Most kids' grade-school art projects get thrown onto their parents' refrigerator (and often later into the trash). For a group of lucky fifth through ninth graders, their hand-drawn designs are landing a spot in the "home" section of Crate & Barrel.
The local nonprofit Fresh Artists has teamed up with the national retail store to create a line of quilts, shams, sheets, and pillows, all designed by students from Philadelphia, Camden, and Norristown schools struggling with massive financial cuts. Called the Artistic Bedding Collection by Fresh Artists for Crate & Barrel, the line is set to officially launch Monday.
"We want to show kids that art can turn into a job," says Barbara Chandler Allen, founder of Fresh Artists. "We're giving them an insight into what jobs look like in the creative economy."
For the last 10 years, Fresh Artists has worked with low-income schools in the Philadelphia area to empower children to become artists and to enhance the quality of art-making curricula. As part of the nonprofit's program, high-quality reproductions of students' artwork are given to corporate and individual donors in exchange for financial contributions, which have benefited public schools throughout the region.
It is estimated that Fresh Artists has generated enough money to supply more than 300,000 children in the area with a mix of art supplies and expanded art programming.
The Crate & Barrel collaboration was drawn from Fresh Artists' Design Camp, an initiative that connects youth with professional designers to create products that could potentially go to market. Past corporate collaborations have included companies like Knoll Furniture and DENY Designs.
"The whole point is that we provide the kids with a real-life experience," says Allen. "They get a design director, they brainstorm and lay the project out, and do market research before coming out at the other end with a product."
For the Crate & Barrel project, 30 kids were nominated from six schools to participate. After a series of interviews, 11 were chosen to team up with Crate & Barrel designers, who then helped the students develop the themes of "kingdom" and "in the forest" at the center of the new bedding collection.
From these themes, more than 80 illustrations were created, which were then scanned and sent to Chicago. Here, the Crate & Barrel staff pulled the kids' designs into a coordinated collection.
Now, those across the country can purchase items like a lion-shaped throw pillow, a colorful quilt embroidered with hand-drawn flowers and fish, and pillowcases filled with cartoonlike drawings of bunnies, dogs, and beyond.
Samples of the collection will be on display at a preview party March 19 for Cool Jobs, yet another initiative that embodies Fresh Artist's mission to empower the creative spirit in at-risk students and turn them into successful entrepreneurs.
The Cool Jobs event, which runs March 20-22, is designed to connect over 600 at-risk seventh graders in Philadelphia and Norristown with employed artists, chefs, photographers, fashion, furniture and game designers, and other professionals in the creative industry. Set up like a trade show, the event will feature booths for both sharing information about special career-themed high schools, universities, and art and design colleges, and for professionals to chat with the kids. A variety of presenters will also share advice on what it takes to find a job.
For the preview party, Kensington artist and activist Robert Lugo, whose ceramic work can be found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will serve as the keynote speaker. Open to the public, guests are invited to come out and meet the 11 Design Camp Crate & Barrel participants, ranging from 10 to 14 years old, and mingle with other artist professionals. The March 19 event will be at the venue Moulin at Sherman Mills, and tickets can be purchased online.
Cool Jobs will kick off the next morning in the same location, drawing kids from more than a dozen schools.
"Our message is that you don't have to starve to be an artist, but you do have to work hard and stay in school," Allen says. "Most teens have no idea who designed their video games, skateboard, or cellphone — let alone that they could actually be that designer. Cool Jobs makes that link, by showing a wide range of well-paying job options in the arts, design, and tech industries, while giving them a road map to get there."