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ART 180, or The Confessions of a Former Karmatini Lounge Host

by Iris E. Holliday

I cannot really remember when or how I first discovered ART 180 or how ART 180 first discovered me. It was a number of board chairs, Big Shows, Art Karmas (oh how I miss those), Jonny Z’s, Open Studios, and major grants and awards ago. It has been truly humbling to watch the small engine that could orchestrate powerful partnerships with solid nonprofits that strongly, boldly and effectively embrace young people and their families, families who raise themselves and children in “Richmond” challenging environments. And they know at their heart, first-hand what all of us dreamers want: the best for our children, a promising future and to have it much better than we did.

So as a former board member, donor, art collector and forever supporter of this now 20-year old example of what comes when you stick to your mission, reinforce the foundation and keep what is true and honest at your core, I am celebrating ART 180’s evolution. The organization, through its board, staff and volunteer leaders, financial backers, advocates and many others understands that social justice must be at the forefront. Armed with vision, tenacious leadership, and compassion, and gathering a force of young people and older ones who believe in the collective power to change community through creative expression, ART 180 still prompts me to marvel at its many accomplishments and public engagement throughout the greater Richmond community.

Before Atlas--which was a long dream made into a reality by the generosity of capital campaign donors and Impact 100, there was Plant Zero. This space in itself was an incubator, an artistic hub for local artists, offices for small organizations, and galleries in an area just feeling its own energy. Not resting on any laurels, ART 180 crafted events for the people such as the tribute Jonny Z Festival. Let’s not forget the legendary Art Karma event, with its adult Karmatini beverage and world music courtesy of DJ Carlito and others. Art Karma, where I served as lounge host and channeled my introversion into total extrovert greeter, was a magnet for all kinds of people, all ages and backgrounds as well as a great place to score collectibles. For those three-plus hours, you could indulge in the most eclectic food and conversation.

I have watched as the traction and the awareness built within the organization. The partnerships only grew as the exposure to the cause of ART 180 and the need for it grew in tandem. OMG, let us not forget the Monument Avenue art exhibit and the whole new level of controversy and conversation that swirled around it for many months. You have no real idea who your allies are until there is a time of crisis. In this case, it was a crisis of consciousness. And it morphed into a moment of awareness.

If art is an avatar, then ART 180 rather exemplifies this. This organization shined a spotlight on juvenile incarceration and then literally illustrated the aspirations and dreams and realities of young people who were no strangers to the issue.

I am a collector (of memorabilia and nostalgia). Yes, I have invitations to Art Karmas, a copy of the famous cookbook, “If You Were a FOOD, What Would You Be?” (I did buy a case of these 2008 books). I have repurposed the desk calendars in the CD case and use the other side of the months as notes when the year ends. My refrigerator bears about seven ART 180 event magnets. We won’t even recount the pieces of art from talented teens and now widely recognized adult artists who remain devoted to what ART 180 stands for.

Now the whole community has literally gotten on the bus through the ART 180 Takes the Bus anniversary exhibition on city buses. With a long list of recognitions, achievements and accolades, ART 180 has never lost its soul. Always bigger than one person or its board, ART 180 will always be about young people and providing them with safe creative spaces self-discovery and creative expression.

My collection will continue to grow and showcase all the meaningful dimensions of an organization that has what we say our future is at its very soul: our youth.


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