It is a busy afternoon at the Baltimore Resettlement Center. Ten high school students chat, laugh, and bustle around, working diligently on a variety of projects. Snippets of French, Tigrinya, and occasionally Pular can be heard above the ding of the sewing machine and the swish of necklace making.
These are the students of ArtWorks, a social enterprise creating products at the intersection of art, culture, and refugee experiences. An initiative of Baltimore City Community College’s Refugee Youth Project (BCCC RYP), ArtWorks is still a new venture, transitioning from a small scale fundraiser to a full retail operation.
In late, 2012, BCCC RYP had a vision to expand current community arts programming to meet an even larger audience--why not sell extra artwork created by students during programming? That holiday season, BCCC RYP was a first-time vendor at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s premier holiday shopping event, Art Market. The program received an enthusiastic welcome, and completely sold out of all its’ products! Encouraged and excited, BCCC RYP created ArtWorks
Now in its’ third full year, ArtWorks features a variety of unique products. Student artwork has been turned into stationary, recipes from around the world are featured in a cookbook, and candles are scented with smells reminiscent of student’s home countries. Handmade by refugee youth in grades K-12, products are created at summer programming, during special “maker’s days,” and through community arts programming throughout the school year.
ArtWorks has expanded from one holiday festival in 2012 to three in 2015, and has added several consignment agreements. In addition to attending markets in November and December, ArtWorks also participates in art events throughout the year, including ArtScape. ArtWorks is excited to add another distribution channel in 2016—an online store.
What’s next for ArtWorks? BCCC RYP’s Coordinator, Kursten Pickup, envisions the enterprise as a vocational training opportunity for refugee youth. She and her team are working hard to secure funding to provide 10 local refugee youth with stipends to create part time employment opportunities, as well as provide targeted support in career development and financial literacy.
ArtWorks provides refugee youth with a valuable opportunity to engage with art for personal expression, cultural communion, and even healing. By operating as a business, ArtWorks not only has the opportunity to become sustainable, but also to share with a wider audience the creativity of Baltimore youth from around the world.
Chelsea Coston works with the Refugee Youth Project based in Baltimore. She is the coordinator for the ArtWorks Program, an initiative of the RYP, which she talked about above. She has volunteered for many other causes, including Feed the Homeless in which she served as director. You can find more information on their Facebook.