New studio gives back, teaches art in Riverwest

Darren Hill and his brother offer free art, music production and dance programming for neighborhood children as a way to repay their community for the help and encouragement they received when they were young. Photos by Peter Jakubowski

Darren Hill, a UWM senior in education, and his brother are turning their own challenging life experiences into positive opportunities for young people in their neighborhood.

Darren, who’s majoring in Educational Policy and Community Studies, and his brother Vedale opened Jazale’s Art Studio in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood on Aug. 3 to offer free art, music production and dance programming for neighborhood children. The studio will also include tutoring and help with college and job applications

Hill with his brother Vedale in Jazale’s Art Studio.

Hill says the two are trying to offer back to the community the same kind of help and encouragement they received from the Children’s Outing Association (COA) while they were growing up. The COA helps Milwaukee children, teens and families with educational, recreational and social work programs offered through its urban community centers and rural camp facility.

Their parents split up when the boys were young, and the family moved about 50 times, mostly living with relatives as their single mother struggled financially.  “We were the poorest of the poor,” Vedale said in an earlier article about the studio. “We had the worst clothes and often didn’t have money for food or rent.”

“She couldn’t give us much, but she gave us love,” says Darren of their mother. One of their uncles served as a positive role model for them, entertaining with games that encouraged them to use their brains. He has fond memories of playing Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit with Uncle Richard.

Their mother also encouraged them to enroll in programs at the nearby COA, where they both found a focus in the arts and academic programs.

“The Children’s Outing Association gave us help and support,” says Hill. “We want to give back what we gained.”

The brothers have combined their talents to build the studio. Vedale earned his degree in art from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, the first in the family to earn a college degree. One of his works is currently featured at the Milwaukee Art Museum. He’s organizing the arts programs and curriculum for the studio.

As co-president of the studio with his brother, Darren led efforts to rehab the building at 731 E. Center St., and used his marketing experience to help raise funds to offer the free programs. He started out studying mechanical engineering at UW-Madison and has worked for Sears home improvement department, so his background was a good fit for the remodeling.

After volunteering at his former high school, South Division, Darren discovered a passion for working with young people. When he decided to change his career focus from engineering to education, he found the Educational Policy and Community Studies program at UWM to be a good fit. “I didn’t even know what the degree was, but [former adviser] Maria Torres showed me how it could help returning adults who wanted to make a positive difference in their communities.”

The father of two young children, Hill was already working one full-time job when he took on the mission of building the studio. Academic and financial support from UWM’s Life Impact Program, designed for student-parents, has helped out with school, as he and his brother worked to rehab the 7500-square-foot building..

“The influence of art can be so important in children’s lives, but these days arts classes are being cut from the public schools. I wanted the young people in the neighborhood to have some of the opportunities my brother and I had.”

Darren is featured in an “I am UWM” video on the university’s website.  The studio is building a website, and has a Facebook page at facebook.com/JazalesArtStudioInc.