Kim Loper was working as an Americorps Fellow at Jubilee Arts after the Baltimore Uprising, following the death of Freddie Gray, happened. In the aftermath, many organizations rightly became keenly interested in better engaging the city’s young people, giving them voice and tapping into their creative spirits.
Loper, who earned her MFA in Community Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art, wants to take that a step further. She’s a big believer in workforce development through art, helping young people earn money with their creativity.
“I have been doing community arts for forever and I saw that there was a gap in programming in regards to generating sustainable income and revenue for young people,” Loper says. “When we look at entrepreneurship where young people are creating art, they’re often trying to sell their art by asking their donor base to buy it. I’m looking for alternative models that generate revenue on a larger scale.”
With her OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship, Loper will expand and strengthen an existing Jubilee Arts program – that started shortly before she began working there – Youth in Business, into the Youth in Business Design Collective. Youth in Business is a program that cultivates the entrepreneurial and leadership skills of high school aged youth by providing them with hands-on experience operating an arts-related business.
Loper will focus her project on teaching young people 21st century design and technical computer skills in order to make saleable items, such as graphically designed screen printed T-shirts, laser cut wooden jewelry, greeting cards, ornaments and posters. In collaboration with a ceramist, the youth produce items such as mosaic mirrors, ornaments, address signs and functional clay products. The students in the program also learn entrepreneurial skills and soft and hard business skills from a business teacher.
“In focus groups, Jubilee Arts found that teens are not as interested in taking art classes as they are in finding employment,” Loper says, which makes sense considering the 2014 census showed that unemployment rates among Baltimore youth ages 16-19 was 40-percent. Loper’s program will focus on students mainly in west Baltimore, such as those who live in the Upton, Druid Heights and Sandtown-Winchester neighborhoods.
“Our young people have to earn money,” she says. “If we want them to stay focused, off the streets, we need to give them positive reinforcement. That means we have to pay our youth.”
Loper will help the youth explore sustainable ways of monetizing their creativity and hard work, such as through ecommerce models – to try to reach a broader network of potential customers.
The program participants also will learn about cooperative economics, marketing, communications, budgets, inventory, retail management and financial literacy. They’ll also receive college and career coaching, and leadership development mentoring.
“We’re interested in shifting more towards a social enterprise structure,” Loper says, “where young people are generating more sustainable models to bring in income for themselves and their families. But we’re also trying to support the community by bringing Black-owned jobs back to Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Loper says that this program works for students who consider themselves creative, but also for those who have never even considered the arts.
“One thing that I’ve been learning a lot: Not every kid really considers themselves an artist, but they all want to own their own business. This is about closing opportunity gaps. There is something important about the young people running their own business, learning technical skills that they can apply to any career they choose. They’re much more inclined to be engaged when they are running things themselves.”