Art meets life for at-risk youth at CATC

Walking through the front door at the Cincinnati Arts and Technology Center, you know you’ve entered a transformative space. From the exposed brick walls to the contemporary art gallery, the space appeals to all those who enter to create, and provides them the means to leave a changed individual. For youth considered “at-risk” in Cincinnati, the CATC is at once an art studio, safe haven and launching pad for a better life.
In 2001 Cincinnati Public Schools found itself searching for a way to combat racial tensions and a staggeringly high drop out rate among its students.

Founded by Lee Carter, former chairman of the board of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and LindaTresvant, CEO from 2003-2008, the CATC is modeled after social architect Bill Strickland’s Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburgh. The program is founded on the premise that art can provide a catalyst for personal growth and a backdrop for change when at-risk youth are encouraged to explore creative capacities. 
The CATC works with juniors and seniors in CPS who are at risk for having insufficient credits to graduate high school. The program provides the opportunity to earn one credit for graduation through fine art, and includes a job-training component called Bridging the Gap designed to help prepare teens for life after high school.

“The CATC is very much a seamless program with CPS,” says Clara Martin, chief executive officer. “It provides a learning experience that these kids wouldn’t normally receive and allows them to spend quality time with a trusted adult.”
Located in Longworth Hall amid a bevy of design firms, the CATC employs working artists and entrepreneurs from the community. According to Gail Silver of Silver Light Communications, “Kids sometimes come to the program expecting it to be boring. Once they start working with real life artists however, they become completely excited. The instructors play the role of teacher, mentor and role model.”
The program focuses on fine art projects and skills that correspond to one thematic unit. A full-time social worker weaves the thematic unit into mini-workshops that bring the art lessons full circle with what is happening in the student’s life at home.

“For example, one thematic unit might focus on recognizing and creating patterns with varied art mediums while the social worker encourages the student to consider recurring patterns in his or her life,” says Martin. “The mental health component is closely tied to what the kids are learning in art class. Add this to job preparation training, and the results are very encouraging.”

With graduation rates hovering at around 94 percent for seniors in the program, something must be working.
According to Martin and Silver, approximately 50 percent of CATC graduates go to college. For the other half, the CATC offers job preparation training through its Bridging the Gap program. Bridging the Gap offers hands on skills that can help a graduate secure an entry-level position with participating employers. Currently, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is the largest employer, providing entry-level positions that offer health benefits and the opportunity for tuition reimbursement for graduates who would like to attend college.
The CATC features five studios, including digital multimedia, 2D drawing and painting, 3D sculpture, ceramics and stained glass. The site also features an art gallery where twice a year students showcase and sell their work. Student art can also be seen at various locations around the city including the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, the Mayerson Academy, Duke Energy Center and more.

“Our kids become contributors to the community through their art,” says Martin. “Our program provides a unique opportunity for them to give back to the community. It’s an experience they don’t often get.”
Not only are students providing art for the community, they are also helping a new business with product design. In March, CATC students will participate in focus groups for Blegalbloss to help design uses for its products. Students will provide both decorative and functional design concepts. Later this month, students will see prototypes for selected student-created designs planned for production and sales across the country.
“It’s not just about art,” says Martin. “It’s about relationships.”
Do Good:
• Become: a participating employer for CATC’s Bridge the Gap program. 

• Sponsor: a student.  
• Donate: and help the CATC bridge the gap.

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