An Escape from “the Trap”?


You would think it would be hard to be hopeful and optimistic if you’re living on the East Side of Wilmington, Delaware, where street violence seems to be a way of life and researchers guided by Professor Yasser Payne of the University of Delaware found that less than half the residents have high school diplomas and about two-thirds are unemployed, living in low-income housing and reliant on Medicaid for health care.

But Payne, who is building a reputation for his skill at putting ex-offenders to work doing top-notch research into the problems in the communities where they live, is part of a collaboration that shows there’s good reason to think positively about the East Side and the people who live there.

Take the the time to visit the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts on Wilmington’s Riverfront (admission is free!) and check out “Wilmington Trap Stars: A Street Art Exhibition.” Payne has joined with Michael Kalmbach, who runs the Creative Vision Factory, a rehabilitative arts program for individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues, and Barry Schlecker, an art collector/festival impresario/networker extraordinaire, to put together the exhibit, which features more than 200 pieces of art — paintings, photographs, sketches, collages, sculpture — created by low-income Wilmington residents.

“I didn’t think there was that much art energy out there,” Payne tells me.

The show takes its name from “the trap” — urban slang for a place where crime takes place, and from the “trap star,” one who succeeds in the streets, often by selling drugs. “That’s powerful language, but we’re not romanticizing, glorifying the notion of crime,” Payne says. “The show speaks to the relationship between inequality and crime…. When people come from ‘the trap,’ they’re going to do illegal things because they feel it’s worth the risk.”

The quality of the art suggests that there’s a lot more talent on the East Side than the perennial naysayers will ever acknowledge. Most of the art work in the exhibition is for sale, and the more pieces that are sold, the greater the hope that a few more people will work their way out of “the Trap.”

I hope you will take a look.

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