2012 Summer Internship Projects
The 2012 Kenneth Cole Community Engagement Program selected three projects that comprised the summer internships. Kenneth Cole Fellows worked in partnership with the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center, the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, and AfterDark CATV PROductions, Inc. (in conjunction with the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation).
Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center, named after the respected Puerto Rican poet, journalist and activist, was founded in 1993. The organization is housed in one of the Lower East Side’s most beautiful and historic buildings, a former public school located at the corner of Rivington and Suffolk Streets. CSV’s mission is focused on the cultivation, presentation, and preservation of Puerto Rican and Latino culture, using the arts as a means to promote cultural diversity and collaboration.
In recent decades, the Lower East Side has witnessed rapid gentrification, leading to the out-migration of locals – often forced out by rising rents – as well as a disenfranchisement between locals and gentrifiers. Though newer residents bring economic as well as human and social capital into the LES, locals – and youth in particular – who have lived in the neighborhood for generations feel increasingly shut out by the community are thereby unable to benefit from these resources. The consequence has been apathetic youth who do not feel they have a place in the community, but are intimately connected to it through family, friends, and generations of associations. Currently, few efforts are being made to integrate them within the context of the changes that are transpiring.
The CSV team of Kenneth Cole Fellows – Jessica Eaton, Sebastian Garcia, Derion Givens and Tieisha Tift – will work to bridge this gap by fostering opportunities for LES youth to engage in the positive aspects of gentrification through the Arts Jobs Training Project. This proposed initiative will prepare youth for various arts-related career paths, such as box office management and lighting design. Under the supervision of Jan Hanvik, Executive Director of CSV, the fellows will leverage philanthropy through businesses in the Lower East Side to mutually benefit arts- and community-based groups by employing artists in the training of youth. Amongst other responsibilities, the fellows will produce a report recommending employment-training matches between community organizations serving youth and local arts and cultural organizations. They will also develop a curriculum for the Arts Jobs Training Project which would match the arts-based resources of the neighborhood’s arts groups with the needs of local community groups.
The Arts Jobs Training Project will empower local youth to avail themselves of the educational, income-producing, and quality-of-life enhancing potential for involvement with the arts. The impact of this project will be a safer community in which youth are well-trained to benefit from the changes of the Lower East Side from poverty-stricken and drug-blighted neighborhood to a multicultural, arts-focused community. Youth would not only be less likely to commit crime and be forced out of the neighborhood, but also be more employable.
The Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation is a community-based, non-profit organization that serves the residents of Washington Heights and Inwood. Founded in 1979, NMIC works to empower community members through education, training, organizing and support. NMIC’s mission is to serve as a catalyst for positive change in the lives of the people in the community on their paths to secure, violence-free, and prosperous futures by preserving affordable housing, promoting economic self-sufficiency, and stabilizing families.
In recent years, NMIC has observed increasing numbers of community members struggling to cope with the effects of the weakened economy. Diminishing incomes and rising rents, coupled with a relatively bleak employment forecast, have been particularly devastating conditions for those with limited English, education, and skills, who are often the first to be laid off. To aggravate matters, while it is precisely these low-skilled workers who are most in need of government-funded job training programs, mandated program participation requirements exclude many community residents with very low literacy skills, limited English, or who are undocumented. As a result, those most in need of assistance remain without it.
To address this critical problem, the NMIC Kenneth Cole Fellows – Alexis Connolly, Samantha Hightower, Mica Moore and Victoria Nneji – will work to build the internal capacity of NMIC’s newly-launched initiative aimed at helping community residents establish worker-owned cooperatives. In keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit of their immigrant community, the worker cooperative model gives members the opportunity to own and grow their own business, while maintaining a flexible schedule that they need to take care of their families. Working closely with Jennifer Welles, NMIC Community Organizer, and Bill Fink, Assistant Executive Director for External Affairs, the Fellows will provide NMIC with a road map depicting the types the businesses that could provide optimal opportunities for unemployed and underemployed community members interested in the worker-owned cooperative model.
Based on the results of a client survey that the Fellows will themselves develop, conduct and analyze, as well as research into possible businesses best suited to the cooperative model and the particular skills of the residents, this team will produce a report with specific recommendations for the most feasible prospects for a worker-owned cooperative that could be initiated by NMIC in support of its clients. NMIC’s ability to help community members create businesses using the worker-owned cooperative model will directly assist low-income immigrants in developing alternative methods of obtaining income, as well as foster empowerment and leadership development.
The mission of AfterDark CATV PROductions, Inc. is to provide broad exposure, publicity, and promotion to diverse local artistic talent, entrepreneurs and community resources via pre-recorded shows and live events on television and the internet. Since 1994, AfterDark has focused on service and publicity to the Latino arts and cultural community in New York City. The East Harlem Business Capital Corporation (EHBCC) works to enhance the economy and commerce of East Harlem to create jobs and help residents entrepreneurs and small businesses become successful.
Up until the 1980s, East Harlem – also referred to as Spanish Harlem, or El Barrio – was a vibrant arts and cultural community. It has since diminished to the point of no longer serving as the engine of development and creative growth in the neighborhood. Additionally, a recent study conducted by the EHBCC found that approximately $484 million in disposable income leaves the neighborhood annually. The suggestion is that though East Harlem is not an affluent community, residents are spending the little disposable income they have on goods and services outside of the neighborhood. Thus, there is an urgent need for a coordinated effort – anchored by the local arts and cultural community – to create incentives for residents to circulate their earnings within the neighborhood, thereby keeping the local community both economically and culturally vibrant.
The AfterDark/EHBCC Kenneth Cole Fellows – Courtney Bradford, Sophie Luo, Alberto Luzarraga and Grace McCarty – will work on the recently proposed La Fortaleza project to re-establish the arts and culture as vehicles for economic development and cultural maintenance in Spanish Harlem. Under the direct supervision of Félix Leo Campos, Executive Director of AfterDark, and with oversight from José Garza, Executive Director of EHBCC, the Fellows will concentrate on the East 116th Street Corridor, surveying the neighborhood in order to identify community stakeholders as well as the needs of local artists and business owners. They will also identify available spaces for performances, exhibitions and events that could serve the need of existing arts groups, cultural organizations and individual artists.
The long-term goal of La Fortaleza is to regenerate El Barrio’s commercial corridors, making them creative locales that foster cultural and artistic industries and entrepreneurs, thereby generating jobs and income. At the same time, this economic revival will revitalize interest and support for the arts and cultural community of Spanish Harlem.