Through Bank of America, I will be interning with Artists For Humanity for the summer. These are my thoughts on the first week of the summer program.
Artists for Humanity has a lot of ways to display the monumental work that teenagers do with them – everything from a store full of hand printed t-shirts to a gallery of paintings and even the building that they are now located in. But what these works don’t display is what it’s really like to be in the EpiCenter and in the studios. If I could capture what it’s really like to be in this vibrant environment, either I deserve a Pulitzer or this is actually an extremely dull place. Considering that neither is the case, I’ll do my best to simply capture some of the things that are going on here for the next few weeks.
The summer program this year will employ around 130 teens for 25 hours a week. I’m working with AFH for the summer just like the teens in the studios. Unlike many of them, however, this is my first time seeing how things work here. I’m going to record some of what I witness as I get to see what this hub of creativity produces during the summer.
Day one was chaotic – if the energy of a hundred excited teenagers could be harnessed, then it could power a small city. As it approached noon on Monday, a steady stream of teenagers of all shapes and sizes trickled in. This collection of young people is varied in all ways imaginable; in clothing style, race, age, personality, but they’re gathered here for the same great opportunities to realize their creative and valuable potential. The new recruits and old hands alike met in the gallery to be welcomed to their summer of opportunity by several of the founders. The foremost emphasis of the welcome was that here it was possible to pursue opportunities and inspiration. The act of simply looking around was inspiring: Artists for Humanity had started with just a couple of teenage boys and one mentoring artist. Here was a crowd of over a hundred young people.
There are seven studios of different artistic avenues this summer: photography, painting, sculpture, architecture, video, graphic design, fashion. Hopefully I’ll able to stay updated on what they’re doing, but each studio has a schedule full of projects and field trips and to follow them all at once will be difficult (nor do I want to constantly be hovering around). Much of this week has been devoted to preparation for the complex summer projects for each studio. Most have commissioned projects to work on: the graphic design artists have a continuous stream of professional assignments; fashion will be creating costumes for a local theater company; video studio is creating a documentary on AFH, but those are just a few.
When the teens split into their separate studios, the mentors got down to business. There were introductions and group bonding exercises, but this is no summer camp. After some group discussions and tips on how to proceed, some mentors let the artists get straight to work. Painting easels were set up in the loft, Photoshop and Illustrator started on the graphics computers, flashes from the photographers’ cameras appeared on the second floor. Production of valuable art began on the first day. But this summer program is also not a sweatshop or an assembly line. The fashion studio has been taking time to learn how to use sewing machines, sculpture artists did internet research on sculptors, some of the painters practiced presenting and critiquing their work. (“I like it,” is not helpful art critique, nor is “She looks too old.”) On Wednesday, the photographers and graphics artists decided that it was too hot to work and watched a documentary about Helvetica and discussed typography. (“Would you rather look at a girl’s body or typography?” was posed as a question for consideration.)
By Thursday, it’s pretty hard to tell who has been here for months or years and who is still in their first week. Although the veteran AFH artists spend time reminiscing on previous projects, it’s only in the context of what this summer’s work could include. There’s no hazing, no need to establish hierarchies based on seniority. Everyone has an objective and is in the process of some project, probably many projects. When I walked into gallery on it was filled with people working on a multitude of things: constructing outfits, posing for or taking glamour shots, presenting building plans. Even though it was right before the two-thirty lunch break, most seemed focused on the tasks at hand, working together or independently for their goals.