December, 17 2017
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At-Risk Youth Paint a Brighter Future
When Kyle Coney's parole officer suggested he paint murals as a summer job, the 18-year-old thought he would do some work, get a little cash and get out quick.
Now that he's completed an eight-week program with ArtWorks, a non-profit that employs at-risk youth to create public art, Coney hopes to pursue painting and drawing by taking classes at a community college and interning at ArtWorks' gallery (619 Western Ave.).
"I would come here if I wasn't paid," he said. "It's a learning experience."
Most of the Conley's co-workers would agree. The program, which many participants find through parole officers or parents, has turned around many at-risk kids since its 1995 inception. At least 5,000 youth offenders have served their sentences in the art program rather than in detention, creating more than 1,500 murals over the past 12 years.
"The outcome is two-sided," said lead artist Jesse Brown. "They get experience doing public art and for most of them it's their first job."
The teens work about 25 hours a week and are paid state minimum wage, $7.93 per hour. This summer's main project was a mural in the Sodo bus corridor between Spokane Street and Royal Brougham Way. (For viewing, the corridor is accessible by bus, by bicycle or on foot.)
Designed by Chicago artist Juan Angel Chavez, it features abstract black-and-white images of vegetation. Chavez created a pattern from the teens' drawings, and he and local artist Sean Hurley supervised and mentored 14 troubled teens. "We realize not all of them are going to pursue fine arts," Brown said. "It's offering them something to be a part of from start to finish."
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