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Southeast resident D’Angelo Dorsey, 20, says he’d been staying close to home to avoid negative influences from his neighborhood and with little or no job options in sight.
Then, upon the suggestion of a friend, he looked into an arts training program for D.C. youth that not only put some money in his pockets for the summer, but helped transform a childhood penchant for drawing and painting into what he believes has put him on the road to a potentially lucrative career — and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“This is the first time I’ve taken my painting seriously and had a chance to show my work to others in a setting like this on stage,” D’Angelo said. “I paint based on what makes me happy, things that are part of my everyday world and bring me joy or peace. The painting I did for the show is really special to me and I probably would never sell it because it includes memories of my brother who died during the Easter holiday in 2015 after struggling with epilepsy. We were close.”
“This summer program was great and exactly what I needed because it showed me that if I apply myself, the sky is limit.”
D’Angelo, along with 60 other D.C. youth ages 14 to 24, developed his artistic and business skills as part of the P.A.I.N.T.S. (Providing Artists with Inspiration in Non-Traditional Settings) 2017 Arts Leadership Program, a unique summer youth employment initiative. The culmination of their summer took place at The Howard Theatre on Sunday, July 30 where the young artists from the program’s six areas of focus — visual arts, music/audio production, art innovators magnet program, fashion merchandising, photography and graphic design — displayed their work. Some even savored their success as art aficionados from the audience purchased a few of the paintings, clothing and other items.
Executive Director John Chisholm, 48, a D.C.-based corporate attorney who grew up in Maryland, says while mentoring youth has been an important part of his life for many years, with P.A.I.N.T.S. he’s able to position youth on a trajectory that increases “exponentially rather than incrementally.”
“We work with the D.C. Department of Employment Services and the Marion Barry Summer Youth Program and chose young adults from underserved communities who have artistic abilities but need some direction, focus, training and exposure,” Chisholm said. “Another cadre of about 20 youth (18 to 24) receive training as art innovators and entrepreneurs in grant-funded program that is the first of its kind.”
“We’re about teaching the business of arts and the art of business. Anyone can say they’re an artist but teaching them how to package their work so its sellable is what we want them to learn. Real results equate to making money — getting paid for what they do. Once they experience that, they start to believe the advice we give them. Then they become serious about the preparation they need, like securing certifications.”
“As the program draws to a close, we conduct close out interviews, help them with resume work and get them focused on how to move forward. About 20 youth will remain with us and continue under a year-round grant. Those in the music group will be doing live performances of the piece they wrote this summer, ‘Destination,’ around the District for back to school functions.”
“Then we’ll begin preparing for next summer in January. With the help of several new sponsors, it should be really amazing in terms of what we can do. We’ve been very efficient with our dollars. One of our major sponsors, the Reid Family Foundation, love our ability to spread the dollars.”
In addition to the arts showcase, P.A.I.N.T.S. honored four industry professionals with the CreARTive Leadership Award: Eric Benet, Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch III, Hill Harper and Charlotte Walls. Benet appeared on a video after having visited the youth earlier in the year and brought his check book as well, donating $10,000 on behalf of a program directed by his wife. Walls, an executive from Lord and Taylor, donated clothes for the youth that they wore for the arts showcase and while accepting her award, that once she heard about the program her only question was “How can I help?”
Chisholm said the new clothes helped to boost the youth’s confidence as many of them struggle with obtaining basic needs.
“They learned how to make a budget, to better estimate costs of clothing and representatives from Lord and Taylor served as coaches and counselors speaking on topics like how to dress for success and using connections to get into the fashion industry. That’s big,” Chisholm added.
Nineteen-year-old Jazzarai Jackson from Southwest excitedly showed her painting as her mother stood by with pride. The youth described her summer experience as a “life changer.”
“I’ve made up my mind — I’m going to college so I can get my degree in fashion and cosmetology,” Jazzarai said. “I was looking for a summer employment program and after telling the counselors what I liked to do, they recommended P.A.I.N.T.S. This has given me the chance to get my art out there and show people my talent.”
Student after student commented on how much the program has inspired them.
Thomasena Beverly, 18, from Southeast participated in the fashion component and ultimately hopes to own a visual arts and graphics business.
“We had great mentors with great connections. We got the kind of exposure that really matters and I can see even more possibilities in my life,” she said.
Christopher Ackerman Jr., 15, from Northeast, attends Duke Ellington where he’s majoring in graphic design. But for the summer, he focused on visual arts in order to develop another of his many interests and talents.
“I had fun this summer and got to do something that I don’t have much time for during school. So many people looked at my work and gave me advice. I want to publish stories. I want to do design work on the side. I want to continue to develop my artistic abilities. This program really helped,” he said.
Jonathon Bethea, 21, from Southeast, served as the creative director for fashion merchandising component. He says he’s learned the “true meaning of hope and inspiration.”
“The theme for the summer was ‘fostering a legacy of hope and inspiration.’ Now I’ve come to really understand what they means. I really hope that we will one day grow up as a nation. But for now, with the many new people I’ve met, the kind of exposure I’ve gotten and the assistance I’ve received in this program, I can continue to develop my own fashion line. I know where I’m going,” said Jonathon who added he prefers to go by “Pluto.”
Executive Director John Chisholm can be reached for additional information about P.A.I.N.T.S. at 202-681-8244. Student art projects remain available for purchase.