Youth Spirit Art Creates Opportunities for Young Artists

By Lydia Gans
Friday March 28, 2008

A few weeks ago, Youth Spirit Art Works hosted a novel event, described by director Sally Hindman as an “artists reception and art making event” at Sweet Adeline Bake Shop, a cafe on 63rd and Adeline streets.  

At long tables set up on the street, people painted messages promoting health care on tiles to be used in decorating traffic turnarounds in south Berkeley. Inside the cafe visitors viewed an exhibit (which will remain through the end of March) of some of the works of the participants in the Youth Spirit Art Works program. Berkeley City Councilmember Max Anderson came and spoke of the “outpouring of community energy and talent here that makes me very proud to represent this district.” 

Operating out of the art studio on the Berkeley Technology Academy campus, Youth Spirit Art Works provides a place where young people can learn about art and create their own art, where they can use art to bring about social change, where they can get school credit and earn some money.  

Specifically for homeless and low income young people between the ages of 16 and 25, Youth Spirit Art Works is modeled after YaYa (Young Aspirations, Young Artists), a New Orleans furniture painting program that was founded in 1988. That program has changed the lives of thousands of young people as well as being a hugely successful business enterprise. 

Sally Hindman, founder and director describes the multifaceted program. One area of activity, she said, is “taking old recycled furniture, chairs that people have thrown out, tables that people have donated and having youth turning them into art.”  

The young artists will get half the money from everything that is sold and, Hindman said, “let me just say that art furniture is pricey.”  

Between two dozen and three dozen young people come to the studio at B-Tech every day. The morning session is for B-Tech students who get class credit for participating, and then the afternoon is open to others. The program is an opportunity for the teenagers to be creative, to explore new ideas, and it also is a serious learning experience.  

Hindman describes the mission of the program: to “empower and transform the lives of youth by giving them experience, skills and self-confidence to meet their full potential.”  

On a recent afternoon, one girl decorated her chair with painstakingly detailed flowers, another did hers by splattering paint inspired by Jackson Pollock, whose work one of the staff members introduced her to. Student Charles Hutson painted an impressive lion head on a table to go with the claw feet on the bottom of the table. 

Ryan McAllister, 20, found it difficult to work on furniture so he chose to paint pictures instead. His delightful paintings are on the walls at the cafe. His mother says that he has been drawing almost all his life. He attended Children’s Learning Center in Alameda from first grade through high school and at some point a social worker referred him to the Youth Spirit program.  

His paintings are cartoons, inspired, he says, “by the Japanese animation cartoons and video game characters.” Most of his pictures are of girls, some accompanied by biographies he has created. There is one of a girl from outer space who “just wanted to see what Earth was like and make new friends.” She looks just like an Earth girl except that she has a tail. “She might even find romance here,” he said. 

The tile painting project is another part of the Youth Spirit Art Works program. The project, called Beautiful South Berkeley, is focused on decorating street benches, barricades and turnarounds with the tiles. 

The tile art centers on the theme of health and is being done in conjunction with Health Access Coalition—which is working for health care reform— and with the city of Berkeley Department of Public Health.  

“(We’re) using art-making in the community as a vehicle for doing public education around health care,” Hindman said. “We have a 20-year disparity between the life span of a white person versus a black person. So we’re trying to work with people using the leadership of youth in order to promote health in south and west Berkeley.” 

Another program is planned for the future—to engage artists who have gained experience through Youth Spirit to teach art in the local elementary schools.  

“What this is about is meeting people where they are and working with them and recognizing that,” Hindman explains. “Some people have some limitations in what they’re able to do and this allows them to really blossom in their own way.”