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Civic Engagement

The back-story of the Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden begs to investigate the lessons of the past. Thus, while artist Vinnie Bagwell creates culturally-resonant artwork to map the cultural assets of the Yonkers community, she engages the community: Public forums, exhibitions, artists talks, and social media enable viewers to learn about local history and the process and value of public art. In addition, this project-based learning experience embodies the values for uplifting young talent by exposing students to an art medium and advanced concepts unavailable in public-school programs.


The community has been drawn into the creative process through public forums before the artwork was created as well as to open-studio previews to see the enlargements before casting. This gave the community the opportunity to learn about the artist’s process, express their feelings about the work, and celebrate milestone’s in the project’s progress.


The New York Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation partnered with EARG by providing the exhibition interpretive-text boards on the historical background of slavery in New York to enhance understandig of the context of the project. Con Edison funded the premiere exhibition to formally introduce the Rain-Garden concept and historical background to the community-at-large at ArtsWestchester’s Arts Exchange Gallery in White Plains, NY, in 2010.The exhibition was subsequently hosted by the Hudson River Museum in 2012, Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in 2014, and Sarah Lawrence College in 2017 in Yonkers.

The life-sized bronzes will be on exhibition at the Yonkers Riverfront Library until all five sculptures are completed and ready for permanent installation in 2019.


The EARG Initiative’ Artists Talks are a bridge that link working artists to schools, teachers, and students. They promote youth development by advocating soft-learning, literacy, self-empowerment (scholarship and being taken seriously) and social responsibility (civility, and giving one’s gifts back to one’s community).

Lead artist Vinnie Bagwell welcomes students from Yonkers Public Schools and Sarah Lawrence College to her studio, an atmosphere that ignites creativity and stimulates open learning about cultural and media arts.  She engages them in discussions about creating public art, community service, critical thinking, writing, and mentoring, among other topics. Supervised workshops with professionally-trained artists are conducted in-studio, in Workshops offer opportunities for skill-building and improving social and cultural capitol.

Spoken-word artist and DC poet-laureate, Ty Gray-EL is a modern-day griot. He accompanies Vinnie Bagwell at the exhibition’s artists talks to mesmerize the audience with captivating stories about the lives of enslaved Africans. He gives them a voice, which Ms. Bagwell says “humanizes” them. Ty Gray-El is also the author of the spoken-word stories about “Themba the Boatmen” and “I’Satta.

Photographer Leslie Jean Bart’s images are employed in the film about “Themba.” His images come from a series, he calls, “Imagination Versus Reality”, where he has captured the shadows and reflections of people in the water at the beach.

Photographer/Videographer Jonathan Lewis is responsible for documenting the EARG Initiatives progress and programs. An original member of the recording-artist group, Atlantic Starr, Lewis is also an educator for Westchester County’s Greenburgh Central 7 at Woodland’s High School.

Drummer/percussionist Leonard Epps sounds the drum at the exhibitions, and is featured on the “Themba…” film. Epps is an educator–a principal–for the Hartford, CT, school system.

Working artists set the example to enable students to believe in themselves and the power of their imaginations. Our goal is to employ creative strategies to increase our students community involvement, with the long-term goal of creating socially-conscious citizens, with enhanced entrepreneurial awareness, who employ the arts to improve and enhance their community.

Enslaved Africans Rain Garden