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It’s no secret that with the current economic climate, education has been taking some tough hits. Furthermore, it’s pretty common knowledge that among the first areas to be slashed is arts funding. Instead of bemoaning the plight of lost money, Barbara Chandler Allen and her son Roger set out to harness the knowledge and talent they had available – specifically the talent of young, student artists themselves – to give arts education a much needed revival by starting Fresh Artists.

Fresh Artists works at the Weavers Way Co-op. Photo by Jeffrey Totaro

Fresh Artists works at the Weavers Way Co-op. Photo by Jeffrey Totaro

Fresh Artists, a 2011 Knight Arts grantee, uses a multi-step process to effectively turn student artwork back into revenue for classrooms. Allen, whose art career was split by some 20 years as a stay-at-home mom, was eventually tasked by then-superintendent of the Philadelphia school district, Paul Vallas, to fill the district’s headquarters with student artwork. To accomplish this, Allen and her son enlarged and mounted selected works throughout the facility, creating a vibrant interior that caught the eye of at least one man who offered her a financial contribution for a piece; in that moment, the idea for Fresh Artists was born.

Student artwork hanging at W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc.  Photo by Jeffrey Totaro

Student artwork hanging at W.L. Gore & Associates. Photo by Jeffrey Totaro

The nonprofit group spawned by this revelation followed shortly thereafter with the following plan: attend student art shows before their official openings and find works that complement the collection, contact these students privately by way of their art teachers, and produce large-scale prints. These images are shopped around to more than 150 corporations and nonprofits around the country for use inside their spaces. Fresh Artists receives donations in return, which it then funnels back into art programs in the communities where the artwork originated, completing the cycle of self-sustaining creativity.

Recently, Allen appeared on the “Today Show” to talk about the project and why keeping the arts alive in the education system is important. Not only do companies come away with colorful wall-hangings and schoolteachers with new supplies, but the young artists get the satisfaction of having their art admired in buildings all around the country, all while simultaneously feeding much-needed cash back into their communities.

Fresh Artists: P.O.Box 44, Lafayette Hill, PA 19444; 267-331-8614; freshartists.org

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