Amiri Richardson-Keys sitting in front of a bookcase and pictures hanging on a wall. His shirt says \"women inspire nations.\"
Amiri Richardson-Keys co-founded the Artist Revealed Through Service Community Center with his wife, Cindy. (Courtesy of Amiri Richardson-Keys)

Class of 2022: At VCU, Amiri Richardson-Keys found a university ‘that would push me beyond my comfort as an artist’

Already an accomplished artist, Richardson-Keys, a father of six, is receiving his bachelor’s degree in painting and printmaking this month.

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Art is in Amiri Richardson-Keys’ blood. 

“Art has always been a part of my life,” said the father of six. “I was introduced to the arts at an early age. My mother and father are both artists. My father is a musician, and my mother was a crafter and visual artist.”

Yet while Richardson-Keys has always been an artist, it took him a while to get around to getting a degree. This semester, at the age of 40, he will receive his bachelor’s degree in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University.

“VCU has one of the best programs and faculty with years of experience and knowledge,” Richardson-Keys said. “And I wanted to attend a university that would push me beyond my comfort as an artist.”

Several classes impacted him during his time at VCU.

Brooke Iman’s printmaking class instilled in him a new love and tremendous respect for printmaking. “The way the class was structured and how informative the class was, made the experience much more remarkable,” he said. Painting Practice and Theory with Sandy Zohore encouraged him to think deeper about the concept of making art and how to find his creative voice in the work he creates.

“Art is essential because it provokes change,” Richardson-Keys said. “It allows people to work through problems and provide therapeutic healing.”

That’s why he co-founded the Artist Revealed Through Service Community Center with his wife, Cindy. A.R.T.S. was created to provide a safe space for children, youth, adults and seniors to explore the arts.

“We wanted to offer families the opportunity to develop a passion for artistry, social interactions, and academics,” he said. “Art offers at-risk students an opportunity to express themselves and be heard. It offers them space to be vulnerable and better understood.”

While finishing his degree, raising six “beautiful, creative” children — Amiri, 21; Jeremiah, 19; Noah, 18; Zion, 17; Nina, 15; and Zoie, 13 — and working with the community all at the same time, Richardson-Keys was inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, the national honor society for adult and non-traditional students, and Tau Sigma, the academic honor society for transfer students.

“It has been a joy to grow up with my children and raise them simultaneously,” Richardson-Keys said. “My wife and I have been together since high school. I owe her much credit for being a phenomenal partner and ‘encourager’ along this journey. I am grateful. My wife and children have been the backbone and much of my support, along with family and communities.”

While having his degree is nice, graduation will be a mere blip on Richardson-Keys’ radar. He plans to continue his career as a visual artist and art educator within the community center and surrounding organizations. He also plans to apply for fellowships and residencies before returning to VCU to pursue his master’s degree in art education.