Frustrated by the lack of easy access to art education in New York City’s public schools, Adarsh Alphons rented some office space in Harlem and launched ProjectArt, a largely passion-driven operation for the promotion of arts initiatives and creative endeavors for young New Yorkers. That was three years ago. Since then, ProjectArt, working with New York’s public libraries, has encouraged and channeled the creative energies of hundreds of kids, many of them from low-income neighborhoods, and extended its presence all over the city. What’s more, ProjectArt’s students, teachers, and organizers have also mounted a number of exhibitions in NYC galleries. They’ve even had a booth at Pulse Art Fair. We asked Adarsh to answer a few questions about his laudable organization as he works with his team to prepare their next big event, Project Exhibition 11, a one-night showing of works by 150 students, ages 4-17, that will be hosted by Denise Bibro Fine Art in Chelsea.
What was the initial catalyst three years ago? How did it all start? What were some major obstacles or crucial endorsements?
ProjectArt was founded three years ago because I truly believe that art can save lives. I was expelled from school when I was seven years old for underperforming in academics and drawing in every class. My parents put me in a different school, and by the time I was 15, I was painting portraits for Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and the Pope, all because one art teacher recognized my passion for art, encouraged my aptitude, and believed in me. Art opened new doors and helped me work through setbacks as a young adult. Having lived in a low-income NYC neighborhood and seen myself in the youth there, I wanted to make sure they have the opportunities that will help them work through their personal challenges and stay in school, while giving them an outlet to express themselves creatively and constructively. In a short span of time, ProjectArt has become the fastest growing national solution to the arts education crisis, with 14 sites citywide.
Describe the current mix of ProjectArt’s activities and venues. Are certain types of classes or gatherings located in certain boroughs?
ProjectArt’s model is easy to replicate and infinitely scalable. We aim to create a ripple effect of cultural engagement and community-building in libraries by offering free art classes for youth with curriculums that are reflective of their traditions and community. Furthermore, celebrating the students’ work via exhibitions, we give youth insights into the art world. Currently, we offer free art classes for children and youth in 14 public library locations: seven branches in Brooklyn, in Bushwick, Prospect Heights, Flatbush, Brownsville, Arlington, Saratoga and Cypress Hills; three in Queens, in Corona, Steinway, Broadway and Forest Hills; two in the Bronx, in Grand Concourse and Hunt’s Point; and one in Harlem, in Hamilton Grange. Offering art classes as an option for children is a great way to address numerous aspects of a youth’s development, while spurring excitement and achievement at one of our nation’s oldest and most significant institutions its public libraries.
One of your next huge agenda items is Project Exhibition 11. Care to highlight a few things about this special show, one that will most certainly double as a great holiday gift for all involved?
We are thrilled to announce Project Exhibition 11, a special, one-night-only exhibition and reception celebrating the work of our students from across the city. It’s completely free and open to the public, and we really hope to have a great show of support for the kids. A majority of our students have never been to an art gallery before, so one can just imagine the feeling of seeing their art on a gallery’s walls. It’s an experience that the child will very likely never forget. If you’re looking to support a charity this holiday season, think about ProjectArt and the value of creativity in kids’ lives. Following one of our recent exhibitions, a student walked up to me and said, “ProjectArt is the best thing to ever happen to me.” It’s inspiring!
What’s on the horizon for ProjectArt programming in 2015?
In 2015, we are going to further expand our reach by opening approximately ten more locations, including in Staten Island. By the end of next year or early 2016, we will be in 26 public libraries—and in virtually every neighborhood in NYC that has a serious lack of access to arts education. At the same time, we hope to foster a public discourse on the pivotal necessity of arts education in a child’s life. Once we are able to sustain operations in our city’s 26 branches, our goal is to bring ProjectArt’s scalable model to other large metropolitan areas. Every metro in the US has a public library network. Public libraries are an undervalued and underused resource, and due to their existing infrastructure and locations, they have tremendous potential to directly impact communities in a highly cost-effective way. Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, and L.A. are great prospects for ProjectArt’s next moves.
Project Exhibition 11 will be held on Tuesday, December 16th, from 6-8pm, at Denise Bibro Fine Art, located in Chelsea at 529 West 20th St, 4W. More information about ProjectArt, including ways in which you might get involved, at projectart.org.
You can follow Paul D’Agostino on Twitter @postuccio