Raina Fox: It Matters

A Young Raina and Her Sister Alina Play Piano

Ever since I can remember I have loved drawing, painting, sculpting things from play-dough. Any opportunity I had to take an object and make it into something else was for me. I loved digging into my imagination and translating that jumble of images into something tangible.

When I was eight years old, I took an art class at the Portland Museum of Art.  One day, we were asked to paint a real person. A model. I remember this class so vividly – the model sat on a stool with an umbrella, posing seriously as fifteen elementary school children painstakingly drew her.

I felt that I had a different kind of responsibility with this picture. It wasn’t just something I had dreamed up in my imagination, it was a human being that I was representing to the world. I remember drawing and redrawing the handle, not being able to figure out the physics of how it could fit into the center of the umbrella itself. You can see from my drawing that I never did figure that out, but I certainly tried my best.

Part way through the class, we hung all our pictures on the wall and stepped back to admire each other’s work. Then we gave each other constructive criticism to use as we finished our pictures. Someone pointed out that the background was boring, so I added a sun (clearly this would create the appropriate weather condition for umbrella-holding). Someone else noticed that I had forgotten the shadow under the model’s chair. Through other people’s eyes, I was able to see the things I couldn’t, and it made my picture better. In return, I offered my suggestions to help others improve their work.

I was really proud of that picture. The teacher must have thought it was okay too because she asked my mom later if the museum could keep it for their collection of children’s art. Instead of answering, my mom replied, “Why don’t you ask the artist?”

In that moment, I felt I had a HUGE decision to make, and no one could make it for me. Should I let the museum have my picture and risk never seeing it again? Or should I keep it so that my family and I could enjoy it later? I decided that my family would probably enjoy it more than strangers, so I decided to keep it. It has hung on the wall of my parent’s home ever since.

This memory is significant for two reasons. First, it represents the first time I was cognizant of the artistic process as something dynamic: a combination of close observation, trusting and supporting my peers and the confidence to realize I was able to tackle something new.

It was also the first time that I felt like a real artist. Having an adult, someone I respected, value my work, was a huge confidence boost. In addition, being respected enough as an artist to be given control over my work forced me to step into that more mature role.

I see this same growth in the playwrights that YPT works with.  In the classroom, students are given the opportunity to write from their imagination and experience, learn from their peers’ constructive criticism and offer their own perspectives. They learn to communicate not only through words on the page, but to work as a team. And when their words are reflected back to them through adult actors, they are forced to take responsibility for their work. They become playwrights.

Arts education helps students express themselves creatively, but it also teaches patience, teamwork, and responsibility.  These are the values I have carried into my adult life, and they are the ones I want future adults to hold. That is why arts education matters.

Click here to learn how you can help keep the arts alive in DC schools.

And be sure to join YPT tonight at GALA Hispanic Theatre for our final performance of the season!

Raina's Painting

Raina Fox
YPT Community Engagement Associate

YPT Collaborates with Life Pieces to Masterpieces to Tell the Story of Historic Woodlawn Cemetery

Over the past three weeks, I’ve had the immense pleasure to work with the young men of Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM) on one of our current special projects, a new play we’re creating with the Ward 7 community about historic Woodlawn Cemetery.  As soon as I knew we’d be working in Ward 7, my home neighborhood, I knew LPTM would be a great partner for it.  LPTM is an extraordinary mentorship program for young men in Ward 7.  They give young men life and art skills that allow them to embrace their past and present and prepare for their future.  The young men explore leadership, responsibility, community and create paintings based on their own life stories.  Our group, the Legacy class, mostly consisting of 11 year old young men, began working with me about two and a half weeks ago on workshops exploring Woodlawn Cemetery, its history and the history of those interred at Woodlawn.  We explored how the site relates to our neighborhood and how learning about some of the extraordinary people buried at Woodlawn can help all of us better understand our history and prepare for our future.  For example, Senator Blanche Bruce, born a slave who ultimately became the first African American to serve a full term in the US Senate, is buried there.  Congressman Langston, first African American Congressman from Virginia and first civilian dean of Howard University Law School, is buried there.  As well as thousands of extraordinary women who were scholars, artists, educators and homemakers — a total of almost 36,000 people, many in unmarked graves, having been moved from previous sites throughout the city.

After we explored the history and the young men took a tour of the cemetery, we began sketching.  They sketched about 15 pictures and then chose 7 of those to paint.  First their teachers set up huge blank canvasses on the wall.  Each young man was given three primary colors and tasked with creating their own rich textures and colors and painting the canvasses freely, resulting in about 12 different colors of canvas.  Once these were dry the next day, the students figured out what figures or shapes they needed to create to convey their sketch onto canvas.  They then picked from the larges canvases they’d painted and drew the shapes on the back, then cutting these shapes out of the canvases.  Then they painted other canvases as backdrops for their paintings and, once they were dry, laid out the figures, symbols and landmarks from Woodlawn they’d created onto the backdrop.  They then sewed these patterns and shapes onto the canvas and stretched the canvases onto wooden frames.

The seven resulting paintings, all inspired by Woodlawn, will serve as the backdrop and setting for our readings of the play we’re creating with the community.  Plus, these young men have created poems and monologues about their insights and inspirations from Woodlawn, all of which will be added into the stew of the play, mixing their voices into a tapestry of voices about Woodlawn that will not only share our history but also our community.   The resulting paintings are extraordinary and inspired — I can’t wait for you to see them and meet these young men at the readings we’ll hold on September 11th at Harman Hall downtown, and at Woodlawn Cemetery, as part of a huge volunteer and service celebration at the site.  I hope you’ll come see us and join in our community!


You can learn more about YPT’s Woodlawn Cemetery project on YPT’s website.

You can learn more about Life Pieces to Masterpieces here.

Producing Artistic Director and CEO