ArtWorks projects' impact lingers on walls, in lives

It was a big, blank moldy wall on Covington's Washington Street this time last year. Now, a brightened, clean parking lot sits next to the building, which is home to Be Concerned, a non-profit that helps low-income families obtain necessities. The art has transformed a neighborhood eyesore to a sign of rebirth through art.

The massive ArtWorks mural, with blues and greens that reflect the power of the Ohio River, is full of hopeful images - a flower, a fish, a grove of blooming trees. It is the result of the work of a team of 14 apprentice artists, lead artist Tina Westerkamp and three teachers.

One young mural worker on the project made a two and a half our journey from his home in Roselawn to Covington to get to work each day. He took two busses and walked across a bridge. He did it for minimum wage. He did it to make art.

"We want to set these kids up for success," says Tamara Harkavy, founding director of ArtWorks, the largest employer of visual artists in the community.

This is the 16th summer that ArtWorks has sponsored public art projects that do more than provide jobs and add a splash of color to neighborhoods. "These are real investments in community," says Harkavy. In Covington, for example, the mural inspired new lighting for the parking lot as well as a concerted effort to keep the space clean.

Last year, ArtWorks received 400 applications and hired 75 apprentices between the ages of 14 and 21. This year, Harkavy wants more. She wants double, to be precise. By adding $300,000 to her $800,000 budget from last year, she can hire 150 apprentices to work on projects, including a C. F. Payne-designed mural, "Sing," on the side of WCET's office building in Over-the-Rhine.

This summer, innovative art projects are planned for Avondale, Mt. Adams, Newport, Covington, downtown and Over-the-Rhine. One, at the Ronald McDonald House in Avondale, will employ 16 apprentices to add art to 26 guest rooms and conduct an art-making workshop with families.

Harkavy knows the lasting impression made by ArtWorks extends beyond the paint on walls. With 15 summers completed, she often runs into lawyers, surgeons and professors and artists, all former ArtWorks apprentices, who credit the summer job with changing their lives.

Do Good:

Adopt an Apprentice. As little as $25 can sponsor a young artist for a half a day's work creating a lasting piece of community-inspired beauty.

Interview an apprentice. Help ArtWorks narrow the talented applicant pool.

Hear why they do it. ArtWorks alums describe the program and their role in it.

By Elissa Yancey

Photo courtesy of ArtWorks

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