A little bit of art can make a lot of change for one community.

Arts on the Block is a creative outlet for youth to engage directly with their communities. They provide real-world training in a working mosaic studio and on public art projects throughout the D.C. metro region. Included programs are in-studio and on the job training, as well as providing professional mentoring. This summer the program moved into a temporary pop-up studio in Silver Spring, Md., where dozens of projects can occur simultaneously under one roof while they wait for their permanent studio at the Silver Spring Library to be complete..

Part of Arts on the Block's vision and goals include training individuals, similar to an apprenticeship; expanding and educating on the importance of the arts; building their social, self-confidence and problem-solving skills; and growing them into skilled creators who transform into team-players of society.

The apprenticeship program, called Pour Your Art Out, is where teenagers can develop into apprentice artists and develop skills that can apply to any career. One project was the Chase Bank opening on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, MD., for a commissioned project.

Clayton Evans, Deputy Director of Arts on the Block, says that the part that brings unity to these commissioned projects is that everyone is working together as one for a common goal, a common purpose.

"The installation of the piece and how amazing it looks is the celebration of the work that people did together," Evans says. "That project itself … was the one that solidified relationships and realization that we're all working on this common thing."

Evans continues that being a shared experience means that people will be able to see their finished results right in their backyard and in their communities.

"Our young people are deciding to do a commissioned work of art, and that just reinforces the process of them creating and fabricating a piece and installing it," says Evans. "It'll be right here in the communities where they work."

One example of Arts on the Block making a community impact was the renovation of an often gang-tagged staircase near Carroll Avenue and Quebec Terrace. Arts on the Block added mosaic insets to the stair risers and exterior lights to give the staircase a more prominent look, and to remind the community that their neighborhood is safe and cared for..

A key component of Arts on the Block is the ability to explore different individual interests. Studio crew member Julissa Barrera says that communication matters in that pursuit.

"I was just a high school student and I found out about it from my high school teacher," Barrera says. "When I started, I had never really seen mosaics before."

She admits she has become a perfectionist when it comes to these intricate projects.

"This is work that lasts a long time," Barrera says. "Everyone's going to see it for a long time, and so that holds me to a high standard."

Arts on the Block continues to grow, and with the new facility in a centralized location that's more accessible, that means more and more people can create. The hope is that alumni like Barrera can apply what they've learned, become craftspeople in their own original ways and come back to visit as they grow in their careers.

Barrera sees Arts on the Block as a family, a group who will be unconditionally proud of her. "I'm getting ready to head to UMBC in the fall," Barrera says, "but eventually a time will come when I won't be able to be with Arts on the Block. Even people who come into the studio for one day have shared something and connected with us."

To learn more about how Arts on the Block empowers creative youth to imagine and shape fulfilling futures, visit artsontheblock.com.


Taylor J. Gouterman is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia. He is a graduate from James Madison University.