St. Louis ArtWorks is a job-training program combining art and life-skills education to create opportunities for high school students through a vigorous program using the arts as a vehicle for gaining multiple skills. Teens are hired as apprentices, working closely with a teaching artist to become immersed in a specialized artistic discipline.
I teach textiles, and apprentices begin by learning dyeing techniques such as batik and itajime shibori. In the first few weeks, they produce a large collection of fabrics exploring a variety of patterns and color schemes.
After creating their collections, apprentices learn machine sewing for construction and hand embroidery for embellishment. Finally, the fabrics are combined to develop a line of home goods, accessories, and decorative wall hangings. Through the processes of designing, dyeing, cutting, sewing, and finishing, each item created contains the work of multiple apprentices.
The creative work done at STL ArtWorks is a vehicle to in-depth real-world job training. For many apprentices, this is the first experience with applying to and interviewing for a formal job, receiving a paycheck, and being accountable to a work environment. The program is structured to incorporate extensive professional development – everything from introducing themselves and shaking hands when visitors come the studio, to presenting design concepts and receiving critical feedback at a client meeting. Additionally, the program includes life-skills training sessions on topics such as fiscal literacy, health and nutrition, and resume writing.
As stated by the organization, “The mission of St. Louis ArtWorks is to broaden educational and career opportunities for youth in the St. Louis Region through apprenticeships in the arts and through community collaborations. The organization’s goal is to create positive educational opportunities through art for youth through paid apprenticeships.” It has been incredible to witness the empowerment and confidence developed within the framework of this program. As a teaching artist, I have seen how the experience of working in this apprenticeship directly impacts the apprentices, manifesting in pride for the quality of their work and pride in themselves.
More about STL ArtWorks can be found online here.
This article was written by Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen, and shared by Judy Newland.
Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen is a textile artist & educator living in St. Louis, Missouri. She has been a member of WARP since 2010, when she was a graduate student at Arizona State University and received the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship to attend the annual conference. Kelsey currently teaches textiles at St. Louis ArtWorks & community workshops from her studio in St. Louis.