The Power of Art Transforms Youth in Harlem

April 28, 2012 Updated: April 29, 2012
Epoch Times Photo
A Harlem art mural completed in 1995 titled 'Peace Place' which was painted by nearly 80 CAW students, most of whom were homeless, after a previous mural was demolished to make room for a grocery store. The image is based on what a perfect city would look like in the students eyes. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

NEW YORK—Mimi used to be a shy and insecure girl, she remembers. Five years ago, she started going on Saturday afternoons to Creative Arts Workshops for Kids (CAW). Now, it has become an essential part of her life.

CAW is an arts education nonprofit that holds free programs for under-resourced children and youth, offering them “tools for developmental, social, and aesthetic change.”

On April 24, CAW held its third annual ArtWorks Benefit in the Atrium Shops and Cafes, celebrating 26 years of successfully serving the communities of Harlem and other northern Manhattan neighborhoods.

The “most iconic” annual workshop is a two-month summer program that involves hiring low-income youth full-time for the design and creation of public pieces of art, particularly murals. Some of these youth have been formally adjudicated or incarcerated, while most had never been engaged with anything artistic.

CAW programs help children and youth to grow skills that are useful for their lives, beyond the artistic, like teamwork, public speaking, leadership, and, most importantly, a healthy sense of purpose.

Epoch Times Photo
CAW student Sarah tells what she learned while working on the mural 'Dreams Fulfilled' in Harlem River Park on August 16, 2011. (Tara MacIsaac/The Epoch Times)

Today, 24 years old, Mimi works as a Mural Artists Assistant, eager to share the empowerment and mentoring that she received. Meanwhile, she is pursuing a career in art therapy and early childhood development.

CAW programs “help you to shine,” Mimi said with a smile.

Brian Ricklin, CAW’s Executive Director and CEO, describes the objective of CAW in supporting young people to “confidently and creatively express themselves, and help them form a sense of optimism and empowerment about their future.”

Epoch Times Photo
Brian Ricklin, CEO and executive director of Creative Art Workshop for Kids (CAW) stands next to a mural in Harlem River Park on July 25, 2011. (Gidon Belmaker/The Epoch Times)

With its programs, CAW has not only deeply impacted these young people, but also left an indelible mark on the communities they live in, having created more than 36 colorful large-scale murals.

Ricklin pointed out that the non-profit is growing strong, expecting to serve more than 6,500 in 2013 and 230 percent more kids within the next two years.

Numerous sponsoring individuals and organizations, as well as Grammy Award-winning artist J. Ivy, were present at the event. The benefit raised $400,000 in support of CAW’s creative empowerment work.