Tacoma Art Museum exhibit celebrates grassroots program that turns at-risk students into artists

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21 Hilltop Artists alumni are featured in the museum’s colorful exhibit. #k5evening

TACOMA, Washington – At the Tacoma Art Museum exhibit, Gathering: 27 years of perched artiststhere are works made entirely of glass, colorful paintings that celebrate heritage, even sculptures made with neon.

What could they have in common with these artists we met at the exhibition?

“The common thread here is that we all came from Tacoma,” the curator said. Quiocho of Trenton. “And we’ve all been through Perched artists program.”

Co-founded in 1994 by Tacoma’s Dale Chihulythe most famous glass artist of our time, the original goal of the program was to prevent at-risk children from dropping out of school.

“It’s probably the only youth program in the country, if not the world, that uses glass art to connect with young people,” Quiocho said.

Over the years, some of these young people have become artists in their own right. David Rios was 13 when he joined the program. At the exhibit, you’ll see an ofrenda, an offering he created to remember recently deceased friends and family.

“This play really took me to a place where I’m a lot better mentally,” Rios said. “It brought me hope.”

Rios works at Glass Museum and teaches at Hilltop.

“I always tell my students to have faith in every step you take,” he said.

Emily Martin dedicated a piece called “Lola’s Rosary” to her mother. She has been creating glass art since she was 11 years old.

“What I love about working with glass is that it’s alive,” Martin said. “I can manipulate it. I can move it. It bends the way I want it to bend. And nothing is the same.”

Quiocho joined the Hilltop Artists program as a high school student and has been teaching there since 2013.

“Once I worked with the material, I was very hooked,” he said. “I couldn’t get enough. And it got me to where I am today.”

He was artist in residence at the Museum Of Glass where he made these pieces called “Trapped”.

“I pay homage to my Filipino heritage,” Quiocho said. “And then I use these very Venetian techniques to create these designs.”

Each piece in the exhibit represents hundreds of children who have had the chance to make their own way in the 21,000 degree heat. They may not all be artists, but they have all had the opportunity to create.

“I think the beauty of Hilltop is that it empowers everyone,” Rios said. “That we are artists, that you are special and that you are important.”

“Gather: 27 Years of Hilltop Artists” runs through September 4, 2022 at the Tacoma Art Museum.

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