Local arts project wins prestigious prize

Last weekend the Philadelphia non-profit Fresh Artists was awarded the Purpose Prize, a $50,000 award given to a senior citizen contributing significantly to social change. Fresh Artists founder Barbara Allen, 62, has found a way to have corporations pay for art supplies in public school.Here’s how it works: Allen trolls public school art classes for receptive teachers with enthused kids. Kids make art (usually 8 1/2 x 11 crayon and watercolor drawings, and sometimes with more ambitious tools) and Allen takes extremely high-resolution photographs of the work, such that they can be blown up to as large as 6 feet by 9 feet without distortion. The expansion changes the scale and impact of each piece, rendering shaky lines and blobs of glue into provocative effects. So provocative, they can be hung in corporate offices as abstracts.Those corporations who accept the work make a sizable donation to Fresh Artists (a single administrative floor can bring tens of thousands of dollars), which is used to buy art supplies that go back into the schools.But Allen says her alchemist’s trick of turning corporate money into art supplies (over 100K to date) is a by-product of her core mission.”The children of our urban schools are invisible to most people. By putting images into offices where it’s unexpected, they are beginning to see children – my hope is to see the need to produce quality education for all children.”It’s a win-win all around. Corporations need something on their walls, and abstract children’s art can be more interesting than trite watercolors of Boathouse Row. Plus, it’s an opportunity to be philanthropic. The kids get their art supplies, and they also get to be philanthropic: they enter into a legal agreement to donate the licensing rights of their work to the non-profit Fresh Artists, giving them an early lesson on how art and business thrive side by side.View slide show below to see work from Fresh Artists. (Nathaniel Hamilton/For Newsworks)

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