Chrysler Museum of Art opens exhibition that uncovers the untold history of YWCA South Hampton Roads

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Chrysler Museum of Art opens exhibition that uncovers the untold history of YWCA South Hampton Roads
Laura Titus, image courtesy of YWCA South Hampton Roads.

NORFOLK, VA.- For more than 100 years, YWCA South Hampton Roads has strengthened social movements that eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. However, the organization’s history that starts with the work of Laura E. Titus, a Black female philanthropist, has remained largely unknown. The Chrysler Museum of Art will showcase this story in Reckoning our History: The Untold Story of YWCA South Hampton Roads. The exhibition, on view Feb. 22–March 13 in the Museum’s Margaret Shepherd Ray Family & Student Gallery, will chronicle YWCA’s history with original paintings by artists from Teens With a Purpose, a Norfolk-based nonprofit organization that empowers youth to find self-assuredness through arts, education, community engagement and more.

With support from local artist Chris Green, the young artists convey their perspectives on YWCA South Hampton Roads’ previously untold history, depict the impact that YWCA South Hampton Roads and Teens With a Purpose are making in our community and present their vision for the future.

“The partnership with YWCA South Hampton Roads and Teens With a Purpose meets an essential part of the Chrysler’s mission to enrich and transform lives,” said Museum Director Erik Neil. “As the Museum endeavors to serve as a space for social engagement for the community, we are delighted to present the work by Teens With a Purpose to share a story that was not previously known to a wide audience. We hope this exhibition will inspire creativity, provoke thought about local history and foster enlightening discussions about diversity and the future of the community.”

For nearly 40 years, YWCA South Hampton Roads has provided emergency shelter for women and families facing crisis. The organization is now expanding its efforts as a direct-service provider — primarily focused on providing refuge to women and families escaping domestic and sexual violence — to an organization working at the intersection of racial-social justice and gender equity based on the mission established by its founder, Laura E. Titus. Previous accounts of YWCA’s history date the organization to 1911 and attribute its beginnings to a white philanthropist. However, Titus sought a charter in 1906 to begin what is now YWCA South Hampton Roads. The charter was approved in 1908 though Titus is not given credit in the historic record.

“YWCA South Hampton Roads is committed to uncovering our history to advance the full mission of our organization as we work to build an anti-racist community. We owe it to the legacy of Laura E. Titus, who blazed the trail to ensure all women had a place of rest in the Hampton Roads community. This is our opportunity to rectify our founding and demonstrate racial reckoning and the power of young people to heal our future,” said Michelle Ellis Young, YWCA South Hampton Roads’ CEO.

Chris Green has worked with Teens With a Purpose on numerous occasions over the years and especially enjoyed this opportunity to teach them about painting. “Art has enriched my life. Working with these young artists and seeing their passion for creating reminded me of why I originally fell in love with art,” Green said. “By working with Teens With a Purpose, I hope to have influenced a younger generation of artists to find their art voice.”

Working with Green has been truly impactful for the artists. His talent, passion and professionalism are important examples for the teens and show them what they can become.

“Ensuring marginalized young people have the opportunity to engage with highly skilled accomplished artists with similar life experiences and with whom there is shared culture and identity means they encounter their ‘possible selves’ each time they walk into the studio,” Love said. “He is the counter narrative. Our youth receive the message that they are likely to go to jail, drop out of school or underachieve. Chris Green is the example of what is possible in life and through art.”

Using their work to share YWCA South Hampton Roads’ story aligns with Teens With a Purpose’s mission to “create a platform that empowers young people to use their voice, creativity, reflection and action to affect personal growth, transform lives and impact communities.” The exhibition gives the youth an opportunity to tell their stories, recount histories that have been previously omitted, consider how stories are told and present information in new ways. “This partnership is a proud and humbling moment for us. This experience allows us to live our wildest dreams through this critical endeavor,” Love said.

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