Art Filled Future

by Heron Hetzler

We walked into the 5,000 square foot space and our senses were immediately assailed by sounds, colors and a veritable avalanche of visual stimuli. The sound of the heavy hip hop beat was accompanied by the swish of brushes and the respectful murmur of fermenting creativity.  The air was rich with the smell of colognes and acrylic paint. Over a hundred easels were set up in rows with each young person commanding a canvas and a paint-drenched stool. The room was a tapestry of activity and culture; all levels, backgrounds and interests were reflected in the forest of canvases and painting- covered walls. There was everything from white-mountain capped landscapes, to penguin-covered skateboards to whales, massive abstract pieces and small colorfully paneled boxes. As we wandered we met a girl who was in her fourth and final year, creating a colorful portrait of a woman in shorts, and she enthusiastically described her plans for the next year abroad. We also met a boy, who had just moved from New Orleans, eagerly beginning his career at this unique forward thinking organization.  What mad sustainability hunt could have possibly brought us to a den of young artists in the middle of Boston? Although not the quintessential off-grid homesteader we are now used to, Artists for Humanity is one of the best examples of urban sustainability and they don’t even farm!

Artist for Humanity is an Organization that was founded over 20 years ago. Its aim is “bridging the economic, racial and social divisions by providing under-resourced youth with the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in the arts”. It was founded by Susan Rodgerson in 1990 and now has grown to over 130 student interns a day. The paid apprenticeship program, which connects underprivileged youth with professional artists, involves sustainability on a number of levels. The fundamental level that it works on is providing youth with the means to sustain themselves. The program works to promote social justice and equity for youth through providing the tools, confidence, connections and self-respect to enter the world and have a shot at success in the art industry. This is particularly poignant when 77% of the students they employ are from low income households and over 9 different languages are spoken throughout the program.

Another way in which Artists for Humanity is sustainable is their Platinum LEED certified building.  One of the most remarkable things about the building is that it was built for the same price as a conventionally constructed building.  It is super insulated and uses interior walls made of glass to allow light to permeate deep into the interior.  All the lights are either compact fluorescents or LEDs and many of the materials used in making the artworks they create are made from recycled products.  Not only are these practices environmentally friendly, but they are aesthetically pleasing.  The natural light that flows into every room is incredibly inviting and even the artificial lighting is more pleasant than incandescent glare.

Community is key to the operation of this organization.  It runs on connections and good feeling.  The kids who come there are supported and nurtured and grow to feel at home.  There is a place for everyone; the photo room, silk screening room, video, digital design hall, sculpture area and the painting studio.  Students are taught responsibility and real world skills that empower them to enact positive changes in their lives and communities.  It is a center for growth and learning and ultimately community. This is clearly successful as youth head off to art school in droves and come back to work for the organization, where over 44% of the employees are alumni of the program.

Artist’s for Humanity’s most subversive efforts in support of sustainability is found in the innovative thinking that they teach. The act of exposing young people to creativity and inspiring and encouraging them to participate and eventually become leaders of creative, innovative thinking is the heart of changing and preparing the next generation for the alternative genius that is needed.

We got to see this sort of process in action when we worked with a design team on our Semester’s logo. The process had started three months ago when we each drew up our initial interpretations and ideas of a logo design. These had been sent to Artists for Humanity who had distributed them among the design students who then responded to them with interpretations of their own. We have met with the design team once and look forward to exploring the elements of sustainable design again next week. Will our logo be a carrot bicycle, a tree house, or a silhouetted barn on a leafy hill? Stay tuned and find out!


Heron and Emma DayBranch