Sunday, June 25, 2000

Jobs build up teen artists

Program boosts skills, confidence

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's better than summer camp, because they get paid.

        And it's better than a summer job at the mall, because they hone their art skills while sprucing up public parks and making items to sell.

(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        But best of all, the teens working 20 hours a week in Eden Park with ArtWorks' eight-week summer art apprenticeship program are gaining self-confidence.

        “Kids that come into this program are often so shy, but two years later they're speaking in front of a huge audience,” says ArtWorks public relations manager Adia Dobbins.

        In its fifth year, the non-profit program has a record 200 Tristate 14- to 19-year-olds employed in the arts at the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

        For Melissa Smith, 15, of Pleasant Ridge, it's a chance to share her passion for writing poetry with other teens.

        Poetry is her outlet, she says, and the way she turned her life around after the death of her mom. She was 9 when her mom died. She stopped caring about life, Melissa said, her grades plummeted and she eventually ran away from home.

The students' art will be auctioned off at a silent auction 5:30-8 p.m. Aug. 1 at Eden Park near Mirror Lake. Proceeds will go toward next year's ArtWorks program.
        She's spending mornings in the ArtWorks “Spoken Word” tent, writing about other kids who don't care about life.

        “Poetry allows me to get feelings about my mom off my chest,” Melissa said. “You see so many kids acting hard core, but they're hurting inside. With poetry, I don't have to talk to somebody, I can just write and talk to myself.”

        Melissa loves the supportive atmosphere at ArtWorks, writing for 41/2 hours a day.

        “I love to write, and now I get paid to write.”

        Working in eight groups under large white tents, the artists gather daily near Mirror Lake to sculpt, paint, write, and design art. They produce works that will either be auctioned off or donated to the community. Each group has a different task. One group is revitalizing a run-down Over-the-Rhine park. Another is designing fashion accessories; another is writing and producing books of poetry.

        One group is even adding to the city's infestation of pigs, producing dozens of “piglets” that will later be available for auction.

        A professional artist and several assistants lead each group.

        Many of the teens aspire to work as professional artists someday, and ArtWorks shows them it is possible.

        “We're training these kids that art is not just a hobby. It can be a profession,” said Holly Clark, ap prentice coordinator for ArtWorks.

        Students submitted resumes, submitted examples of their work, and interviewed with ArtWorks before being selected for the summer program, which is based on Chicago's $4.5 million Gallery 37 that attracts 2,000 teens a summer. This year, 185 kids were hired from a pool of about 350 applicants. The program has gained more positions each successive year since beginning with about 60 artists five years ago.

        Jennifer Schneider, 17, a senior this fall at Walnut Hills High School, wants to study fashion design in college and someday start her own clothing line. She aspires to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., and has worked for ArtWorks for three years. This year, she is making purses and other accessories, which will be sold at the gallery tent later this summer.

        “It's really cool because people will take the stuff I make home and actually use it,” she said.

        At the spoken word tent, students pour their emotions onto paper —- or write creative verses about nothing at all, like one girl who described the tent structure in a poem.

        “Everybody here has mad talent,” said Jibri McPherson, a teaching artist who has job experience in spoken word and rap music. “They really don't need me, I just guide them along.”

        Chris Jackson, 17, and soon to be a senior at Withrow High School, uses poetry to release his innermost feelings:

        “There's one more thing a poem must express,

        “The ability to take the burdens off your chest.”


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