrition as part of everyday life, and its affects on building a healthy community. Twice a week the youth participated in art projects, creative thinking, discovering the importance of healthy eating, and learning about their role as citizens who can influence and contribute to the condition of their community. They participated in a variety of activities such as visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to observe the work of artists that have used food as a subject matter, picked blueberries at Swift Creek Berry Farm, and received a behind the scenes tour of Ukrops Supermarket. They also designed pictures for a food guide pyramid and created ceramic food relief's to be displayed at their culminating event - a Health Fair for the community.

The Blackwell Summer Arts Program Community Health and Information Fair provided the youth with an opportunity to display their artwork and inform the community about good nutrition and healthy lifestyles. Information tables hosted by RRHA and partnering agencies, light refreshments, giveaways, and activities provided by RRHA partner, Citgo, entertainment such as a clown and face painting rounded out the day.

The children's are is displayed on the façade of the RRHA office building , 214 E. 13th Street.

Summer Arts 2004: Community Horticulture: Exploring Art, Plants and Gardening

Youth ranging in ages from 9 to 13 participated in art projects, creative thinking and discovering the connections between all aspects of gardening from plants, insects and flowers to designing actual gardens.  Activities included a trip to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, designing three-dimensional insects, creating and designing gardens that are now located in the Blackwell Community - in front of the Blackwell Community Center East 15th Street  and the RRHA office building at 214 E. 13th Street.

The youth held a Community Garden Fair for the families of the Blackwell Community, during which they presented their work from the summer of 2004 and shared their talents through gifts of small garden pots and ceramic garden tiles to parents, friends and sponsors.

Summer Arts 2005: Sharing a Place Called Home
For the first time in the history of the program, classes were held on the VCU campus. This allowed them to experience a collegiate atmosphere in hopes of one day pursuing the same. This year youth reflected and compared their hopes and dreams for the place they call home while studying art and cultural artifacts and learning the uses of signs, symbols and metaphors. Art work covered needlework, collages, painting, photography and more.

At the end of the season celebration, over 25 youth presented their various art work to family, friends and members of the community. They [youth] were gifted with book bags and school supplies to prepare them for the upcoming school year and congratulate them for their achievements this summer.

The HOPE VI Blackwell Summer Arts Program sponsors have included:

Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority
Virginia Commonwealth University- School of Art Education
The Blackwell Community Civic Association
City of Richmond
Department of Parks and Recreation & Community Facilities
Richmond Fire Department - Fire Station #13
Enterprise Rent-a-Car
The Advertising Specialist
Jackson Ward Deli
Markel Corporation

For more information contact the RRHA Community Relations and Marketing Department at 804-780-4167 or e-mail at info@rrha.com.