“Art is a highly misunderstood field. The work that I do is not because you want to create a generation of artists; that’s not the goal of ProjectArt. The goal is to get people to get in touch with their creative side because we believe creativity is in the heart of innovation and innovation is important to every industry.”
Adarsh Alphons, founder of ProjectArt has triggered a wave of transformation in New York, Detroit and Miami with his unique approach on art. With his organization, ProjectArt, Alphons aims at catering art to children who otherwise would not have adequate access to an arts education. In fact, since the project’s launch in 2011 in New York City, ProjectArt has grown not only in numbers but also in leadership and engagement. “Art is a highly misunderstood field. The work that I do is not because you want to create a generation of artists; that’s not the goal of ProjectArt. The goal is to get people to get in touch with their creative side because we believe creativity is in the heart of innovation and innovation is important to every industry.”
Alphons’ tryst with art began very early in his life. When he was seven, he was expelled from school for drawing in every class, but that was no deterrent in keeping the artist in him quiet. Eight years later, at a different school, in a different setting, with a different set of people, Alphons was painting portraits of Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and the Pope. “For the first time I felt, if I could study I could do drawing. And there wasn't something mentally wrong with me and that led to drawing a lot.” One of the biggest moments for him occurred when Nelson Mandela visited New Delhi as the President of South Africa and Alphons got to present Mandela’s portrait to Mandela in person.
Building up on his gusto of artistic expression, Alphons moved to the United States to study art. While he was staying in Harlem, a traditionally underserved neighbourhood in New York City, a range of reports in context of depreciating support towards arts education in New York and the rest of the country accentuated Alphons’ motivation to create a platform such as ProjectArt. “Art saved my life. It is the only thing that kept me going when times were rough. Art is an outlet for me, it’s an outlet of expression. It’s what led me and particularly [leads] young people to express their thoughts, ideas and expressions through a tool that is a lot more fundamental to human being,” Alphons says while explaining the importance of Art.
ProjectArt conducts classes at public libraries that are located close to schools where there is an absence of art instructors. In fact, Alphons described the involvement of public libraries as a “breakthrough” moment because conducting classes in libraries means usage of library for other self-development purposes. A 2016 report by ProjectArt claims 57 per cent of students are first-time library goers despite the fact that they are residing in the same neighbourhood as the library; 85 per cent of enrolled students discuss the program with their friends and bring in additional students to the classes; 81 per cent students report participation in ProjectArt boosts their self-esteem; and 91 per cent of students claim art is an important component in their lives.
However, encouragement of creativity is not the only aspect ProjectArt seeks to promote. Behavioural transformation is also central for the overall development of its students which is why conducting classes under the roof of a library is beneficial. ProjectArt claims 70 per cent of students extend their hours of library usage beyond ProjectArt classes in order to do homework, read, and use the computer; 54 per cent enroll themselves in various library programs and services; 59 per cent make use of library’s technology services before and after class; and 55 per cent accompany their families to the libraries propelling an active engagement of the family with the library.
A typical class at ProjectArt comprises discussions, sharing of ideas and thoughts centrally themed on art. And because all classes are project-based, students have something unique to explore and build upon in each session. The best part here is that at the end of each semester, students get to display their work in contemporary art galleries complete with a professionally-organized reception. Needless to say, this goes on to boost not only the confidence but also the creative cringe that ultimately populates into other areas of their life. Perhaps, this is Alphons’ way of giving each student the ‘Mandela moment’ that he had when he ecstatically presented Mandela’s portrait to Mandela himself.
Close to completing six years in 2017, ProjectArt is receiving immense support nationwide in the US. They presently have 24 locations in New York, four in Detroit and five in Miami. They will soon be expanding to Los Angeles and Chicago and with the looks of it, it seems that ProjectArt is well on its way to becoming the largest arts school for kids in the US. Kudos to the passionate volunteer base and staff at ProjectArt!