“I love art with a passion. Every time I draw, I love the energy and I love to keep my mind busy from all of the other stuff that people my age are involved in,” said Aaron, an artist working in PAFA’s print shop.
The “stuff” that Aaron is referring to, like selling drugs and other crimes, are a part of his past that he’s trying to put behind him.
Dawan Williams, the program’s coordinator, says Restorative Justice is unique because it pairs traditional job training skills like carpentry with introductory art classes.
“We take the guys on different trips to the art museums and try to expose them to different aspects of life,” he said. “A lot of guys have never been to a different part of Philadelphia, so now they’re given an opportunity to make a decent wage, an honest living and to be exposed to things they may not have been exposed to before.”
“It's great, it’s providing new experiences and it’s being where I love to be—in the print studio,” she said. “There’s a great deal of energy and curiosity from these young men. They haven’t been in a studio before so it’s been extremely exciting.”
Studying art at the Barnes and then learning to make art themselves at PAFA is part of the six-month job-training program. At the end of the program, successful participants are paired with muralists and carpenters at Mural Arts Philadelphia to work on community projects.
In just ten years, Restorative Justice Program participants have created more than 15 murals in numerous communities and helped out in community gardens by building sheds and raised garden beds.
Lamar, another program participant, said that a few months ago he would never have imagined himself creating art, but coming to PAFA and the Barnes has opened up his eyes.
“It means a lot because before I got to the program I had no type of connection to art at all,” he said. “But now I learned that I do actually like creating things. I might not like painting, but I like creating things.”
And with the job-readiness curriculum, Lamar is adding skills to his resume that will hopefully set him up for success when the program is completed.
“My goal is to go back to finding another job, ideally with construction or a warehouse or something. I’m not trying to follow a career in art but it’s a hobby.”
For Aaron, participating in the Restorative Justice Program has given him a chance at a new career and an opportunity to create.
“I’ve been making art since third grade. It feels like the energy I need to be around,” he said. “Being here is a privilege because I wouldn’t have been here before I got into the program. Working with Miss Christine is a privilege because she helps me a lot.”
The work Aaron has been creating at PAFA will be on display at The Barnes later this spring.
“I just want to show people my age that there is more to life than the corner, the drugs, the negativity,” he said. “There’s more to life.”
The young adults on probation created a body of work titled “Marks of Change” at PAFA’s print studio through March 9. This project will be exhibited in the Barnes Foundation’s first-floor gallery classroom from April 6 through May 7.
—LeAnne Matlach (email@example.com)