Fresh Artists: Empowering Youth Through Digital Print
A nonprofit PSP makes children's artwork larger than life.
What began as a simple assignment in 2008 to fill the new School District of Philadelphia headquarters with art has since blossomed into a nonprofit print shop working to empower low-income children. Barbara Allen and her son (and now business partner) Roger opted to make the building’s interior décor representative of the work done there. They collected artwork from students, digitized the images, and enlarged them with the help of a local printer. Both the Allen family and the school district employees were blown away by the end result, and just like that, Fresh Artists was born.
Fresh Artists integrates art, philanthropy, youth empowerment, and digital print. The nonprofit collects digital images of children’s artwork, with the artist keeping the original art and retaining its copyright. “It’s like our museum collection,” adds Barbara Allen, founder and president. “It’s now surpassed 2000 pieces.” The artwork is then turned into a product, with large-format posters and wall art, decals and stickers, dollhouses, and throw pillows serving as just some of the end products. Businesses or corporations can donate to Fresh Artists, and in return receive large-format reproductions of student art. Fresh Artists then uses the funds to deliver art supplies and art programs to underfunded schools.
Fresh Artists is not an organization known for staying stagnant. Since its inception, the nonprofit has gone from outsourcing its printing needs to a local shop to creating all art reproduction in-house with equipment donated or purchased from various manufacturers and SGIA members. Fresh Artists, which began in Allen’s home, is now housed in its own warehouse. With the growth in square footage came parallel growth in the company’s offerings. Fresh Artists still collects artwork from K-12 students and donates supplies schools, but the shop now hosts a creative careers expo and in-house workshops for young artists, among other ongoing projects.
One such workshop is Summer Design Lab, an eight-week program that pairs Philadelphia Public middle school students interested in art with students majoring in industrial design from Thomas Jefferson University (formerly Philadelphia University). The middle schoolers provide drawing skills, while the college interns bring experience and knowledge in design to collaborate and create prototype products. This past summer, the program produced diverse stick figure family decals, a dollhouse, and what Allen calls “soft sculptures – aka throw pillows,” she laughs. “But shaped ones!”
The soft sculpture project was spearheaded by Richard Stone, a Jefferson University student with an interest in sewing. Stone discovered Fresh Artists’ “Silly City” collection of hand-drawn architecture, primarily drawn by third- through sixth-graders, depicting “architectural gems from their own community,” explains Allen, such as Independence Hall, City Hall, the art museum, The Betsy Ross house, and the Liberty Bell. Stone took one look at the collection and knew this artwork was perfect for creating fun and unique throw pillows. He transformed the designs into soft sculpture form utilizing the shop’s Sawgrass Virtuoso VJ 628, printing onto Fisher Textiles 8330 Hercules fabric, and cutting with a Mutoh Kona 1400. From there, Stone stuffed and sewed the 25 architectural pillows sure to liven up any living room or office space.
Who says design is only for adults (or that fun is only for kids)? Through Fresh Artists, children who may not otherwise get the opportunity to flex their creative muscles are encouraged to let that creativity flow. And who knows: Today’s Fresh Artists students just may be tomorrow’s art directors, large-format design specialists, shop owners, and studio executives.