Nu Deal - social enterprise for youth
How do we create opportunities for young people who face many challenges in a difficult labour market?
Nu Deal is a studio-based youth training program in social enterprise, based at The Print Studio in Hamilton. It is an opportunity for at-risk youth to create, produce, market and sell their own line of clothing and accessories. During the 12-week course, participants learn to design and screenprint in a professional art studio environment. Learning to operate equipment, to handle tools and materials safely, imaging designs in a state-of the art digital lab, and practicing sales skills at an outdoor market, are essential components of the hands-on preparation for creative young entrepreneurs.
Every year, Hamilton loses more manufacturing jobs. The Code Red Report published last year (2010) in The Hamilton Spectator, exposed shocking health and economic disadvantages experienced by the people living in neighbourhoods that surround The Print Studio. Poverty is Hamilton's biggest challenge, with 20% of our citizens living at or below the poverty line. How do we deal with this major discrepancy between the economic ‘haves and have-nots’ in our city? Hamilton’s future wellbeing as a city depends on the creativity of our youth. Nu Deal offers youth a chance to take charge.
In order to participate in and contribute to the economy, people have to constantly learn new skills, adapt to change and juggle many responsibilities. As the title “Nu Deal” suggests, the project responds to a need for youth to find a meaningful way to earn a living. Inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” for Americans during the Great Depression from 1933 to 1936, The Print Studio offered a Nu Deal to Hamilton youth. The current economic hardships are not so different from those in the thirties. The difference between then and now is that this Nu Deal will help the youth help themselves.
Since opening its doors on James Street North in 2005, The Print Studio has been at the forefront of a wider artistic movement that has enhanced Hamilton’s reputation beyond the GTA. The arts, as exemplified by the activities of The Print Studio, have encouraged economic renewal in our downtown core at a time of profound need. The Print Studio and Nu Deal partners believe that the arts can help break the cycle of poverty in our city. Our investment in youth means that they will pay us back by contributing to a creative community and to the economy. In order to put their training into practice, Nu Deal participants will need to continue working in the studio after their course is finished. The opportunity will immerse them in the working day of independent arts professionals, as full members of an artist-run production centre. The 11 students enrolled in the first session have demonstrated incredible talent and a strong sense of individual creativity. The course is an opportunity to express themselves professionally, to hone and practice their skills, and to build their confidence. Learning to be independent is hard work.
Nu Deal graduates have the basic skills to set-up their own business, take on contracts, or get an entry-level job in the industry. Some of the youth like the fact that they can earn credits for high school. Others are excited to put their creativity to work for them, and to start their own production collective. Working in a professional art production centre, the students experiment with compositions made from their own drawings and photographs, as well as working with images from popular culture. They are ready to design and print for clothing and accessories, and to sell their own products. One student has already filled her sketchbook with terrific ideas. Using lines and shapes she has created her own symbolic visual language that connects the constellations to her interest in music. After all, she observed, “Art is all about symbols.”
All of the Nu Deal instructors are practicing artists. Working as independent arts professionals, they are good role models for the youth. Artists and arts organizations know that the road to success is paved with hard work and persistence. Our students have already proven that they share the artists’ talent for making the most of limited resources. In the second week of their course, a number of youth didn’t leave at the end of the day. What possessed them to stick around long after their instructor had left? The answer is simple: they wanted to get their designs done! We did expect to attract youth who were interested in art, and who would want to learn how to apply their creativity to earn money. What we did not anticipate was the high level of creative energy, and the enthusiasm with which they approach some very difficult tasks. Nor did we plan to imprint the artists’ work ethic on them so soon. By the second week they had already picked up the modus operandi of the studio: “work until it’s finished.” If they keep up that attitude, they are sure to succeed.