I’ve been interning at the MAC for months now, and nothing stands out as much as the night of the Into the Sky and Layers of Life gallery opening. The entire building was buzzing with excitement and congratulations for Todd Camp, whose colorful abstract canvases were hanging in the gallery, and Richard Duarte Brown, whose art spans many mediums and even more walls. I was in awe at the sense of community, the sense of gratitude and togetherness. Both Camp and Duarte are valued men in the Columbus arts scene. They have each given back to the local community through arts programs and by working at the King Arts Complex. The artists’ appreciation for each other was obvious, a brotherhood fostered by creativity and community.
As I travelled through the hallways, I recognized the people in Duarte’s works; they were the people supporting him that night. His subjects were his friends, his family, and his community members, and it was delightful to watch as they searched, found, and pointed themselves out in the artwork. It became an emotional night for all, with a line of admirers awaiting their turn to thank Duarte for his impact on their life. I spoke with many of the night’s spoken word poets, performers, and subjects, and they were all beaming with pride for Duarte, contributing to the magnetic atmosphere that has been taking over the MAC lately.
Donte Woods-Spikes is Duarte’s main subject; many works featuring him can be seen on the main floor on the walls outside the gallery. One of the larger pieces, Evolution of Donte, shows Donte among the many faces that have influenced him throughout his life. Duarte masterfully transforms the canvas into a visual timeline of Donte’s growth from childhood to the man who is currently working to “pass the brush,” signified by his outstretched hand with several paint brushes. Across from the work is another, titled Pass the Brush, which is a focused, heroic portrait of Donte. He is holding paintbrushes again, but the painting itself also includes paintbrushes that are glued to the canvas and then painted over. “Every single time I see a painting of myself it reminds me of how he visualizes me. I remember every positive word he has said and every claim of success he has spoke into my life. It really does leave a imprint on my life to know that somebody saw me for who I am and took the time to show me how much I matter. The only way for me to truly respect the influence Duarte has had on me is to make sure I do the same thing for the upcoming generation below me,” says Donte.
Pass the Brush is a movement that Duarte and Donte are passionate about. The two met at the Central Community House and have been working as a team to impact children’s lives since. Donte shared, “My role in the Pass the Brush movement is to simply continue being my authentic self, which requires me to continue to spread love to people and make sure I care for those in need. Now the only thing left for me to do is find another person to pass the work on to that I trust as much as Duarte trusts me. We both use our Artistic gifts to find ways to invest in the community that we belong to.”
Donte is now pursuing film making and has spoken on stages like TEDxColumbus and the National Charter School Convention. He takes the impact Duarte has had on his life and uses it as motivation, as a guide, for how to represent others in his own creative work. “When I create videos of people I try to make sure that I tell their story and show the world that whoever that person is—regardless of their status or where they come from, whatever it is they did in the past or present—they are capable of being someone important. Society has a way of putting much emphasis on the negative things that people do, but not investing the same amount of energy into the positive things someone has done. When a person has an opportunity to see themselves as someone important, they begin to act as if they are. Duarte reminds me of that every time he connects with someone and paints them.”
I was also taken aback at the spoken word poetry that came from the open mic portion of the evening. As an English major and lover of words, I was in awe at the craft and performances of Kentrell Skeens and Barbara Fant. I spoke with both about their relationships with Duarte and how their lives have changed due to the presence of him in their communities. They both smiled like Sharon, the subject of Duarte’s piece Counterfit Madison canvas, in the MAC’s lobby: widly and proudly.
Barbara met Duarte several years ago through Transit Arts. She describes Duarte as one of the sweetest and most genuine people she knows. “Duarte and I always have had true and deep conversations about faith and how God communicates with us through our art. Our art is oftentimes a reflection of not just our relationships with people, but also our relationships with God. Duarte has really taught me to not be afraid of my voice, to truly show up where I am in all of my authenticity. Duarte paints the world, and I feel that I do a very similar thing, only I paint with words.”
I recommend visiting the MAC while the exhibit is still up (through March 18th). It’s an emotive, spiritual, eccentric collection that exemplifies the connections a community arts center aims to create. I’m very thankful for the time I’ve spent at the MAC this fall, especially the people I spoke with and learned from the night of the gallery opening. I’ll surely be back, and I hope to see you there.