For three years, Rachel Speck, an elementary school art teacher, has been organizing youth arts programming as part of the mission of the New Orleans Community Printshop in the Bywater.
Neighborhood youths, ages 5 to 18, stop by on Wednesdays to get help with homework and eat free pizza for supper. They also learn how to screen-print T-shirts and posters, and take Saturday field trips, including visits to the Contemporary Arts Center, Pharmacy Museum in the French Quarter or Bayou Jean Lafitte. It’s the exposure to the arts, combined with the hands-on opportunities to demonstate their own artistic sensibilities, that keep the young people coming to the project.
The all-volunteer, nonprofit printshop recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $9,000 to pay for art supplies and field trips in the upcoming year. The printshop not only nurtures children’s creative abilities and stimulates curiosity, but also keeps them out of mischief.
“[The printshop] is the best thing that could have happened to the kids,” said Janet Fortnes, a grandmother of three children who are printshop regulars.
Speck and her two co-founders, photographer Meg Turner and print maker Vanessa Adams, were able to lease a historic building that was once an icehouse to house a combination silkscreen shop, black-and-white darkroom and community gallery, supported by a volunteer membership.
Screen printing is a traditional printing technique that uses a mesh-based stencil to apply ink to a material, whether fabric, paper, stickers, vinyl, wood or other material. There are several steps and only one color is printed at a time, using a squeegee.
“It is a nice, classic look for a print,” Speck said.
Tata Anderson tried to sneak into the print shop when she was only 2 years old. Now 5, she is allowed to participate on the Free Days. Her older sister, Melanie, loves to draw, sing and dance. Many of the neighborhood children love music, so the printshop collaborated with the Girls’ Rock Camp at NOCCA.
“I feel that (the printshop) has brought a lot to the neighborhood,” said the girls’ mother, Shantal Anderson, who charbroils oysters to sell during The St. Claude Arts District’s Second Saturday Art Walks. The printshop regularly participates in the Art Walk’s gallery openings, where the children are able make money selling their art created during Youth Days at the printshop. Sales from an annual August art show allows families to afford necessary art supplies.
“It helps kids focus on something, shows them ways to make money and exposes them to other things,” Speck said.
The children have gained far more than artistic techniques from the printshop. Before the nonprofit moved to Bywater, they were always squabbling.
“They were just bored with nothing to do,” said Speck, who spent a great deal of time in those early days talking to parents about disruptive behavior. There is much more harmony now that the children have a creative outlet and planned activities. Speck is helping a few develop art portfolios that might even gain them admission to high school at NOCCA.
“The Youth Day Program is crucial to the neighborhood and the well-being of the kids,” Speck said.
The program also offers an Open Shop for adults from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. For information, visit nolacommunityprintshop.org.
To contribute to the Youth Day campaign before June 20, visit bit.ly/saveyouthday.