Highschool Student's Gallery Paints Uptown In New Light
Art can be powerful, and perhaps one of its most impressive qualities is the ability to draw people from different backgrounds together. Take, for example, teenagers.
By high school, teens can be so embedded in their peer groups that they might as well live on different planets; some might even feel that they do.
So what happens when individual members are asked to step outside their group and help to solve a problem—like how to link the upper end of Downtown’s North Market Street with its center? Well, a magic of sorts.
Art was the common denominator among this eclectic collection of students from Frederick High School. The students not only came up with an idea to bring more activity to “uptown,” they were enthusiastic about the power of art to overcome obstacles. They decided to form a group called Supporting Arts and Community (SAC) with a mission to reach even beyond the city limits and effect change in the community through the vehicle of art. “It brought a weird group of us together,” says founding member Vallorie Bromfield-Roberson, a junior at Frederick High School.
“We are very different people,” she adds. “If it weren’t for this project, I never would have talked to them. But we all just clicked. After our first meeting, I walked away realizing this was a group of really cool people.”
Others in the group included Frederick High students Grace Dorrian, a senior, and juniors Katie Jacobsen and Charlie Algazi.
But the beginning of this story actually begins with Geni Donnelly, a co-founder of Yogamour, a nonprofit dedicated to community outreach. She was looking for a way to help connect the uptown (north end of Downtown Market Street) with its more bustling city center. Donnelly wondered if art might be the answer.
Through her children, Donnelly knew some of the students at Frederick High School. She started with Bromfield-Roberson, who took the ball and ran. “I liked the idea of student involvement and I contacted some of the kids at my school that I knew were into art,” Bromfield-Roberson says. “I got a good response and we agreed to meet.”
From there, SAC was born. Yogamour is sponsoring the group and helping with both financial and logistical support.
SAC’s first project is to open an art gallery for Frederick area students at the Bernard W. Brown Community Center located at 629 N. Market St., across from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
SAC welcomes work from all Frederick County students (including home-schooled students), grades 6 through college age. SAC is also considering the inclusion of some Washington County students because of the quality of work being done at the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in Hagerstown.
“The age range has a purpose,” explains Bromfield-Roberson. “Middle school is where it starts. You can usually spot the work of the younger artists, but it is important for them to be able to participate.”
Research suggests she’s right. Many studies have shown the relationship between participation in the arts and the improvement in academic achievement of children. Other studies reveal that the arts can also bring a better understanding of other cultures and a greater sense of community responsibility.
SAC’s student art project is just getting off the ground and is a work in progress. For now, the art work submitted must be hang-able because it is displayed throughout the community center, which is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The community room on the second floor doubles as the “gallery” during the First Saturday celebrations Downtown and that is open from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. on those days. “We realize there is a cost to make art hang-able,” Donnelly says. “And some students may not know how. Yogamour will help with that.”
Students can sell their work and, in fact, some already have. A small percentage of the selling price goes back to Yogamour to help fund the project. “I sold three photographs and one of my paintings sold for $125,” says Algazi. “It was a surreal feeling. I love art, but I didn’t think I’d ever get paid for doing it. I am really proud of that.”
SAC is working on expanding the exhibit into 3-D art pieces. When it is able to procure locking, glass cases that will secure the work, it will be able to showcase jewelry and sculpture, as well. “Eventually, we’ll include theatrical performances and music on First Saturdays,” says Wendy Freedman, a Yogamour volunteer. “We’ll also have interactive programs sometimes like ‘Make and Takes.’ We want it to be an active gallery.
“There is so much potential here to learn. This project is not just about making art, but also learning the business of art,” she adds.
A big part of that involves getting work seen in the first place. Realizing the difficulty in getting people to the upper end of Market Street, Donnelly set to work on fixing that. “We got the Downtown Partnership to recognize us and bring the trolley to this end of the street,” she says. “And the ReStore is allowing us to use their parking lot, which is easy to access and free.
“People can park at the ReStore, walk across the street to visit the SAC gallery, and then continue their journey down the street. When they finish their trip downtown, the trolley will bring them back to the 600 block.”And according to Bromfield-Roberson, it’s a stop you won’t want to miss.
“Most people think high school kids are silly, but they are capable of deeply thoughtful work,” she says. “Some of the work these students are doing is amazing.
“It’s worth the drop by,” she adds. “This is not your regular art gallery.”