A full hour before their class is scheduled to arrive, three freshmen from Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy are peeking in the front door of RedLine Contemporary Arts Center, located in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver. JC Futrell, education director at RedLine, welcomes them in and offers donuts. The students gladly accept, but are more eager to find Thomas “Detour” Evans, the artist who has been mentoring their class, and begin installing the art they have been working on all semester.
RedLine Contemporary Arts Center was founded in 2008 with the mission of fostering education and engagement between artists and communities to create positive social change. While it is perhaps best known for its gallery and studio spaces, RedLine has placed responding to the needs of the local community at the forefront of its focus.
EPIC Arts and Art Corps are the two school-based programs currently offered by the organization. Both bring professional artists into underserved Denver schools to partner with K-12 students and create socially engaged art or “art with a purpose.” EPIC gives entire classes the opportunity to work on projects based around serious issues that are affecting their lives and communities, such as self-identity, school and community violence, inequality and the I-70 expansion. Art Corps is an after-school program in which students work one-on-one with an artist-mentor who guides them through the entire process of being a working professional artist, from ideation through exhibition.
When selecting the mentors, Futrell and his team look for artists who are hyper-local. “[They] are part of this community. We wanted our mentors to reflect the kids and the environment and the neighborhoods they are coming from,” says Futrell.
RedLine resident artist and mentor Thomas “Detour” Evans worked with Kunsmiller students on multiple projects, including a mural that runs alongside their school basketball court. Though his personal work keeps him very busy (Evans was recently commissioned to paint portraits of Jay-Z and David Letterman for Letterman’s Netflix series) he makes the time to work with kids in the community. By creating art that reflects real issues in their lives, Evans hopes the process will provide more than just reflection – an opportunity to share, express and be heard.
Evans notes, “[The students] feel like they have a voice to speak, and that their voice matters.” ■
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