Monday, March 21, 2011

Art-Reach Program Uses Art to Fight Violence - Funded by City $

Art-Reach students and staff in Art Gallery at City Hall with artist Ben Volta

The past year the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (the vehicle through which the City distributes funding through a competitive peer process) for the first time ever allocated a portion of the funding to go into a new "Arts for Youth" project grant program. This new grant program, which I encouraged, allowed a group of exemplary projects using the arts to address critical challenges facing our youth to be supported. Given that the process for the next round of grants for this year will be launched soon (at a significantly reduced funding level, due to budget cuts), and that City Council is now holding budget hearings, it seemed like an opportune time to highlight one of the projects supported in 2010

Art-Reach is an organization devoted to "enriching lives by connecting underserved audiences to cultural experiences so that they may benefit from and enjoy the transformative power of the arts." Teens from the Martin Luther King Recreation Center in North Philadelphia and Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club in Germantown spent 12 weeks last fall working with professional silk screen artists to create original T-shirts with an anti-violence theme. They visited a hospital ER where they saw the devastating effects of gunshot wounds, and that led them to explore designs around the theme of the human heart (the literal, anatomical human heart, not the cartoon Valentine's Day version). Last week a group of the teens visited me at City Hall to present me with a T-shirt. They were accompanied by artist Benjamin Volta, who worked with them on this project, Michael Norris, Executive Director of Art-Reach, and other staff from the participating organizations.

It was a great opportunity for me to see this grant program in action, to meet the kids, and also to talk to them a bit about what I - and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy - do. The kids also got to see our new show at the Art Gallery at City Hall, and learn a little but about the history of City Hall. In the photos above we are standing in front of a large work of art created by the kids and Ben Volta. One of the things I especially like about this program is that the winning designs have been mass-produced and are now on sale at the Villa stores at 1231 North Broad Street, and 5700 Germantown Avenue, or online at The shirts are $10 each and all the proceeds go to teen programs at these two centers. So this not just an arts program, not just an anti-violence program, but also an entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise program; the work of these students will generate business revenue that will go back into programs serving youth. The kids are also learning that art has value, and that designs can actually be sold in the marketplace. Would love to have more resources to better support programs like these. Very inspiring - this is why I do what I do...

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