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Artists for Humanity empowers with art

Posted by Alex Pearlman  March 10, 2012 09:24 AM

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artists for humanity sold painting.jpgBy Kaily Nash

Plenty of Boston-area organizations promote well-being within the community, providing residents of all ages with opportunities they may not have otherwise had. One organization in particular has taken a unique route in their mission to creating a better Boston: Artists for Humanity not only helps bridge economic, racial, and social divisions among urban teens -- they employ those teens as well.

Artist and teacher Susan Rodgerson founded AFH in 1991 because she felt that the Boston school system was not providing students with adequate art education; she hoped AFH would empower its participants, giving them a voice and a way to communicate through art. That first year, students produced paintings that reflected Boston’s cultural diversity, but as AFH has grown, so, too, has the complexity of the projects. Students now produce everything from paintings, photography, sculptures, and screen prints to digital media and video, graphic and web design projects, and industrial designs.

“AFH remains a haven for teens from every corner of the city, a place where they can explore and express their creative abilities, identify possibilities for continuing education, and most importantly, dispel the myth that the larger world is forever closed to them,” according to the organization’s website. “AFH develops young people as leaders in social change.”

artists for humanity computer art.jpgAs part of AFH’s after-school and summer programs, students participate in paid apprenticeships and leadership programs, creating different art projects -- often specifically commissioned by clients -- and learning skills that will help them in the professional world. Interested students must attend an open house and orientation to learn about AFH and its programs before filling out an application and going through the interview process for open spots. Once accepted, students participate in a volunteer training program and may accept a paid apprenticeship upon completion. AFH also offers a Saturday morning program for middle schoolers and internships for college students.

“What began humbly in Rodgerson’s small studio 20 years ago with only six teens has now grown to an operation employing over 150 teens annually with jobs in the arts,” said Kristina Grinovich, AFH’s events and communications associate. “The idea that giving teens jobs, respect, and educational resources can change the community is sure to gain more and more popularity with the successes that come out of AFH.”

And AFH has, indeed, had many successes and has proved itself with some outstanding results: 100 percent of their students plan to attend college, and 90 percent of them earn their high school diplomas on time. The idea has become a popular one, too, with other cities across the U.S. reaching out to the AFH team about starting similar programs, Grinovich said.

When Rodgerson started AFH, she set four goals, which still drive the organization today: to provide urban teens with a safe, meaningful place filled with people who respect them; to give those teens the chance to have a voice through their work; to show them how the respect and responsibility that comes from employment fosters self-esteem and financial accountability; and to provide access to educational experiences and encourage academic achievement.

artists for humanity painter.jpg“The best part about being involved with AFH is getting to see generations of Boston teens from so many different backgrounds respond so successfully to the mentoring that takes place in each AFH studio,” said Deborah First, AFH’s PR consultant.

But like with any non-profit, AFH’s staff members can not keep their programs alive all on their own. Beyond the usual volunteering and donating money, those who like the idea behind AFH and want to support the cause can purchase the works created by AFH students or host events at the EpiCenter, AFH’s own venue.

“Everything that happens at AFH is influential,” said Kristina “For teens that work here, it is a second home. It is a place they can express themselves freely, without judgment.”

Photos of Artists for Humanity students by vanberto (Flickr)

About Kaily -- Kaily is president of K Group, a Boston-based event branding company. You can reach her at

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