Light, Color, Action!
"Art Space in Miami Shines Through the Darkness"
Written By Cynthia Lechan-Goodman
A haven of art was born in the gritty Miami neighborhood of little Haiti and has become a safe, precious, and thriving location ever since. Founder, Rachel Hughes, with her steadfast Zen-type wisdom, and artist, Veronica Rivera, emoting the intensity of her love and passion, have created a place that is more than just a gallery or an art school. They have created an artistic oasis.
An artist herself, Rachel founded the studio in 2007 with the knowledge of the power of art to transform kids’ lives based on her own experiences. Rachel’s deep insights come from her personal experience as an at-risk teen. Growing up in poverty and a dysfunctional family situation she reveals that she had given up on life, but through art, and a caring mentor, everything changed for her. She went on to obtain degrees, certificates, and experience in art education, marketing, program development and planning, media and design, established a mural business, and created school curriculums and programs for inner city and at-risk kids. Since 1985 she has developed and instructed Creative Vision Arts Education Programs for Children and Teens as a volunteer! Her passion is her payment. The success of her children her reward.
Rachel describes these community kids as severely at risk, below poverty level, many with no running water, daily hunger, without any exposure to anything at all out of the neighborhood.
Coming into Art Space through the purple door, adults and children are met with a colorful warm and inspirational mural. The top of the stairs opens to ample breathing space, in stark contrast to the oppression of the neighborhood outside. Supplies line the walls, along with an intriguing exhibit from the Rosential School of Marine Science, part of co-founder and art teacher Veronica’s current program on water conservation for kids ages 7-12.
Veronica, a passionately inspiring environmentalist, is exploring ocean conservation with her kids as the basis or the message for their artwork. But it has not been an easy process. Veronica describes, “In my first program on water conservation I asked them to draw something that would tell people to save water, with them as a hero. This time I asked my teens to think up a an idea for a clean beach poster. Both of these were exercises where they had the chance to use their own ideas in the art. It wasn’t a lesson plan where they follow instructions to create. But they had no idea of what to draw. Their initial reaction was moaning and complaining, didn’t know what to draw, so they gave up! At first some would say they hate art or they don’t know how to draw. Last week two boys refused to do it so I came up with a solution. I pulled them aside and had a little lesson on how to draw a shark. Theirs was better than mine, and they were happy that they did it, so I asked them to practice it in their sketchbooks and then use their shark sketches for creating their clean beach poster.” Veronica adds that it takes a while for them to get the spark. “If they don’t understand, or don’t think their work is good, or they find it too challenging, they give up trying, that’s why we need mentors for kids,” she says.
So how does this transformation with the kids get started? When kids come in, Rachel says, they only care about three things: money, food, and getting a job, even if a kid is 8 years old. Career relevancy was the answer Rachel found. For these kids, Rachel explains, even if they feel they are not good at art, she can show them how art can help them to get a job. With her initial interview with each one, she shows them samples of a MySpace page complete with pictures of art work accomplished, a bio, and a resume, all of which she can help them achieve. The studio is affiliated with DASH High School and their portfolio requirements. This same portfolio preparation standard is beneficial for students applying to any arts college or career school. The focus of the program is to use the arts as learning tools to develop life skills and stimulate creative thinking.
Veronica has seen the transformation. She says, “Her kids are pretty much hard on the outside. They act like they don’t want to be there, nervous. Because parents don’t encourage them, they are shut down and withdrawn. Few parents are supportive, some left kids there for me to walk home at 8pm. I arrange field trips to take kids out. It’s tough to get applications signed, but in two or three days they’re hugging me, and now they say they can’t wait to go to sleep in order to wake up and come in to study art!”
The staff at the center consists of some excellent professionals and mentors—all volunteer. They include: a bilingual speech language pathologist, a certified mental health professional, a life skills professional. And programs here are not only for the kids, but for everyone. Several workshops are on the plans including one on magazine publishing, and one on animation. Upcoming workshops are also planned for adults and families including a 3-day Saturday Eco/Art Workshop, and there is a monthly Open Studio.
Rachel’s goal is to make the center a complete holistic environment with both professionals and mentors with expertise in the range of arts: dance, nutrition, music, performance, etc. “We have worked to create a safe creative location, where qualifying mentors, many who would not normally sign up for mentoring in ghetto areas, are encouraged to travel to where they can feel safe, meet and participate as a mentor for this population of at-risk youth. Artists can have a work and exhibition space while demonstrating their craft to the kids, and then the kids also benefit by seeing work in progress,” she says. She envisions the center to be a place of unity in a community that divides the rich and poor, with art as the ties that bind.
Art brings many things to many people. But when asked, “What does art brings to these kids?” Veronica’s answer is as simple as it is beautiful and profound, “Art brings peace”.-DUO