by Cori Champagne
Education Director, New Art Center in Newton
News out of the art world hasn’t been very rosy lately, so it was uplifting to be in attendance at the presentation by Susan Rodgerson last Wednesday at the New Art Center. Rodgerson is Co-founder and Executive Artistic Director at Artists for Humanity, an arts organization that introduces Boston youth to paid jobs and self-sufficiency through the arts. The organization has been in existence since 1990, when Rodgerson started an initiative with Boston Public School students to create large-scale collaborative paintings that were marketed to Boston’s business community. The non-profit has grown significantly since the original group of students, and now employs over 1200 students per year in producing art for sale.
Most of the students that come to Artists for Humanity are from inner-city neighborhoods, and 85% of those students are from low- and very-low income families. Most may not be aware that their creativity can provide them with employment, or lack the skills to make the required connections on their own. Artists for Humanity sets up paid apprenticeship and leadership programs which pair groups of students with professional artists in residence, and together they design and make saleable arts products. Students are involved in every aspect of the projects, from initial client meetings, to materials research, to designing and testing products, and then to making the final work. The organization arranges for students to work in a variety of areas: painting, photography, web design, mural production, sculpture and industrial design, graphic design and painting. Clients who have hired Artists for Humanity include Bank of America, Design Within Reach, Keds, Massport, and Staples. In the almost twenty years since the start of the organization, Artists for Humanity has brought in over $4 million dollars through art and design sales which involve its students.
Artists for Humanity is also responding to the need for environmental responsibility. In 2004 a new building for Artists for Humanity was completed: a LEED Platinum-rated building in the Fort Point section of Boston, called the EpiCenter. The building houses all of the studios for the organization and also provides a substantial revenue stream through rentals. As with everything in the organization, students in the program were involved in the design process of the building, and can now share the credit for the recognition it has gained, not only in Boston, but across the country. The structure was certified as one of the most environmentally sustainable commercial buildings in 2005. As with their student apprenticeship program, Artists for Humanity provides an inspiring example of the effects an arts organization can have on a community.
For more information, or to hire the services of Artists for Humanity, please visit their website, www.afhboston.com