Studio Two Three founder has a ‘long-haul vision’ to make Richmond arts more equitable

Ashley Hawkins (BFA ’08), co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Studio Two Three, recently wrote in to Style Weekly with a new pledge to the Richmond community. Ahead of the studio’s 10th anniversary celebration on Sept. 28, Hawkins detailed her organization’s renewed commitment to equality in the arts.

“Artists aren’t one color, or gender, or orientation, or economic status or ability,” she wrote. “We are working to ensure that our board, staff and artists reflect a broader diversity in order to create a place that is welcoming, inclusive and always changing. We’re not there yet but we are committed to a long-haul vision for this transformation.”

Hawkins explained in her public letter that reflecting on her past decade running Studio Two Three inspired her to reaffirm the nonprofit’s mission. She co-founded Studio Two Three in 2009 after graduating from the VCUarts Painting + Printmaking program. The studio was originally housed in a tiny space supported by herself and fellow fledgling artists. The 24/7 printmaking shop eventually expanded to fill a 13,000-square-foot facility in Scott’s Addition, where earned income and donations power their ongoing work.

But Hawkins and her peers wanted Studio Two Three to be more than a destination for artists. Outreach initiatives soon became an important aspect of the nonprofit’s work, bringing workshops, field trips and other activities to neighborhoods across the city. Recently, they’ve taken their facility on the road with S23 To-Go, an ice-cream-truck-style mobile studio and store.

“As we grew,” Hawkins said, “we recognized how important and challenging it is to build a space that reflects the wholeness of our community, beyond the reflection we see in the mirror.”

She said, Studio Two Three is still finding its place as an “anchor institution.” In assuming that responsibility, Hawkins announced that the studio is crafting career training programs and courses that focus on the power of the arts to affect social change.

“After 10 years,” she said, “we remain committed to do-it-yourself production as a tool for democratic engagement.”