Personality: Chris R. Hairston-White

Spotlight on ART 180 Board of Trustees president

12/28/2023, 6 p.m.
Growing up, Chris Hairston-White had limited exposure to art instruction or education. Thus, she honed her natural skills and creativity ...

Growing up, Chris Hairston-White had limited exposure to art instruction or education.

Thus, she honed her natural skills and creativity without much help or outside influences, resulting in what she describes as “a creative who often creates in isolation.”

It wasn’t until after Ms. Hairston-White joined the board of ART 180 several years ago that her creativity more fully evolved.

“ART 180 is what I needed in my childhood,” Ms. Hairston-White says of the youth-focused arts organization. “I believe if I had an ART 180 during my childhood, I would have sharpened my natural art skills earlier and may have pursued an education and career in the arts.”

These days, as president of ART 180’s board of trustees, Ms. Hairston-White helps lead an organization that “trains teaching artists to maximize their time with young people through quality experiences and projects.”

Workshops, weekly programs, residencies in schools and at ART 180’s youth art center in Jackson Ward are among the organization’s projects.

“They model and nurture holistic health, entrepreneurship, leadership, and our staff supports them in developing artistic skills as well as social and emotional skills … which could be animation, beat making, mural painting, or most anything our artists propose, and the young people want,” she says.

With her selection as board president last September, Ms. Hairston-White became the first Black woman to lead the 25-year-old organization that was founded by Marlene Paul and Kathleen Lane.

In recent years, board discussions have focused on strategic goals for fundraising, along with its mission, values, and programs grounded in racial and economic justice, she says.

“It was the most healthy, open, and challenging conversation I’ve had as a volunteer,” adds Ms. Hairston-White, whose professional career includes banking and finance.

“The outcomes of those conversations were a refreshed mission and our guiding principles. We desire to shift from a transactional relationship with our donors to inviting them to be a part of the collective who understands how we all benefit from engaging in the work of social justice transformation.”

With a one-year term as board president, Ms. Hairston-White is tasked with ensuring the financial and organizational stability of ART 180 as the group progresses through its own journey of reflection and improvement.

“ART 180 has spent the last three years looking at itself in the mirror post the pandemic and social unrest experienced globally in 2020,” Ms. Hairston-White says. “I want to empower the ART 180 collective to have a mindset of abundance so we can show up ready to serve today and beyond.”

Inspired to become board president in part by her daughters, Ms. Hairston-White sees her role as the culmination of a decade of work with ART 180 and its work with young people.

She recalls the “What Do You Stand For?” project in 2012 as a strong example of ART 180s outreach. The project, a series of 8-foot-tall mural art, paintings and writing displays created by 25 fifth- and sixth-grade students in Richmond, depicted their beliefs, inspirations and how they saw themselves.

The displays on Monument Avenue became a contentious subject for some residents, and the Richmond city government eventually revoked ART 180’s permit for the project. For Ms. Hairston-White, however, it was a welcome spotlight and reminder of why her work with this group is so important.

“One of the young artists expressed how great it was to be seen and heard in that moment,” Ms. Hairston-White says. “They were also proud that people would travel to see and support what they created. “This magical moment demonstrated how art can gal- vanize the collective community to stand for what is right and beautiful.”

Meet a dedicated supporter of Richmond art and youths, and this week’s Personality: Chris R. Hairston-White:

Volunteer position: President, ART 180 Board of Trustees.

Occupation: Community development financial services executive.

Date and place of birth: June 20 in Charles City County.

Residence: Henrico County.

Education: Virginia Commonwealth University, bachelor’s degree, business marketing. Virginia Bankers Association Bank Management School (completion date summer 2024).

Family: Dwayne White, daughters Kameron, Kirsten.

ART 180 is: Love. It is kind, patient and nurturing. ART 180 is a collective of people and partners that recognizes that a young person’s ability to flourish is a communal effort. ART 180 is nonjudgmental and meets the community it serves with open arms. In the spaces where programs are delivered, ART 180 creates opportunities to amplify the voices of the unheard around issues that address social injustices and determinants of health. We strive to exemplify the community we want to see across the world.

Mission: We are a collective of creative people cultivating the tools and strengths of spirit to meet every moment, every trauma, and every triumph head on.

ART 180 is funded: Primarily with monetary donations from individuals, foundations, corporations, and government. ART 180 also builds capacity with in-kind gifts and volunteers.

How ART 180 works in a nutshell: ART 180’s staff, teaching artists, and partners use art as a vehicle for youths to have access to high-quality, creative, holistic experiences. The desired outcomes are building relationships (including to self), leadership, and healthy lifestyle skills and economic stability.

No. 1 goal or project as board president: Develop a digestible, useful strategic plan that considers ART 180’s Guiding Principles: Holistic Health, Connection to Self and Others, Creative Development, Social Entrepreneurship, and Self-Actualization.

No. 1 challenge: Capacity to do more. ART 180 gets it done with eight staff members plus contracted teaching artists.

Racial equity and ART 180: Racial equity is baked into everything ART 180 offers. A holistic view of what is needed to level the playing field to allow Black and Brown people to improve their economics, health, and education is considered. ART 180 believes that young people can create art that communicates the change needed to make their dreams come true.

ART 180 is especially important for Black and Brown children and their families because: I believe ART 180 provides nonjudgmental space and resources for people to just be their authentic selves. Imagine what can be created, invented, improved and such if people were able to leap beyond social norms, systemic barriers, and fear.

Get involved with ART 180: ART 180 welcomes volunteers to provide in-kind services and supplies like printing, photography, design, and event planning and organizing. Visit our website at https://www.art180.org/volunteer to express interest.

Upcoming events: Our next event is February First Fridays. Visit our website at https://www.art180.org and follow us on social media. We can’t wait to see you!

How I start the day: I start early, slow and quiet ahead of my typically loaded calendar of meetings, events and action items.

The three words that best describe me: Witty, creative, industrious.

The music I listen to most is: Depends on the moment. If I’m headed to a dreadful meeting, I’m blasting late 90s/early 2000s gangsta rap to get hyped. neo-soul, gospel, eclectic orchestra, or motown hits are playing in my chill moments. It’s a whole vibe with candles and wine.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I enjoy restoration and repair of furniture. I get great satisfaction from taking a salvaged item and turning it into a treasured conversation piece.

A quote that inspires me: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

At the top of my “to-do” list: What’s for dinner?

The best thing my parents ever taught me: I belong everywhere.

The person who influenced me the most: An early influencer was my father, Charles Hairston Jr. Today, it’s my mother, Gwendolyn Hairston.

Book that influenced me the most: “The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White” by Henry Wiencek. It quenched my desire to understand one side of my history and the healing that took place which provided strength to move forward.

What I’m reading now: “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee. There’s enough of everything to meet the needs of the humans who call the United States of America home. We all can thrive if we all spread our blessings, talents, and gifts equitably.

Next goal: Travel abroad.