A year of mentorship and art for middle school girls

Dannon Wilson (left) mentored Anna Julia Cooper student Jasmine Tillery during VisArts’ Make Space program.

For a group of sixth-grade girls at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, Thursday evenings during the school year are a treat.

Each September, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond brings a new group of Anna Julia Cooper students to join its Make Space program. The girls are paired with female volunteer mentors who serve as art-making buddies.

Make Space big-and-little pairs meet every Thursday evening between September and May to create art together in VisArts’ professional studios.

Together, the pairs explore art-making techniques, work on challenging projects and learn about one another throughout the school year. The artwork that they create—such as throw pillows, hand-dyed curtains and self-portraits—are saved until year’s end, when each girl completes a bedroom makeover with her mentor.

Make Space pairs explore a variety of art media over the course of the 10-month program. They work with skilled artists to make felted dolls, screen-printed posters, wheel-thrown vessels and even use the tools in the VisArts woodshop to fashion their own wooden lap desks.

In addition to creating works of art together, the pairs also participate in a leadership development curriculum called Girl Talk, facilitated by Make Space staff. Every week, the pairs meet in small groups to talk about managing emotions, expressing themselves and navigating the growing pains and challenges that come with being a sixth-grade girl.

Make Space mentors form a tight community throughout the year. VisArts brings speakers from local organizations such the Virginia Mentoring Partnership, VCU and the Frontier Project to lead monthly mentor trainings. These training sessions address mentors’ own leadership development, giving them concrete tools for successfully engaging and encouraging their little sisters during Make Space and beyond.

The Visual Arts Center of Richmond has helped adults and children explore their creativity and make art since 1963. Each year, the organization touches the lives of nearly 40,000 people through its classes, exhibitions, community outreach programs, camps, workshops and special events. VisArts offers more than 1,000 visual and creative arts classes every year in clay, wood, fiber, painting, photography, printmaking, glass, metal, drawing, writing, decorative arts and other visual media.

Founded in Church Hill as the Hand Workshop, the organization moved to the historic Virginia Dairy building at 1812 W. Main St., where it leased space for 17 years before purchasing and later renovating the building.

Now in its 11th year, Make Space is more committed than ever to keeping big and little sisters engaged with programming at VisArts. In the coming year, VisArts will focus on offering internship opportunities for former Make Space mentees, scholarships for youth classes, as well as reunion events for Make Space alumnae.

The Make Space program will be accepting mentor applications for the 2018-19 school year beginning in August. Visit visarts.org to learn more about the program.

This feature is one in a series about the Richmond Region’s nonprofit organizations and their contributions to our communities. It is brought to you by the featured organization in collaboration with the sponsoring advertiser on this page.