Youth art exhibit highlights work from emerging creatives

EMPOWERMENT: “A lot of young people feel like they’re not artists,” says DeWayne Barton, founder of Hood Huggers International. In an effort to change that mindset, Barton's organization launched the youth development program Under Construction. The group will celebrate its forthcoming exhibit, Creatives Under Instruction, on Friday, June 21. Group members pictured here, from left, are Nore Williams, Makayan Barton, Bentley Harper, Aljour Edgerton, Mari Smith, Jhalil Morris, Aiden Mann and Jeremiah Stokley. Photo by Brionna Dallara

DeWayne Barton, founder of Hood Huggers International, describes his organization as a “whole network of good” that works to create a system of enterprises to get youths engaged in the arts, environment and community, with a focus on marginalized communities.

Its youth development program, Under Construction, is launching an exhibit of its work, Creatives Under Instruction, on Friday, June 21, at the New Media Gallery at UNC Asheville’s Owen Hall. 

“They’ve had the freedom to create what they like and what they feel they want to put in an art show,” Barton says of the artists. “This exhibit will be an important celebration of young people, mostly from the Burton Street neighborhood, who are using the arts to say something about themselves and their community.”

The Burton Street community is a historically Black neighborhood in West Asheville, established in the 1900s, that Barton’s family has lived in for generations. Barton returned to his hometown in 2001 with a commitment to youths and community development.

His goal is to bring youths together to connect with not only one another but also organizations in the community, institutions and policymakers to create a culture that is sustainable and inclusive. 

The upcoming exhibit features paintings, metalwork and drawings from youths in the program, some of which are already displayed in the Peace Gardens and Market, situated on the side of the hill in the heart of the community. 

The gardens are intertwined with colorful structures and artworks, showcasing an accumulation of pieces created over decades, many using discarded items.

“A lot of young people feel like they’re not artists. So the exhibit is for those who want to perform, can perform. If you just want to make something, you can make something,” Barton says. “Whichever way a young person has been creative, we want to highlight that and continue to promote that creativity.”

A sneak peak into the art

A few artists plan to display metalwork they crafted when partnering with RAWtools, a network of blacksmiths that repurpose guns into garden tools and other sculptures and whose mission is to  “Disarm Hearts, Forge Peace and Cultivate Justice.” 

“We took pieces of a gun, and we made a hook and a shovel with them. You can weld different parts together and make whatever, really,” says artist Nore Williams. “We worked with this guy named Scotty [Utz]; he’s the dude that does it. His whole reasoning of welding is because there’s a lot of gun use in America right now.” 

Utz also runs the local nonprofit Old School Asheville, which has been a supporter and sponsor of Hood Huggers.

Fellow member Dante Peterson has spent the last six months diving into photography and took photos for a recent RAWtools Guns to Garden Safe Surrender event.

“I go to botanical gardens, stuff like that,” Peterson says. “I took some at the River Arts District, and then a couple parties, baby showers. I’m trying to do some more.”

He’s also a sculptor.  A sculpture he made repurposing an old sink and other scrap metal will reside in the garden.

Jeremiah Stockley translates his concepts into drawings and paintings that he plans to sell at the upcoming exhibit. 

Stockley incorporates symbolism into his creations. One drawing features a face that displays different expressions depending on which way it’s turned. He used reds and blues on the drawing to represent wisdom and power. 

“It’s a spiritual picture, I guess you could say,” Stockley says. “Just like looking right here, this represents that there are two sides of everything.”

A group effort 

The program invites young artists to try their hand at media they’d never explored before, like welding or using a water jet cutter that cuts through different objects using high-speed, ultra-high-pressure water at UNCA’s STEAM studio. 


“They’ve got the opportunity to work on all types of art. From performing arts to visual arts, we try to get them involved in behind-the-scenes marketing and stuff,” says program partner Abby Felder of Asheville Creative Arts. “We’re trying to get everybody involved in all aspects so that if they wanted to produce their own art show one day, they could do it from beginning to end.”

The group worked together to make shadow boxes that represent the aspects of the neighborhood they want to include in a kiosk for the planned Blue Note Junction, which will be a health and business incubator for the area’s entrepreneur who are Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Led by staff at the STEAM studio, building the 12-by-12-inch boxes helps youths gain proficiency in skills they’ll need when assembling the kiosks coming to Burton Street. 

Members made boxes with pictures of their significant other or statement pieces like Williams’ box that displays a person kicking the word “not” off of the phrase, “I can not.”

“You see in movies, you see people go to a museum and all that,” Stockley says. “But then to have your own picture or piece of art in there. It’s a pretty good feeling.”



Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.