This is the first story in a series profiling the grant recipients of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation. Read all of the profiles here.
On a wall bordering a sloped section of 138th Street, a colorful mural combines animals, patterns, and faces into an elaborate artistic structure that stretches for nearly half a block between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.
The mural adorns a wall surrounding P.S. 192, where children gather every weekend to draw pictures and write stories about topics ranging from environmental preservation to racial equality—programs available because of the Creative Arts Workshops for Kids, a local nonprofit that uses art to keep students off the streets and encourage children to express their creativity.
The workshop is one of the 83 organizations that received a total of $2 million late last month from the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, which is in charge of distributing the $76 million Columbia earmarked for the community in the wake of its Manhattanville expansion.
CAW Executive Director Brian Ricklin said he plans to use his $20,000 grant to expand his summer employment program to include after-school job opportunities in schools across Community District 9.
The group hired local students and paid them minimum wage to paint the 138th Street mural in 2011, as well as another mural at the Doe Fund's Harlem Center for Opportunity in the summer of 2012—a job that required 79 employees.
However, "we're more than just a mural program," Ricklin said. The group hosts weekend workshops at P.S. 192 and other local schools that teach topics like painting, architecture, and urban design.
"We believe creativity should be everywhere," Ricklin said. "Sadly some adults lose their creativity, which is why we are getting these little cherubs now."
The work not only encourages students to express their creativity, but also impresses upon them the importance of abiding by commitments and working within a professional structure, he said.
"In our mind, we're preparing them for adult responsibility and not just higher education," Ricklin said.
Students who fail to show up or complete their work on time are asked to leave. "In art, the consequences aren't that serious," he said. "But they are real."
Ricklin said a major responsibility for last summer's employees was the challenge of working with a client. CAW employees who painted the Doe Fund mural were required to collaborate with the formerly homeless and incarcerated men who were living at the home, and lay out their vision for how the mural should take shape over the summer.
Richard Rosado, who worked on CAW projects in the summers of 2011 and 2012 and now teaches some of the organization's Saturday workshops, said his time with CAW had helped bring out his creativity and interest in art as a possible profession.
"It basically gave me the chance to get a job," he said. "And when I met Brian and [Program Director] Molaundo Jones, they gave me the push to make art not just a hobby, but a potential career."
Another CAW alumnus, teaching assistant Anthony Blake, called the program a refuge for children interested in art.
Many of the kids at the Saturday workshop "don't have the opportunity to express themselves in the arts," Blake said.
"When I went in the first year I didn't know anything at all," Kathy Chalas, who worked on the P.S. 192 mural, said. "It was good to try something new. It's something I had never done before. They put responsibility in us, so you have to think on your own."
Ricklin said he is excited to teach children through a variety of media, including photojournalism and even videography, when the after-school workshops begin next academic year.
"We want to get them excited about opportunities in which they can creatively solve problems," he said. "Whether you are a journalist or a banker, there is creativity in everything we do."
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