RiverzEdge Arts Project
In various studios inside a renovated mill in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, designers are conferring on a logo, artists are working on a screen-printing job, and a photographer is preparing for a fashion shoot. The scene has the feel of a busy commercial art studio, but for one thing: These designers, artists, and photographers are mostly teenagers. They are all participants in the RiverzEdge Arts Project, an innovative “social enterprise” organization that offers paid employment in the arts to at-risk youth from one of the poorest cities in the state.
Social service agencies and school guidance counselors refer students and young adults, ages 12 to 24, to participate in RiverzEdge. The program involves a significant commitment: Young people spend four afternoons (10 hours a week) during the school year, and 20 hours a week for seven weeks during the summer. Participants work closely with professional artists and peer mentors in four studios—painting, graphic design, screen-printing, and digital photography—to build artistic skills and professional work habits.
Creative projects include commercial accounts, as well. For example, Blue State Coffee, which operates coffee shops in Rhode Island and Connecticut, hired RiverzEdge to screen-print the company’s logo onto T-shirts. Family Resources Community Action, a local social services organization, chose RiverzEdge to design its annual report. And, the local Boys and Girls Club turned to RiverzEdge to create flyers and posters. The young people also design apparel, stationery, and furniture sold through Etsy, an Internet craft site.
In order to remain in the program, participants must stay in school and maintain at least a C average. Many are actively involved with the organization for several years. According to evaluations, the program helps reduce substance abuse and violent and destructive behaviors, while improving school attendance and performance. The real-world focus also helps young people enhance their communication skills and become more responsible and reliable—attributes that will assist them later in college and the professional world. It is noteworthy that every year since 2004, 100 percent of the program’s seniors have been accepted into college, including some of the nation’s leading art schools.
“If not for this program, most of these kids say that they would be out on the street after school, with nowhere to go. RiverzEdge is a safe haven for them, and for most of these kids, it’s the difference between having a very bleak future or having a bright, unlimited one.”Alysha Brock, RiverzEdge volunteer and Citizens Bank employee