by Lori Nelson Savage
A new program in Flint started by giving young people an opportunity to paint on buildings. But soon it became clear Gallery on the Go also is delivering lessons in technique, self-confidence, respect, and community pride.
In the meantime, Gallery on the Go murals are brightening up many Flint buildings.
Sandra Branch, project director, said the Gallery on the Go mission is to “create art that inspires community action and activism.”
“I gathered graffiti artists and street artists that were actually familiar with the blight, and I tried to transform them from cause to cure,” Branch said.
Gallery on the Go is a community service program of Christ Enrichment Center, 322 Hamilton Ave. in Flint. Funding for art projects through Gallery on the Go are provided in part by a 2016 mini grant from the Greater Flint Arts Council.
So far, the “aerosol artists,” as the program calls them, have created and placed paintings in five of Flint’s seven wards.
“We started out fighting blight and then as we got into the community, the community neighborhood associations started reaching out to us to help them in their neighborhoods.”
She said a core group of six artists attend community events in all areas of Flint to promote the organization. Gallery on the Go provides mentorship and teaches street artists to use their talent to fight blight instead of cause it.
The core crew are artists Royan Gonzalez, Zeb Molina, Mike Cobley, Kyle Buffs, Tony Yarsini,and Scott Baker. The program also has benefitted from the work of guest artists like Kevin Burdick and Charles Boike.
“We are looking for new artists all the time,” Branch said.
Through mentorship, street and disenfranchised artists have an opportunity to work with more experienced artists, she added. The program introduces participants to the local arts community and teaches them to collaborate with local businesses to create job opportunities in the arts.
Branch finds participants in the program by knowing the neighborhoods and those that live there. “I constantly recruit,” she said. “I started identifying the street taggers a few years ago, now they come to me.” Street taggers are graffiti artists that leave an identifiable signature or mark. Some of the first paintings were mobile murals, helping to brighten and secure vacant homes owned by the Genesee County Land Bank. Old buildings are also used as mural canvases and they are springing up and brightening up Flint all over the city.
Artists come to the Gallery on the Go in several ways, Branch said. Some come because of an interest in community improvements, others because of a need to serve community service. Some come from courts where their punishment is to paint, but she added, “It gives them a safe place to grow and practice their art in a legal venue.” Some participants sentenced to community service, are very talented artists, according to Branch. Branch sees it as not a punishment, but a redirection of undisciplined talent into community service.
Branch said she would like to see street painting with aerosol cans lead some of these artists to other types of painting – possibly airbrushing. Brian Ashley, an airbrushing instructor at Baker College, has expressed interest in helping street artists improve their painting skills, and Branch suggests learning specialized skills could lead street artists to pursue college and a career.
According to Branch, though the Gallery on the Go artists do not get paid, some of them in the program have been commissioned for paying jobs. She herself does not get paid, but commented, “This has been a rewarding experience for me — to know that your art can save someone from being held hostage to blight is a reward in itself.”
She said she has studied the science of color and the effect that it has on a young mind. She said she has noticed that depressed areas usually have muted colors and a lot of gray. She said her research suggests this changes the chemical makeup of youthful brains, leading to depression and apathy, criminal behavior, drugs and sex or risky behavior.
“However,” Branch said, “if you introduce bright colors and abstract ideas and images, then opportunities arise for a thinking outside the box and sparking interest that inspires a mind.”
She said Gallery On The Go not only has given the young men and women the opportunity to express themselves artistically, but also has given them exposure. She has been inspired by similar projects in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and said she thinks it’s an idea which could be repeated in other cities with blight problems.
EVM staff writer Lori Nelson Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.