Community art is what drives Fairfax artist Sharon Virtue

Art has been a way to connect with people all over the world for Sharon Virtue. Through her community arts practice, she’s painted alongside people experiencing homelessness on a mural in Manchester, England, worked on an art therapy project for Haitian children after the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake, and worked on “Perspectives,” a Mill Valley community art project that tackled racism.

After moving to Fairfax last fall, she’s connecting with other creatives in Marin as one of three Fairfax Artist-in-Residence Collaborative members and a recipient of Art Works Downtown’s Max Thelen Studio Residency.

Her colorful ceramic work and paintings have addressed climate change, racial justice, and her Jamaican and Irish heritage. See and learn more at virtuevision.org.

Q You reflect on climate change and our relationship to the world in last year’s exhibit “State of Nature” in Oakland. Why?

A I am very inspired and refreshed by nature. It’s my happy place. I was awarded a residency to go to Esalen, and my time there was where I really came up with the concept for that show. I just had gone through living in Oakland, George Floyd is murdered, there are riots happening in downtown Oakland and there’s this incredible surge of artists showing up to give their voice in a different way. I painted two murals in downtown Oakland during the riots that were happening there. My father is a Black man, so I was like I have to say something now. In my residency, my focus was going to be on how we could work towards a world of more equity and less racism. When I got there and started talking to the locals, they had lived through a wildfire and were all traumatized because of that event. What I realized is that climate chaos or climate change is actually happening now — the fires, the droughts. This isn’t some fantasy sci-fi thing that’s going to happen in the future. So it hit home for me. That is the elephant in the room, that nature is coming for us.

Q What inspires you?

A My work is very much about beauty as well as magic, magical creatures and mythological creatures. I have always been inspired by that aspect of the supernatural. It’s a way of creating escapism, but a lot of those stories, especially from Native and Indigenous people, are based in teachings. They would tell those stories to teach their children important things about the balance of life. I really have been inspired by that aspect of storytelling.

Q What do you hope to accomplish with your work here?

A When I came to live in Marin, I was acutely aware of the disparities between Black communities and White communities and took a look at the local arts communities. I want to broaden people’s perspectives and also to provide opportunities for people of color who live in Marin who might not have access or be able to take art classes. I want to bring other people, Indigenous people, queer people, different voices into the picture because it’s important for young children to hear different versions of the stories we tell. It’s important to acknowledge that different stories exist and different ways of looking at the world exist. I got a grant from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to enable me to bring artists of color into Fairfax to talk about their work and to teach workshops. That’s the magic of community art. It’s a melting pot for compassion, empathy and understanding.

Q Travel plays a part in your practice, including inspiring your work in community arts. How did it start?

A I went to see the solar eclipse in Mozambique in 2001. Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world and it dawned on me that I am in this place where people are visibly suffering and very poor — what could I do to help if I was going to do anything. I try to encourage and inspire people to look beyond the current situation, helping them to open their mind and see possibilities beyond their situation and that comes from within. I’d go on to work with some homeless kids in Mozambique and help build them a classroom, a creative space for them to go to.

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