UM-Flint student curated art exhibit 'Unlocking the Arts' now on display

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UM-Flint student curated art exhibit
"Unlocking the Arts," a student curated show featuring work from young justice-involved artists, is now on display at Riverbank Arts through April 7. (Photo Courtesy: Audrey Banks)

A new art exhibit aiming to document and highlight the impact and importance of art education within the juvenile justice system is now on display in downtown Flint.

"Unlocking the Arts"is a collection of drawings, paintings, photos and other art forms created by young artists during weekly workshops that take place inside the Genesee County Juvenile Justice Center and the Learning Co-Op. The workshops, offered by Youth Arts: UNLOCKED, a nonprofit founded by Shelly Spivack, University of Michigan-Flint lecturer, provide justice-impacted youths with opportunities to explore visual arts, theater, spoken word poetry, yoga, and dance in a supportive and nurturing environment. 

The exhibit is supported by funding awarded to strengthen the joint venture between YAU and the UM-Flint Arts and Research Cluster. YAU and the ARC received an $18,000 grant last fall from the U-M Arts Initiative for the project. Some of the funding was used to conduct workshops in non-art courses like criminology and psychology to teach UM-Flint students about YAU's work with justice-impacted youths. Funding was also used to mount the "Unlocking the Arts" exhibit at Riverbank Arts, a space that is generally used by the ARC to display different works. 

UM-Flint student-curated art exhibit, "Unlocking the Arts."
A student from the Community Design Studio course hangs art for the "Unlocking the Arts" exhibit. (Photo Courtesy: Audrey Banks)

The exhibit highlights the collaborative nature of students, faculty and staff working together to curate the show and learn from one another. UM-Flint's Community Design Studio course, led by Ben Gaydos, associate professor of design, curated the exhibition at Riverbank Arts. The exhibit also features videos created during YAU's dance workshops which are led by Emma Davis, a UM-Flint lecturer. 

Isabella Mellish, a junior visual arts education major from Flint, was part of the team that worked to curate the exhibition. She and several of her classmates also engaged and interacted with the youth at GCJJC during YAU's workshops. 

"As a team, we each learned many important things through this opportunity," said Mellish. "Primarily, the biggest takeaway we all shared was gaining a broader sense of what it is like to learn art in a juvenile justice center, its powerful impact, and understanding that the youth there are simply youth and people like you and me. 

Mellish said that working with youth at GCJJC was an eye-opening experience.

"Prior to visiting, I had no clue what a juvenile justice center looked like, nor the different ways that the staff and youth interact throughout the facility," she said. "I did not know what to expect. But, with each visit, I left the facility with a greater understanding that each of the youths are just teenagers. They each have their own goals, dreams and hobbies." 

Students in the Community Design Studio course were also able to capture both the joy and the hardship witnessed during the workshops, as well as connect the essence of the workshops to the gallery space. According to Mellish, by including different visual and auditory elements displayed to capture the workshops, patrons viewing the exhibition could experience the profound value of bringing art to justice-involved youth, as well as hear their thoughts and emotions expressed through this art. 

"I was able to see the light that YAU is to these youths, especially as they laughed together during the workshops," said Mellish.

"Unlocking the Arts" is on display until April 7 at Riverbank Arts, 400 North Saginaw Street, Flint.

Madeline Campbell is the communications specialist for the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].