Supporting Local Artists (And Why It Matters)
Like a couple of stoked little sixth graders in back-to-school jeans, Workbar Boston & Cambridge both got new looks last week. Workbar has gone local with its interior artwork, thanks to Cambridge Arts Council’s “Open Studios” program and non-profit organization Artists for Humanity.
To local artists seeking exposure, Open Studios is a boon. Julie Barry, Director of the Cambridge Community Arts program, has been collaborating with companies and artists for five years, and has developed a system where companies can pay a tax-deductable stipend for the loan of art for a year. The company can either hand-select the works to be displayed, or rely on artists from the program to curate the space and select the pieces. Workbar Cambridge has been partnering with the Open Studios program for the past 3 years with fantastic results, rotating new artwork into the space every 6 months or so.
Almost 400 pieces adorn the interiors of roughly eight businesses around Cambridge. The artists get some of the money for the loan of their work, and might even sell a painting or three.
“Once they participate,” Mrs. Barry explained, “the artist is part of an online database accessible by other companies.” After a year-long sojourn as an installation, it’s a quick leap for the piece to become visible by the larger community. Or purchased. As she swapped a metal piece above the Workbar café for its replacement, she said the feedback from artists and their impromptu galleries has been amazing. It is art apropos for a coworking space: shared connections amid a fluid lineup.
This new collection is particularly bright and cheerful, featuring saturated colors, playful use of quilting and textiles, and layered, multi-media pieces. The Cambridge café, a cavernous, light-filled space, is flanked on either side by two boldly colorful pieces on huge rolls of canvas, anchoring the large open space and providing a pop of color against the exposed brick walls.
Over at Workbar Boston we’re developing a new relationship to help support local artists. The most recent installation of artwork comes from Artists for Humanity, a non-profit organization that hires teens from underserved neighborhoods to work as artists for a diverse set of clients. Youth in the program have the opportunity to flex their creative skills, work closely with mentors, and learn what it takes to make a living off of your artwork.
On Wednesday evening, Workbar Boston members got the chance to hear first-hand how transformative the experience at AFH can be for teens at an intimate reception for the organization’s staff, alumni, and artists. Alumnus Rashad Nelson spoke to the group, sharing how he had struggled in school because all he wanted to do was draw, graffiti, and doodle on his desks. Going to AFH for the first time opened Rashad’s eyes to newer, less conventional opportunities for a career. The 24-year-old artist first attended AFH at the age of 14. Now he sells pieces on a regular basis, allowing him to make a living from his own work, and is having his first solo gallery exhibition in September. “We need a t-shirt…AFH saved my life. It’s an incredible place,” Rashad enthusiastically remarked as he showed the assembled group a print of a graffiti-themed abstract he created at 17 years old.
The reception ended with a gallery-walk through Workbar Boston, where teens Allison and Tasha were able to talk publicly about the inspiration behind their artwork for the first time.
Tasha, who recently graduated from high school and will soon be attending Mass Art, was inspired by the ice and snow of this past year’s brutal winter. Her painting played with shape, color, texture- the crackled ice motif shifts from a flat blue and white pattern in the top corner to much darker and more tactile 3 dimensional elements on the opposite end.
For Allison, the exuberant color palette in her abstract piece was a departure from the norm; she usually focuses on darker colors. Looking at Allison’s piece, different spaces start to open up within it, and new shapes and perspectives become apparent. It’s a truly remarkable piece in its own right for any artist to produce, but for a 16-year-old rising senior, it exemplifies the value of the Artists for Humanity program for the youth involved. Like the practice of creating art itself, AFH is about growth, self-expression, and learning.
If you want to know more about how you can bring beautiful, local art to your office space, you can reach out to Brenda Leong from Artists for Humanity at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Julie Barry at the Cambridge Arts Council at email@example.com.
About the Author(s): Ann Holland is a Space & Community Manager at Workbar Cambridge. You may also address her as Potroast. Catch her on Instagram and Twitter under the handle @SamuelEnderby
Dave Gentry is a fan of progress and recess. He believes in old English and new fortune cookies and answers to #davertido.