Personality: Raven Bates

Spotlight on Art on Wheels board president

8/10/2023, 6 p.m.
Raven Bates, the board president of the Richmond-based nonprofit Art on Wheels, says the best thing her parents Robert and ...

Raven Bates, the board president of the Richmond-based nonprofit Art on Wheels, says the best thing her parents Robert and Tracey Wilkinson ever taught her was not to fear being different or independent.

She continues to embrace that life lesson together with her husband of almost seven years, Alan Bates, and their rescue dog, Trout.

For example, travel tops her “to-do” list and Mrs. Bates loves finding places that are off- the-beaten path to visit. Just last year, she discovered the Bread and Puppet Theater’s museum in Glover, Vt., where half a century’s worth of the theaters’s puppets, masks, paintings and graphics are housed inside a 150-year-old barn.

“It turns the idea of a traditional museum on its head,” Mrs. Bates said by email. “Eventually the barn will be reclaimed by the elements, so this place is not likely to be around forever. Experiencing it was special.”

Another example can be found in the inspiration she takes from a Ray Bradbury quote about jumping off a cliff and building wings on the way down.

“You don’t grow in your comfort zone,” Mrs. Bates said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself through pushing through challenging times and seeking new experiences that may not always be comfortable.”

Facing new challenges and adapting to change is familiar to Art on Wheels, whose mobile programming brings music, dance and visual arts pro- gramming to communities with limited access to the arts.

“COVID brought challenges to our business model because we are very hands-on and pride ourselves on physically being present in the communities we serve through our programs,” Mrs. Bates said.

She is proud of Art on Wheels’ adjustments, which include pivoting to an art kit model and trained staff already present in communities that enable participants to continue experiencing the benefits of art during uncertain times.

“I’ve seen art work its magic in people’s lives firsthand, especially through my grandmother’s journey,” Mrs. Bates shared. “As she aged, her passion for artistic expression gave her a profound sense of purpose, pride and joy that’s hard to ignore.”

Mrs. Bates says she is inspired by the art all around us and tries to bring that into her daily life, using fashion as a way to express her creativity. She created a small business out of her love of crafting her own jewelry—dagNABit designs. She makes and sells bold, funky laser cut and handmade earrings and accessories at various pop-ups around the Richmond area.

And as she comes to the end of her second three-year term as board president, Mrs. Bates says Art on Wheels is continuing to work to meet new challenges. A big one is getting the funding it needs to enable the organization to meet increasing demand for its programming. Another is building its board of directors and bringing new members on board to help the organization expand its reach.

“We are looking for creative and driven people to help Art on Wheels grow and become an even more deep-rooted nonprofit,” she says.

Meet an advocate for art and community and this week’s Personality, Raven Bates.

Volunteer position: Board president, Art on Wheels.

Occupation: Director of communication and administration at VCDC, a nonprofit driving positive change in low-income communities through strategic investments in affordable housing and economic development real estate, innovative programs, and collaborative partnerships, and owner and maker, dagNABit designs LLC.

Date and place of birth: Sept. 20 in Falls Church.

Where I live now: Lakeside.

Education: Bachelor’s in media arts and design with a minor in anthropology, James Madison University.

Family: Husband, Alan Bates, and our rescue dog Trout.

Art on Wheels is: Connecting community members to the healing power of the arts through music, dance and visual arts programming.

Art on Wheels home base: Our office is based in Richmond, but all our programs are mobile, traveling to meet community members where they are. We serve communities throughout the Greater Richmond Region, the Tri-Cities area, and parts of Southside Virginia.

Brief history: Art on Wheels started as an idea in 2007 in a dining room with a bookshelf crammed with art supplies. The idea was this: that making art— creating something from nothing—something that is uniquely yours, is powerful, and healing, and not enough people get the chance to do that. Since that initial idea, Art on Wheels has developed four program areas that travel to meet our communities where they are: Aging in the Arts, Healing in the Arts, Arts and Disability, and Art in the Community.

Mission: Art on Wheels enriches lives by sharing diverse artistic experiences in communities with limited access to the arts.

Founders: Kevin and Andrea Orlosky.

Art on Wheels is specifically for: Everyone! We believe in art for all and welcome anyone who is interested.

How Art on Wheels works: Art on Wheels collaborates with various community partners, including public libraries, parks, for-profit and non-profit organizations, and any group serving our community’s needs. These partners offer space to host our programming, tailored to each community’s schedule and partnership objectives. Additionally, program partners contribute financial support and often offer staff or volunteer assistance, ensuring a positive experience for participant artists and our teaching artists during each session.

Why it is vital for people to have access to art: Because the idea that life can be better, happier, and healthier with art is true. Art provides important opportunities for self-expression, personal autonomy, stress management, and exercise for fine and gross motor skills and cognitive skills, among many other benefits. Additionally, our programs are wonderful, positive social opportunities, which is important for communities we serve.

How I became involved with Art on Wheels: In 2016, I began volunteering with Art on Wheels, contributing to the powerful Impressions of Courage art project. This monumental community-sourced collagraph print was a heartfelt tribute to all those impacted by cancer. Through my involvement, I lovingly honored my nephew’s brave battle with cancer, a journey that tragically concluded just two months before the creation of the print.

Why Art on Wheels is meaningful to me: Because I experience the joy, power and release it brings everyday and want to be able to share that with everyone – especially as common as it is to hear people say they are not creative or artistic because that has been erased from them at a young age. I believe we all deserve to experience the freedom, joy and personal growth creative expression can offer, and Art on Wheels reignites that spark that is too often extinguished too soon.

Proudest moment for Art on Wheels: Art on Wheels has had numerous wonderful moments with our community partners and participant artists, but one of our proudest achievements is successfully navigating the intense sea of change over the past few years while continuing to serve our communities.

How to get involved with Art on Wheels: info@artonwheels-va.org to learn more about volunteering, joining our board of directors, or other ways to get involved. Also, Art on Wheels events are available on Instagram @artonwheelsva.

How I start the day: Alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic! If you’ve ever been to or worked at a summer camp you likely know – it’s never gotten out of my head.

The three words that best describe me: Spirited, eclectic and adventurous.

If I had 10 extra minutes in the day I would: Use the 10 minutes to practice a habit of mindfulness or most realistically fold the laundry I neglected.

Best late-night snack: Any salty and sweet combo.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I love to find random off-the-beaten-path places to visit wherever I go. Give me a unique roadside attraction and I am happy.

A quote that inspires me: “Jump off the cliff and learn how to make wings on the way down.” I think this is often attributed to many people, but I think Ray Bradbury started it. I am inspired by progress, and not letting perfect get in the way of good and the learning that comes along with a process.

At the top of my “to-do” list: Travel.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: Don’t be afraid to be different or independent. After all they named me Raven – which I love and they weren’t afraid to do so even before the Baltimore Ravens or “That’s so Raven” was a thing.

Book that influenced me the most: “The Sirens of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut. I read it at a formative time in my life where I was coming of age and the commentary of meaning and purpose – or absence of – has stayed with me ever since.

Next goal: Keep finding new things to try and new places to visit.