Sage advice warns not to go to art school if you want to make money in this world. But many disregard this warning. The big challenge for those with art degrees is finding ways to have their work make a difference, while simultaneously fulfilling artistic passions and being able to make a living.
Local artists Michael and Charith Denson have found a way to cover all of the above. A few years ago, they became involved in Rag Collection, a non-profit organization in Phoenix that provides art outreach to local communities. “I moved to Phoenix about three years ago and met Noel Davy,” Michael says. “Rag Collection is the non-profit that she started about five years ago. Davy currently serves as Executive Director.”
Michael’s background is in photography and drawing, and during college he honed his skills in all sorts of art—painting, drawing and mixed media. Charith is also a photographer who works in mixed media. For their outreach, the Densons and other members of Rag Collection hold workshops to help others discover ways to heal through art and use art as personal expression.
“Our workshops are often geared towards helping at-risk youth speak up about something they feel deeply about. They are not necessarily about technical training, but more like, ‘What’s in your heart? What do you feel passionate about?’” -Michael Denson
The projects can become highly personal, depending on the individual, and can use art to tell very authentic stories.
“Many of the students are already artistically inclined, so they’ve already written or sketched about things that they care about. We just help them flesh it out,” Charith says. Generally, these workshops have three goals: 1. How to identify story, 2. How to talk about yourself in art, and 3. How to speak about a certain topic, for example, conflict.
For a recent project, the couple and Rag Collection teamed with the Unexpected Gallery. Some students create a mural and some read poetry. Michael says the project helped initiate a dialogue about loneliness and how to have more of a sense of community. “The mural talks about identity and how today’s youth are labeled as certain things, whether they identify that way or not,” he says. “We are fighting negative ideas about youth. This mural gave them a chance to talk back.”
Michael and Charith Denson recently took their art workshops to Peru, where they worked with adults from the international organization
Food for the Hungry to strengthen the team and support personal expression. The idea was to teach the members and volunteers about storytelling, so that they could go out and engage with the people in various communities.
“When helping people in developing nations move out of poverty, sometimes it’s hard for them to identify their stories and share them with Western audiences.” -Charith Denson
In addition to the not-for-profit workshops for youth, Rag Collection also offers workshops-for-hire to adults. Adult groups, organizations and businesses can bring them in to lead art outreach and team- and community-building workshops in the Valley. Their art outreach cycle ends with the semester and starts again in February. The couple is currently in Delhi for three weeks, as Michael was awarded an artist’s residency.
Rag Collection hosts monthly art parties at The Refuge coffee shop every third Friday. These help fund their youth art projects. There is a $25 per person charge, and youth under 16 are free. At the next event, in January, they will bring materials and ideas for participants to make vision boards.