Artists for Humanity: Empowering Creativity
20 Jul 2015
Artists for Humanity (AFH) is putting the arts back in education. Artists for Humanity, located in Boston, is an educational initiative for urban teens created to address the absence of artistic opportunities within the public school system. AFH fills that void by providing training and employment for urban teens through paid apprenticeships. In their program Youth Arts Enterprise, young artists work alongside the professionals on projects in digital media, industrial design, and across STE(A)M fields. By working in tandem with artists and interacting with the clients, the students get real-world experience. That experience complements their education by giving them a springboard from which to launch their creative professional lives. AFH’s program is a unique combination of artistic mentorship and business training, presenting creative youth with a space to learn and grow as both artists and entrepreneurs. Student artists have completed graphic design projects for Barnes and Noble, P&G, video projects for the USDA forest service, and 3D design projects for Boston City Hall and Logan International Airport (seen below1)
AFH also happens to be one of the largest employers of youth in Boston2. With more than 250 youth working after school, and 100% of those who are high school seniors going on to college or advanced vocational training, AFH’s learn-by-doing model is improving lives and futures. The enrichment that comes from practical experience in the arts, combined with spending their time in an environment that values individuality and expressiveness, creates an expectation of empowerment and responsibility an expectation that has helped two-thirds of AFH alumni earn college degrees. Part of the academic preparation AFH offers as a supplement to their project-based programming are supports like computer literacy activities, tutoring, and college readiness workshops. Self-sufficiency through paid employment is the goal for each student, and academic achievement is an important aspect of that mission.
The profound personal effects of this holistic approach are evident in the testimony of the students themselves. In interviews, they say they feel as though AFH is a family, a place where they can find out what they want to be, what they want to do, and how to get there. These are big things for youth to wrestle with, and the self-expression and vulnerability creative fields often thrive on require feeling secure enough to explore those questions without fear of judgment. AFH has done that.
In a recent podcast with Small Biz Stories, AFH co-founder Jason Talbot spoke about the impact one of AFH’s early gallery openings had on his career. “We worked hard and we produced a lot of artwork and it was great. And under normal circumstances, in a normal class, I would have got an A or B based on my effort, but here we put those paintings in that gallery, and I stood in that gallery. And people came in and they asked me about my work, and they were astonished by what we were able to do. And I was introduced to this whole community, this place I had never been. I didn’t understand it, it was beautiful to me. I could feel it happening to my mind, to myself, to my self-image, to my vision for my future that I wanted to continue. I wanted to have an art show in that gallery every weekend for the rest of my life.”
That is the experience students at AFH are driven to achieve. And that is humanity at work, striving for the personal and professional goals of each student so they can bring their passion to life.
AFH received a grant of $10,300 from FBB.