Dec 5, 2016

Artrepreneurs: An innovative place for creative teenagers

by: Emily O'Neill

On the outskirts of Chinatown where the commotion seeps into a calm, a whole horde of students are in the studio getting ready for a winter pop-up shop. Heat emanates from a flash dryer, an embroidery machine operates itself until the programmed words are completed on the fold of a beanie, students pass around a bag of popcorn to share. I’m in the middle of an Artrepreneurs class, and it’s a haven for creative, curious teenagers.

Rodney Camarce, Mural Arts’ Youth Development and Engagement Manager, started Artrepreneurs as an experiment and initiative in 2011. Initially a two-year partnership with the non-profit Startup Corps, Rodney came to realize that in addition to Mural Arts already excelling at the art making side of things, they had learned enough about the business side to develop their own way of creating businesses with young people.

“The students coming in are self-driven. They want to turn things into something they can use. Sometimes I wonder, what made a student want to do this? They have a natural curiosity of both aspects of art and business,” says Rodney. He recalls a student on the design end of the creative spectrum who wanted to figure out how a cylindrical bag is made, so they made a design, built it, and formed a prototype. The product ended up being too time consuming to make, but Rodney encouraged them to come back to it when they saw it as something they could mass produce with a simplified design.

Classes starts with a prompt, where reactions to the everyday often inform—what is something missing that you want to see in the world? What is something you may see in the world, but is different than the way you see it? Kayira, who’s in her first year at Artrepreneurs, heard a song on television with the lyrics “Light skin is the right skin,” inspiring her to embroider hats to say “beauty has no color.” Kayira added, “Everybody says dark skin just came in style on social media. I’m not gonna say it just came in style, but I think people should be comfortable and embrace your color and know you’re beautiful no matter what.”

Kayira’s best friend Stacia is also in the class, and their artistic talents have influenced each other’s work. Stacia illustrates rich and vivid portraits with elements of fantasy–unicorn horns, cat ears, and whiskers. But one print in particular mirrors the same message as Kayira’s hats: it shows a girl whose skin is made of different patches, each a different shade of brown, and is wearing a different color lipstick for each patch. “It’s stuff that they find ugly or whatever on darker skin,” Stacia says, “It represents colorism in the black community and how they put different shades against each other. You just have to put a positive message out there.”


  • At the Artrepreneurs class. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A student at work at the Artrepreneurs class. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • A student at the Artrepreneurs class. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • At the Artrepreneurs class. Photo by Steve Weinik.

But it is the transformative effect Artrepreneurs has, whether on a student’s craft, product, or sense of self, that is what’s most striking. More outgoing students may inspire students who approach speaking up or showing off more introvertedly, and in turn the more introverted students get to express themselves among peers, feeling supported. The environment encourages everyone to come out of their shell a little. Their ideas and worldviews are heard and made into something you can touch, which they ultimately get paid for, fostering self-value and confidence.

It’s made a difference for Marcus. His business is called Peaceful Difference, and he makes clothes, accessories, and journals silk screened with his graphic drawings. He wanted to make clothes because he didn’t see styles he liked in his size (“teddy bear size”) in any stores. He’s also creating in reaction to how inescapable and monotonous trends can be, intending to make things that explore different forms of individuality. His favorite part of the class is the people, and he shared: “To be honest, I feel like I can be myself here more than anywhere else. People are more accepting of me. Wherever else I go I don’t really feel like I can be my goofy, free self. By my size and how I look, I’m expected to be this tough guy. I’m just not categorized. I can be whatever I want and just be accepted. Here I can be my full self. That’s really important to me.”

If you want to support the Artrepreneurs and see what they’ve been working on in the studio, come to the Winter Pop-Up this Friday, December 9 at WeWork in Northern Liberties from 5-8. If you want to join the class or know somebody who might, email Rodney at

Here I can be my full self. That’s really important to me.

- Marcus, Artrepreneurs Student

Last updated: Dec 9, 2016

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