TEDxBoston – Susan Rodgerson – Artists for Humanity


Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Tatjana Jevdjic Hi.
I’m an artist and an entrepreneur, and my life’s been shaped
and empowered by the creative process. And I wanted to share
that experience with young people who don’t have access to the arts –
Urban kids from Boston. So, in 1991, I had a…
what I thought was a really simple idea, and that is that I would find a group of kids, and I would make large-scale
collaborative paintings with them, and sell them to corporations, so their voice would be on the wall
of corporate America. And I found one school
that would allow me to come. Oh, sorry! The thing should be rolling. These are the young people I work with
and some of their creations. So, I went to this one school
and I found this principal who allowed me to make a sample piece
with a group of kids. And what I found, were young people
really hungry to have a voice in the world and be part of something
outside of their communities. So we made a painting,
4 x 12 foot painting, about education. And after the piece was completed,
a group of five kids approached me and told me that it was summer
and they had nowhere to go and nothing to do, and could they make another painting. So they came to my studio. They were waiting for me in the morning
and I was driving home at night, and my life was forever changed. And so were theirs. Four of those original five kids
had been with Artist for Humanity for almost twenty years now. And they’re also working to mentor their peers,
the young peers. But what was really interesting
is they had no idea that artists went to a building
and made art and created stuff, and they felt, suddenly felt really privileged. You know, young people that come
from underserved communities or uninspiring schools,
as we’ve heard from others today, really don’t have an opportunity
for enrichment. Well, these kids come to our place with,
as John introduced, the Platinum Leed Certified Building,
which we designed, and they have been in for almost six years. It was actually designed by
one of those original co-founders who became an architect
and worked on the team. So we have 200 kids a year
that come to our place and are paid by the hour,
plus commission, to make fine art
and provide design services to businesses. This year we hope to earn 45%
of our cash expenses from revenue generated
from the works that they do – so, multi-studio, visual arts, organization. Last year,
we completed 726 projects successfully. These are kids who have no training,
no experience, and they’re mentored
by young professional artists, like those co-founders that I told you about. And because they come every day, and they’re part of this amazing collegial
and creative environment, they make incredible progress. And their progress drives them
to work harder and that working harder just has this multiplier effect
on their development. It’s an amazing experience for these kids. I invite you all to come. We’ve done projects… We had an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts,
for example. Some of the fine artists exhibited
through leasing program: photography, painting, sculpture – it’s also sold in galleries
and in public places. And we do really high-end,
very sophisticated, complicated commissions. One of our most exciting
entrepreneurial ventures is a line of furniture made
from recycled junk mail and magazines,
which you’ll see coming up. And this was started as a client project, but was really embraced by the kids, and we now sell this furniture
across the country, in museum stores, the deCordova Museum,
for example, and in galleries. And young people are totally committed
to this process of inventing these new designs, and continuing to grow this line. We recently won a state-wide competition
to design a bike rack for the city of Boston and we created six amazing designs. The kids did everything,
from sketches to model building, to presenting them to officials from the city. And these are kids who are having a hard time
passing math class, but they were able to build, to scale and now they work as part
of the build environment of Boston. These were recently installed
at Brigham Circle. So I think, you know, the lesson here
is that kids need opportunities, they need challenges, and urban kids in particular need access
to the creative process. We’ve since gone on to design
a series of bike racks for Mayor Meninos Bike Week,
which is really exciting, and we’re actually having an unveiling
this week of some of those. This is our facility, the epicenter. Part of the plan here is to have exhibitions, while we rent the space for events. It’s Platinum Leed Certified,
we make our own solar energy, and the kids get to feel
the amazing empowerment of being in a beautiful space
that’s environmentally sustainable, where they can learn about sustainability. You know, in the old days,
kids worked in the fields after school, and they felt valued by their families, and, you know, these kids now feel
by earning a wage, being creative
and being part of a community like they’re part of a culture and civic society, and we’re very proud of them. Thank you. (Applause)

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