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Kids Learn About Art and Business at Harlem Textile Works

By Jeff Mays | March 3, 2011 8:48pm | Updated on March 4, 2011 6:28am

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — The kids from the Friends of the Children of New York mentoring program thought they were going to Harlem Textile Works to learn how to make silk screen T-shirts.

But that's half the mission of Harlem Textiles. The other is to show young people how their creativity can transfer into a career as an entrepreneur, artist, or business owner in the fields of graphic and fashion design.

"The fashion industry is sometimes inspired by black and Latino youth," said Kevin McGruder, chairman of the board of directors for Harlem Textile Works. "People are looking at what they do and copying but they are not involved, they are not making the money. We try to connect them more directly with the industry." 

The kids picked screens with graphic designs like "Sugar Hill" written in Gothic letters and then paired it with an image of Michael Jackson dancing on his toes. They learned how to apply the ink through the silk screen onto a T-shirt using firm strokes while a friend held the screen in place.

"This made me feel really artistic," Michael Baez, 13, said while using a hair dryer to finish his creative Michael Jackson T-shirt.

The organization was founded by artist Betty Blayton-Taylor as an income-generating part of the Children's Art Carnival. In 1994, the group decided to become an independent organization that preserves traditional textile designs and printed fabrics. The shop on Amsterdam Avenue and West 143rd Street is filled with colorful African Kente cloth designs.

Harlem Textile Works practices what it preaches and sells some of the items designed in its workshop to raise money.

It is also an artistic and entrepreneurial incubator, renting space for as little as $20 per hour for artists to produce their wares.

"The way we see ourselves is a community-based design center," said McGruder.

Part of the group's mission involves workshops taught by various artists.

One recent workshop was the "Obama skirt project," where participants learned the history of African fabrics and then printed their own Barack Obama-themed fabric.

Another, "Design as Enterprise," is an eight-week internship that teaches the kids about design and silk screen techniques. The interns keep visual diaries to learn how to hone their design skill and create portfolios that can be useful as they apply to college. Participants also learn how to use computer programs such as Photoshop.

"We want these young people to have the understanding that their ideas can be developed into things that people wear or hang on the wall," McGruder said. "We want them to understand that a lot of the things they see have elements of design in them and that they can do that, too. Design skills are not something that's out of reach for them."

McGruder said the process of learning that helps some kids with self esteem. That was visible with the kids from Friends of the Children of New York.

As teaching artist-in-residence Elena Stojanova showed the kids how to use the silk screens, they were amazed with the results.

"That looks fresh," Dasshane Williams, 12, a sixth-grader at West Prep Academy, said after looking at a design of a pink cat on a hand bag.

"This is really fun," Williams said when asked what she liked about silk screening. "Make that fun and interesting."