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A Gallery on Paper

VMFA knocks down a wall and replaces it with a small magazine.

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Flip through the pages of Virgina Museum of Fine Arts' Teen Zine: 360§ and you'll see tattooed fingers, elephants in silhouette, a piano juxtaposed against a skyline, soldiers and poetry. Perhaps you'll notice, more than any other image, faces — the eyes staring back at you. They're glimpses into the often elusive, ever-churning teenage mind.

In its second year, the project is the brainchild of Tiffany Glass, VMFA teen programs coordinator. It was inspired by a similar publication at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and draws upon the talents of students throughout the metro Richmond area.

The impetus for the project came when VMFA began its expansion in 2005 and, in the process, demolished the one wall that served as exhibition space for teen artwork. Glass needed a portable, non-architectural way to display their work. The 'zine was the perfect fit.

True to the free-form nature of 'zines, the pages of 360 § are a hodgepodge of art and writing, where the individual pieces make the book itself the artwork, an all-media show on paper.

"It can be writing, drawing, photography, collage — anything," Glass says. The publication showcases the artwork of middle- and high-school students in Richmond and Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield counties. Because students are often overloaded with extracurricular activities, Glass encourages them to submit artwork already being created in the classroom. This simplifies the process for teachers as well, allowing them to encourage participation without adding another assignment to their curriculum.

Submissions are then juried by members of the Teen Advisory Council, a group of 20 teenagers nominated annually by parents, teachers and peers.

Caveats for the artwork selected: no violent images or references to drugs, no nudity, profanity, or graffiti. Last year, the 'zine had just enough entries to fill the publication. This year the number of entries nearly tripled.

The 2007 compilation is based loosely on "Rule Britannia!" VMFA's exhibition exploring the nautical powers of Great Britain.

"Students on the advisory council boiled that down to 360 degrees," Glass says, "as in a world, a nautical pie, a compass." She laughs, adding, "They also thought of Xbox 360."

Part of what excites Glass most about the project is its capacity to inspire and motivate teens to pursue art careers.

"Often, it's not obvious that it's affecting the teens," Glass says. They may be talented, intelligent students, but they are also reserved and insecure. Breaking down those boundaries, she says, takes time.

"What's amazing is to see their progression," Glass says, "through the workshops, through the exhibition — and to see the end result."

The significance of artistic expression for teenagers like Julia Grace Sharpe, a member of the Teen Advisory Council and a student at Thomas Dale High School, cannot be overstated.

"Through art and words, every emotion is allowed to escape from one's mind," Sharpe says. "To know that your ideas can be accessed and interpreted by others through your artwork is the most rewarding form of communication for me." S

Teen Caffeine Café is Thursday, May 24, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Copies of the 'zine will be available, and author and playwright Slash Coleman will also be on hand, directing a group of 15 teens as they perform monologues on Stage 360§. 340-1400.

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