Column by Kelsey Bartlett
Art is more than markings on a piece of paper. Often, it is a release, or a form of expression. Some draw, some choose music. Others dabble in photography, dance, poetry or pottery. The options are limitless, and some try a little bit of it all.
The best part about art is that it is open for interpretation, and one piece of it can inspire the masses. It has a way of becoming what we need it to be.
Two weeks ago, I visited the “Local Eyes” photo gallery hosted at the O. Winston Link Museum in downtown Roanoke. The gallery showcased the work of children from throughout the valley, including one child from Salem. My eyes were drawn to intermittent pops of color that stood out from monochromatic pieces framed on the walls.
The program, which was a joint project between the Youth Advocate Program (YAP) and Project Real Talk, gave kids a chance to express who they are.
Shaneka Bynum is the YAP program coordinator and the co-creator of Project Real Talk. YAP takes referrals from social services and the department of juvenile justice. Ten kids participated in the six-week photography workshop, which was open to all ages. This year marked the photography workshop’s fifth.
“If you can handle a camera, we’ll give you one,” said Bynum.
The first week of the course was spent teaching the kids how to process pictures. Some weeks they were given themes, and some weeks the kids ventured into their communities to capture snapshots of the world from their view.
Riley Chattin is an advocate with YAP, and knows firsthand the heartache that feeling different can cause. He says YAP is special, because it helps kids find their niche.
“I spent most of my life not fitting in to any community, not even at home or at church,” Chattin said. “I’ve always understood what it means to be on the outside of the world.”
Chattin says where adults are often guarded with their feelings, the kids who participated in the photography workshop were fearless when it came to expressing themselves through photography.
“’They’re not afraid to explore things that we as adults are going to go ‘Oh, someone might judge that,’” Chattin said. “It gives a voice for the young people in a lot of situations where they don’t feel like they have a voice.”
Shawn Spencer, director of marketing development for Project Real Talk, says that anything artistic or that allows some kind of expression is therapeutic.
“I think that’s why we liked calling it ‘Local Eyes,’ because we may consider something very mediocre or average, like something that we see all the time, but to see it from their perspective, it was really cool to give them an opportunity to showcase and platform their work, which I think is nurturing,” Spencer said.
Spencer grew up in Franklin County where she was one of 11 siblings. She says her parents were grossly uneducated by today’s standards, and that she, like many of the children she works with, is a product of a village.
“Project Real Talk is really an effort to pay forward what I got,” she said.