If they come, they’ll build it; a legacy of artistic excellence

by Christian Bryant

The African American Atelier hosted the Atelier Around the World artists’ reception to celebrate artwork from children ages six to sixteen. (photo by Christian Bryant)

It´s loud at the African American Atelier.

This evening, the arts workshop located inside the Greensboro Cultural Center transforms into a Grand Central Station of sorts. Children from ages six to 16 run at breakneck speeds around tight corners and speak at unreasonable volumes. Wearing tie-dyed T-shirts, they yank the fingertips of their caretakers and march to select spots of the Atelier to show off their pieces of thumbtacked and free-standing art; some scattered across the surrounding walls and others perched atop five-foot pedestals.

It’s also loud, figuratively. Red clay busts in the style of Easter Island moai greet the guests at the entrance. The expressive faces on the clay figures look as if they have stories to tell.

A wall of “handmade paper poems” stands to the left. Square black paper piggybacks on more flavorful paper, crumbled and unfolded numerous time to give a rustic look. Some poems follow simple rhyme schemes. Others displayed a more free-form style:

The Youth Expressions artists’ reception culminated the Atelier Around the World community outreach and visual arts programs on First Friday. Started in 1993, the three-pronged Atelier Around the World, an offshoot of the African American Atelier., seeks to immerse children in visual arts with the help of professional artists, teachers and assistants. The Adopt a School-Art After School programs, Saturday Enrichment Workshops and the three week Murals, Minds and Communities summer camp conjoined under one roof to celebrate the works of art completed by the young participants. This year’s artwork played off of the theme Exploring Greensboro through Visual Arts.

“Every project was based off of something historical in Greensboro,” says Atelier Around the World Youth Director Meagan Sutton.

Larry Harrison, an artist and a mechanical engineering student at NC A&T University, has helped with the African American Atelier since 2003 and mentioned how the students primarily create off-the-cuff and, many times, without prompting.

“It’s amazing what they can do with crayons, paper or hot glue!” Harrison says.

Harrison motions to several similarly styled paper creations on a nearby wall. Colorful, slinky figures crawl over white paper windows.

When the Atelier clears out, LeShari Clemons can be seen collecting the abandoned projects. Clemons, a UNCG graduate, encouraged students to create original works instead of imitating existing art.

“[I told them] See how you can make yours different,” Clemons said.

“You can gain inspiration from artists but you don’t want to copy ideas.”

Clemons found herself coming back to work with Atelier for the past two and half years.

“I like feeling that I’m making a difference,” Clemons adds. With assistants like Clemons returning year after year, it’s no wonder that the children with Atelier Around the World have contributed to some of the largest art projects around the city, namely the mural located inside of the Church Street Parking Garage in downtown Greensboro. The mural’s illustrator, Brittain Peck, created a bilingual mural in narrative format that tied in social and environment issues along with civil rights leaders that ascended five stories, beginning to end Twenty-one years after the inception of the African American Atelier., the creative vision and purpose set forth by the late Eva Hamlin Miller and Dr. Alma Adams continues to be realized through young students.

Near the back of the art gallery, Tyreik Summers slowly collects his artwork and reviews each piece before placing them in a large brown paper bag. Summers, one of the more talented participants, wears long dreadlocks tied behind his head, but he stands out for a completely different reason: At 17, he’s much older than the rest of the students.

Summers, who will be a senior at Dudley High School, helped with murals around the city in past years and this year, created a few pieces for his own personal collection. He’s stands beside what looks to be a miniature pair of really large jeans made from clay and then painted for effect.

“I call it ‘Phat Guy’s Pants,’” Summers says. “I was being random, but serious.”

Summers explains that he got the idea from a pair of his favorite jeans. “There’s nothing like a great pair of paints,” Summers says with a smile. “Whenever I had them on, I felt like I was at the top of my game.”

Summers will be looking for a job until school starts but comments on the staying power of the African American Atelier.

“I knew I was the oldest to participate, but I decided to give it a chance anyway…. Honestly, I kind of came to them.”

wanna go?

African-American Atelier 200 N Davie St. Greensboro 336.333.6885