“Gays love it,” she says. She has connected with a network of artists that push her to experiment, she has participated in two art shows and she has already sold five paintings — for $150 in total.
Arseno’s teachers are Jose Antonio “Tony” Colon and William Acevedo, who teach at the YUCA Arts program in the South Bronx. In their studio in Highbridge, a neighborhood where most businesses are garages, beauty salons, bodegas or fast-food restaurants, both graphic designers train youth in drawing, painting, graphic design and screen-printing. And they try to show them how to make a living from their talent, in a borough where youth unemployment exceeds 28 percent.
Acevedo founded the program in 2006, focusing purely on visual arts training. In 2010, Acevedo brought Colon in to teach the technique and business of screen-printing, because Colon had already helped many youngsters, like the founders of PNB nation, start companies based on graphic design.
“He shared the vision of integrating art and business,” Acevedo says. The two men wanted to promote in the Bronx movements like the ones that pushed art and fashion in Williamsburg.
Most of the students in their weekly classes are ages 13 to 19 and live in the South Bronx, although some travel to class every Saturday from as far as Brooklyn.
In Colon’s classes, they learn graphic design and printing techniques, and also how to build an online store, deal with clients and calculate a good price for their products. He and Acevedo organize a sale of their students’ creations in the yearly Highbridge Art Fair.
Colon and Acevedo acknowledge that they do not know how many of their students go on to make a living through art, but they say they are confident those students at least know they can have their own business, and that they are valuable and have something to offer to the world.
Arseno, their 25-year-old student, has certainly gained confidence in her art skills as a result of her work with Colon and Acevedo. But she’s not convinced she can make a living as an artist — or that she even wants to.
Only two clients so far have commissioned paintings from her — and both refused to pay after they saw the paintings. The experience reaffirmed her preference to give her paintings away. “I don’t want the economic part take the love of painting,” she says.
Elicia and Angelicia Rosario, ages 16 and 13, love the design courses and contemplate applying them to fashion in the future. But what their mother, Erica Villegas, appreciates is that they are learning that there is not just one right way to do things, and that one no such a thing as perfection exists.
As Elicia says, explaining why she loves drawing people: “You don’t always have to take a picture and make the portrait identical. You can do it original.”
Elicia has also learned how to design CD covers and screen-printing. She finds the classes useful. “If one day I decide to go into design, I will have the skills,” she says.
Elicia’s mother, Erica Villegas, however, very much wants to sell her own art, and she is now on her way. She met Acevedo in their common church, and after her daughters started to attend his art courses, she asked him and Colon for help. They explained to her the ins and outs of graphic design and screen-printing, and the importance of having a business concept. They adjusted her logos.
After one year of intense work, Villegas’ online store is almost ready. There, she hopes to sell her screen-printed T-shirts and handcrafted jewels.
She expects to open by November 2, 2012. She is grateful to her mentors. “They provided me with the knowledge of the industry,” she says. “They both inspired me.”