A monthlong program run by a community center and a local nonprofit instills confidence in East Baltimore youths while teaching art and life skills

Through art, students find a positive picture


Last summer, 12-year-old Crystal Smith spent almost every day sitting on the couch in her East Baltimore home, watching TV.

This summer, she's painting furniture, creating mosaics, earning money and planning to sell her artwork at Artscape.

Crystal and 12 other young people are getting paid to make art and learn basic job skills through a program funded by the Abell Foundation and run by the Rose Street Community Center and Art with a Heart, a nonprofit that brings art instruction to communities in need.

The students, who attend five four-hour art classes a week for a month, are paid a stipend of $50 a week and are given the opportunity to sell their work at Artscape, program founder Randi Pupkin said.

Last week, the students, who range in age from 11 to 23, painted children's tables and chairs in designs based on classic children's books. Working in twos or threes, the young people discussed color choices as they clustered around tables in the air-conditioned cafeteria of Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary School.

"It gives me something to do in the summer," said Christian Brown, 15, as he dotted red paint onto a Dr. Seuss themed-table. "I don't like to be stuck in the house."

Walker Gladden III, the Rose Street youth coordinator, said the majority of the students live in the neighborhood near the elementary school, which is at North Montford Avenue and East Chase Street in East Baltimore.

"To consistently engage yourself in art in a positive environment five days a week when your other environment is not so positive is a powerful experience," Gladden said. "It's not just coming here specifically for art - it's life skills."

Students are required to abide by a dress code, refrain from using cell phones during class and treat their fellow students and teachers with respect, Gladden and Pupkin said. They are paid $10 a day for each day they come, but they forfeit their money for the week if they miss more than one class. They also will get to keep the proceeds from any of the works they sell at Artscape.

"We have to be firm in the rules even though our hearts are melting," Gladden said.

Learning to follow the rules was a challenge at first for Randolph Smith, a high-energy 11-year-old. "I learned how to paint and be respectful and not to go crazy when you get mad," Randolph said.

Of the 13 students, Randolph is the youngest and the shortest by a head. Last week, he stood on a the seat of a cafeteria table as he slapped green paint across the top of a table inspired by the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Kinard Smith, 13, was eager to show off a pop-art trashcan, decorated with brightly colored images of a bulldog and the mosaic mirror he had made with marbles and broken glass earlier in the summer. He said that he spent his earnings on snack food and firecrackers for the Fourth of July.

When Kinard thinks about Artscape, the three-day city-sponsored midtown arts festival that begins July 21, he imagines "watching people buy your stuff and watching how amazed they are by the colors and how it was done."

Asteja Armstead, 12, her arm spattered with yellow paint, was engrossed in embellishing the Dr. Seuss table last week. A seventh-grade student at Lombard Middle School, Asteja said that she doesn't have art classes at her school.

Older students especially benefit from the career skills that they learn in the program. Some of the more mature students spent a day shadowing employees of the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Pupkin also arranged for speakers to discuss job skills with the students and took the group on a tour of the American Visionary Art Museum.

"This is my first for-real job," said Carmalita Brown, 21. She leaves her 11-month old son with her grandmother so that she can attend the classes, Brown said. She plans to spend her week's pay on new shoes for her son.

After spending a day shadowing a housekeeper at the Hyatt, Brown made plans to return to the hotel next week and apply for a position on the cleaning staff.

At the end of each week, Pupkin and Linda Latzlsberger meet with each student and discuss his or her accomplishments or struggles. Then Pupkin hands each student the pay, which many request in a stack of 50 $1 bills. "It's so it looks like I have lots of money," Crystal said.

Sandra Peebles, 14, blushed and ducked her head shyly as Pupkin and Latzlsberger praised her work during the weekly conference.

For the first few days after Sandra joined the program, "I never saw you smile, you never ate anything at lunch," Pupkin said. "You've been smiling for a week and a half now."

Sandra, who wore little gold hoops in her ears and a wrist full of plastic bracelets, looked down at the table as a grin broke across her face.

"Now you have more trust in the people around you," Latzlsberger said, congratulating Sandra on her teamwork and dedication to the project. "Today, I just saw you glowing."


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.