St. Louis ArtWorks
For 5 hours a week after school and for 25 hours a week throughout the summer, teams of youth apprentices study one specific artistic discipline—painting/drawing, videography, dance, theater, photography, sculpture, printmaking, or graphic design—while participating in St. Louis ArtWorks. What sets this program apart is its focus on professionalism and workforce preparation for youth most at risk in the St. Louis area. Last year alone, more than 136 apprentices were hired for 184 positions.
Because students’ works of art are either commissioned by local organizations and businesses or sold to the public, they also learn how to communicate in a professional manner with potential clients. Through mentor and peer modeling, apprentices refine their abilities to greet a client and succinctly discuss their work and ideas for the project. This is experiential learning at a crucial moment, when the participant receives a commission for a job.
Focusing on the environment—especially rivers, pollinators, and native plants—is among the central themes of the apprentices’ art projects. And, for many of their assignments, participants conduct field research. For example, St. Louis ArtWorks partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation on a graphic design commission to create signage at local reserves and parks. During the process, apprentices learned about global warming, bee preservation, and invasive plant species. In addition, after collecting bees, the teens visited Washington University’s medical school and studied these insects, photographing them with scanning electron microscopes. The apprentices then created works of art from these photos, and from this experience, they gained insights into jobs in microscopy, as well as in medical and science textbook illustration.
St. Louis ArtWorks embodies a holistic approach to educating young people. It is important that students not only develop artistic abilities and successfully complete their commissions, but also participate in life skills workshops on such topics as fiscal literacy, social justice, and healthy relationships, to name a few. The program’s mission is to provide youth with a firm foundation, instilling in them the idea that they will always be able to reinvest in their art, thus leaving a legacy of work for themselves, their families, and their communities, for which they can be deeply proud.
Throughout the past 20 years, apprentices have demonstrated artistic development, life skills learning, and personal growth. It is noteworthy that 90 percent of St. Louis ArtWorks’ participants have graduated from high school and that 92 percent have pursued college or other post-secondary opportunities.
My belief is that the arts—learning to think creatively outside of the box—are always able to be tied to the box of any other field.Priscilla Block Executive Director, St. Louis ArtWorks