Marc Jacobs, Futura and Free Arts NYC team up to nurture young artists – Natural Self Esteem

On a rainy Saturday morning in downtown New York, Marc Jacobs helps lead a creative workshop for young artists with artist named Futura. The gathering is an extension of the program developed by Free Arts NYC, an arts organization that empowers youth from underfunded communities across the five boroughs. Today’s session focuses on the Teen Arts and Alumni Program, which offers emerging young talent the time and space to explore their creativity through mentoring, portfolio development, and access to a “Creative Lab” that curates field trips to artists’ studios, museums, and for its senior alumni, help make connections to career opportunities and paid internships at top creative companies.

Futura – one of the main leaders of the graffiti art movement that swept through the city in the late 1970s – energetically circles six large tables with nine young people busy choosing colors and materials for their new original artworks. “I’ve always been interested in making art that’s three-dimensional in nature,” he says to a student, while pouring a bottle of bright yellow paint onto a palette before spreading it with a fresh brush. To kick off the day, he spoke to another Downtown legend, Marc Jacobs, about the process and importance of creating a signature motif; Futura’s trademark is an atomic symbol and Marc’s minimalist font used in his logo.

“I like stars,” says a student named Paola, who has been in the Teen Arts program for two years since she was 14. “I’ve always liked the idea of ​​yellow and warm colors,” she continues, holding up a small canvas featuring an anthropomorphic yellow star with a long neck and red eyes covered in red glitter, gazing thoughtfully to the right. “People call me Pao or Pao-Pao,” she says, explaining the combination of letters and symbols that run across the top of her piece. “Lately, every time I sign one of my works, I replace my ‘A’ with a star. I like to experiment with my name.”

A student displays her new artwork at the Free Arts Teen Arts and Alumni Program workshop.

Paola presents her new work of art.

Sandra, a Crown Heights artist and Hunter College student who is now a Teen Arts “alum,” has been a member of the program since she was nine. “I have so much to say about free arts that I don’t even know where to begin,” she admits emphatically. She believes the organization has played a crucial role in helping her build a creative community and connect with a broader professional network as her practice develops. “I come from a family that didn’t have access to artistic resources,” she says as she transforms a previously made black and white pencil sketch into a green, white, yellow and blue painting.

A student at the Free Arts Teen Arts and Alumni Program workshop.

Sandra prepares to paint.

“A lot of my artwork is related to my environment,” says another graduate named Joyce, who lives in the Bronx and viewed the Teen Arts program during the pandemic as a silver lining, connecting with the outside world when she otherwise would felt isolated. “I like taking photos in the city and in nature, what I see around me, which plays a big part in my work,” she says of the need to be outside. For several years she has returned to the motif of the rose, which is also the name of her mother Rosa. Her fascination with nature has recently led her to a new symbol that she now uses in today’s painting, covered in both roses and butterflies. “I see the butterfly as something very beautiful,” she says, pausing between strokes. “Because without change there is no butterfly.”

Marc has worked at Free Arts since 2014. “I think it’s a great organization [whose] The mission to nurture young creatives in the city is really important today,” he says. “We’ve worked with them over the years since then and I’m really excited to be working with Futura this year as well.”

    Futura at work on a new painting at the Free Arts Teen Arts and Alumni Program workshop.

Futura holds a new artwork.

When asked what wisdom he would most like to share with the children, Futura doesn’t hesitate for a moment with his answer: “That everything is possible. It’s obviously a cliché, but it really is true. Sometimes those old things your grandmother used to tell you just stand the test of time. Basic things like confidence and some kind of determination. It takes a lot to keep it going, especially when things aren’t going too well out there.”

Although busy planning their annual gala, scheduled for June 8 this year, where they will honor Futura, Liz Hopfan, Founder and CEO of Free Arts NYC stopped by to attend the workshop . She speaks of feeling “excited to adapt to what appears to be a hybrid world” in the immediate wake of the post-Covid reintroduction of personal programming.

A student at the Free Arts Teen Arts and Alumni Program workshop.

Kalena, a member of the Teen Arts and Alumni Program.

“We work with over 40 different schools, community centers and transitional shelters, all affected by the pandemic. So we had to make changes,” she says. During the pandemic, she and her team worked to send customized art kits and activity packs to the 1,500 children ages 6 to 12 participating in the Free Arts Day program, almost half of whom live in transitional shelters. They began holding art classes over Zoom and responded to such a turbulent time by creating new lesson plans on wellness and social awareness. Now, Free Arts is focused on helping students whose lives have been severely impacted by the coronavirus, whether it’s because they’ve taken time off from university for financial reasons, lost family members, or are experiencing a difficult chapter in their mental health to have.

Two students at the Free Arts Teen Arts and Alumni Program workshop.

Camilla and Noella, members of the Teen Arts and Alumni Program.

“A lot of people go to schools where there’s only one art teacher or careers advisor,” says Liz, noting the lack of individual attention so many students experience, whether in the field of art or otherwise. She adds that many free arts students are also first-generation immigrant Americans working to be the first in their families to attend college or pursue creative careers. In 2022, they plan to offer 80 paid internship opportunities through the Teen Arts program.

“Arts programs are important to young people’s development and should be a pillar of every school’s curriculum,” says Liz. “Art is an important resource. It’s a form of inspiration, an outlet, a mechanism for coping, a vehicle for expression, a conversation starter, and even a career path. This needs to be continuously reinforced for our youth and supported with opportunities and experiences they can access.”

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