Urban Artworks is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that helps teenagers find their artistic potential. Started in 1995, the organization provides opportunities for at-risk youth and contemporary artists to create artworks in public areas in Seattle. According to their mission statement, the 20-year-old nonprofit aims to “empower young people and transform communities.”
Volunteer and artist Kathleen Warren believes that the organization doesn’t just make neighborhoods look better, but also makes them safer. In an interview with Seattle Magazine, she says, “If there’s a piece of art that [the artists] put their time and energy into, they start to respect that corner or wall and keep an eye on it, and maintain that pride as long as the mural lasts.” The participants begin to feel a sense of unity, and 70 percent of those with a previous record do not commit another offense.
Volunteer Paulina Cholewinski says that her favorite part of working with the organization is “the opportunity to be a part of something more. By more I mean, being able to create public murals for all audiences to view … on their daily commute, touring the city or whatever else.” She believes that the nonprofit allows people to bring art to the community which they can view at any time. The artist enjoyed working most on a mural on Richmark Label in Capital Hall which they packed with colors, patterns and gradients after being told that the only rule was “no straight lines!”
In an effort to clean up graffiti along busways in Seattle, Urban Artworks has mentored, trained and reached over 2000 young people. For those interested in helping, the website offers arts education sessions to people between the ages of 14 and 18 to cover the city with colorful murals. Children typically get to fill in a previously outlined mural but, if they would like to “curate” the murals themselves, they can join a new program called “Urban Artworks Young Curators Group.” This group was launched by Warren and allows students to be a vital part of the planning process. It teaches them to apply for permits as well as conceptualize and execute ideas.
There are many other programs which youth can apply for. The After School Mural Program which provides subsidized employment training after school. Kids can learn how to work while creating public art and are paid hourly by their youth work readiness programs. Another program offered by Urban Artworks is the Summer Youth Program which allows kids to work on outdoor murals with the help of an artist.
The nonprofit organization welcomes people to show their support through online donations or volunteering to work with the youth on their website. Paulina Cholewinski says that, “All are great in their own way, whether it was the passion the artist’s brought or the atmosphere during painting. All are amazing.”