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Community art is what drives Fairfax artist Sharon Virtue

Art was a way for Sharon Virtue to connect with people from all over the world. Through her community art practice, she painted alongside homeless people on a mural in Manchester, England, worked on an art therapy project for Haitian children after the devastating 2010 earthquake in the country and worked on ‘Perspectives’, a Mill Valley community art project that tackled racism.

After moving to Fairfax last fall, she is connecting with other creatives in Marin as one of three members of the Fairfax Artist-in-Residence Collaborative and recipient of Art Works Downtown’s Max Thelen Studio Residency.

His colorful ceramic works and paintings addressed climate change, racial justice and his Jamaican and Irish heritage. See and learn more on

Q Reflect on climate change and our relationship to the world at last year’s State of Nature exhibit in Oakland. How come?

A I am very inspired and refreshed by nature. It is my happy place. I was given a residence to go to Esalen, and my time there was the moment I really came up with the idea for that show. I just lived in Oakland, George Floyd is murdered, there are riots in downtown Oakland and there is this incredible wave of artists who show up to give their voices in a different way. I painted two murals in downtown Oakland during the riots that were happening there. My dad is a black man, so I was like I had to say something now. During my residency, my focus would have been on how we could work towards a world of more fairness and less racism. When I got there and started talking to the locals, they had experienced a fire and were all traumatized by that event. What I understand is that climate chaos or climate change is actually happening now: the fires, the drought. This isn’t a fantasy science fiction thing that’s going to happen in the future. So it hit home for me. That’s the elephant in the room, that nature is coming for us.

Q What inspires you?

A My work is very much about beauty, but also about magic, magical creatures and mythological creatures. I’ve always been inspired by that aspect of the supernatural. It is a way to create escapism, but many of these stories, especially of natives and indigenous people, are based on teachings. They told those stories to teach their children important things about life balance. I was really inspired by that aspect of the storytelling.

Q What do you hope to achieve with your work here?

A When I came to live in Marin, I was keenly aware of the disparities between black communities and white communities and took a look at the local art communities. I want to broaden people’s perspectives and also offer opportunities for people of color living in Marin who may not have access or be able to take art classes. I want to bring other people, indigenous people, queer people, different voices into the picture because it’s important for young children to hear different versions of the stories we tell. It is important to recognize that there are different stories and different ways of looking at the world. I received a scholarship from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to allow me to bring artists of color to Fairfax to talk about their work and to give seminars. This is the magic of community art. It is a melting pot of compassion, empathy and understanding.

Q Travel plays a role in your practice, including the inspiration of your work in the community arts. How did it start?

A I went to see the solar eclipse in Mozambique in 2001. Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world and I realized that I am in this place where people are visibly suffering and very poor: what could I do to help if it would done anything. I try to encourage and inspire people to look beyond the current situation, helping them to open their minds and see the possibilities beyond their situation and this comes from within. I continued to work with some homeless children in Mozambique and help them build a classroom, a creative space to go to.

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