In 1995, a group of socially-concerned citizens saw a need for meaningful summer employment for underserved teens in St. Louis. ArtWorks started as a collaboration of the Mayor’s Office, the Regional Arts Commission, the Missouri Arts Council, Grand Center, and the St. Louis Agency on Training and Education. What began as a summer program has grown to providing employment and arts training for youth year round. Celebrating our 15th Birthday this year, St. Louis ArtWorks now has a state-of-the-art graphics studio, more than 1600 alumni, and a brighter future ahead.
The program’s first summer site was the Third Baptist Church in Grand Center, then downtown to the Art Lofts and then to St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. Next came two years in tents on the Gateway Mall – an exciting, if hot, time! ArtWorks enjoyed a home at Adams Elementary School for 4 years before moving to its first year round home in the Centene Center for the Arts & Education, back in Grand Center!
ArtWorks has also expanded over the years to include teen apprentices from around the metropolitan area, bringing a diverse group together in an effort to broaden their horizons. Teens from varying socio-economic and cultural backgrounds learn to better understand each other and work together as they not only enhance their artistic abilities, but their business and communication skills as well.
In 2002, we started producing public art commissions, developing a new source of earned income. 2006 was a banner year with ArtWorks winning the YouthBridge Community Foundation Award at the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competition from the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and using the award to establish ArtWorks Enterprises (AWE).
AWE's first venture, Boomerang Press, is home to the ‘Boomerang Gang,’ apprentices working in graphic arts, creating cards, logos, artistic signage and meeting other graphic design needs. Our latest social venture is BoomerRacks, a series of sculptural bicycle racks created through the creative recycling of old bicycles and other reusable materials, incorporating both green fabrication practices and healthy living into the lessons the apprentices learn.
In 2006, we also moved into a new home in the Centene Center for Arts & Education where we have 1257 square feet of studio space and a digital studio to offer up-to-the minute graphics training. In 2008, apprentices traveled to Tampa with Mayor Slay and presented alongside city leaders, securing St. Louis’ win in the National Civic League’s All America City Award, the city’s first win since 1958. Then, in 2009 ArtWorks was honored by FOCUS St. Louis with a What’s Right with the Region Award in the category of “Demonstrating Innovative Solutions.”
For the third summer, ArtWorks will be returning to our summer work site at the Commerce Bank Education Center, as our growing bike racks business BoomerRacks keeps over a dozen youth employed and experiencing the business of art!
We’re looking forward to an even brighter future, providing new opportunities to match our apprentices’ imaginations and dreams! Here’s to another 15 years!