By Tony Wilkinson
Irina Prussin, a young artist at Youth Spirit Artworks in Berkeley, can testify from personal experience that art has the power to transform and even save lives.
“I take art very seriously – I put all of my good and bad feelings into my work,” she said. “Every morning I look forward to going to Youth Spirit Artworks at the end of the day, going to a room where I can feel safe and accepted like a family.
“At Youth Spirit Artworks we have a quote that says ‘Art saves lives.’ This is a quote I live by. As a girl who lives in a dangerous part of Oakland and have seen so much and have access to dangers that live right down the street from me, I choose to come here because I want to be somebody. This is my life and I am determined to come out on top.
” Youth Spirit Artworks, located at 1769 Alcatraz Ave. near Adeline in Berkeley, is an art jobs training program that is committed to empowering and bettering the lives of homeless and low-income Bay Area young people, ages 16-25. Offering projects in community art and commercial art studio training, the program’s goal is to use art jobs and jobs training to empower youth, giving them the skills, experience, and self-confidence needed to meet their full potential.
The agency was founded 2007 by Sally Hindman, a longtime Berkeley resident with 20 years nonprofit experience, primarily working with homeless people.
She is an adjunct faculty member at the Graduate Theological Union Center for Art, Religion, and Education and Starr King School for the Ministry teaching “Liberation Art.” She is the cofounder of Street Spirit, the San Francisco East Bay homeless newspaper.
A visitor to the program’s on a typical afternoon first sees some beautiful, unique hand-painted chairs that are on the sidewalk in front of the office. Inside young artists are glazing cups, drawing and painting in a supportive collaborative atmosphere. A few of the young people look up but most are intensely focused on their projects.
One of the young people is Begonia Blossom Herbert, who is a youth leader in the program and a student at Berkeley City College who is studying art and plans to become a teacher.
“Art is one of my greatest loves in life. Getting the opportunity to work with my community and other youth is one of the most important steps I have taken,” she said. “Youth Spirit Artworks is a wonderful organization that gives Berkeley youth the chance to connect with themselves, other youth and get a chance to express themselves as well.”
Another of the participants is Tiphereth Banks, who says she has grown since she joined the program. “Being here not only helps me express myself the best way I can, but also teaches me values in life,” she said. “When times are hard, you would only be losing to just walk away and give up. The only way to prosper and succeed in life is to work hard and roll with the punches by holding onto my pride.”
One of the program’s major community art projects is a new tile mural “Growing Healthy” about the choices that young people make about their own health.
Located on Fairview just west of Adeline, the mural is an artistic statement created by young adults and children. Designed by Pancho Pescador and Alfonso Jaramillo, each tile represents a personal pledge made by each artist – a pledge to do one special thing to be healthy and then painted on a tile to share with the world.
Tiles were contributed to the mural by over 100 young artists from the Youth Spirit Artworks and over 300 local children, including students from Malcolm X and Rosa Parks Elementary schools.
This mural reflects the determination of young people, like Irina, to survive and grow and build healthy lives.
“Art saved me by giving me something worthwhile to do and a community to thrive in.,” Irina said. “I am not going to fall between the cracks.”
An unveiling and celebration of the “Grow Healthy” mural will be held 1 p.m. – 3 p.m., Saturday, March 24 at 3198 Adeline St. The event will include speakers, live music and food.
For information call (510) 282-0396 or visit www.youthspiritartworks. org.