Background image from WIlkinsburg Chamber of Commerce.
It’s clear that one area New Sun Rising’s newest program Launch Wilkinsburg will have a great impact is youth arts programming. This glaring need has ignited a passion in many of Wilkinsburg’s visionaries. As Violet Scott of Speak Life Community says: “There’s a lack of arts programs in Wilkinsburg. The high school closed. Youth programs are scattered & limited.”
In addition to increasing visibility and accessibility to the arts, organizations selected for the Launch Wilkinsburg Community Incubator also focus on shared spaces, vacant homes, education & economic development. And one of the participants is the Wilkinsburg Chamber of Commerce, who partnered with NSR to bring the program to fruition.
Says new assistant executive director Ola Jackson, “I hope to increase the awareness of the chamber to the residents & business owners of Wilkinsburg.” She continues, “The chamber has the resources & tools necessary to start, sustain & grow a successful business. Empowering our members with networking opportunities, exposure & resources is what we strive for.”
Jackson is the only staff member; the Chamber is otherwise sustained by board president Yvonne James & board member Clark Walters. Plans are underway to open a permanent office on Wood Street. By participating in Launch Wilkinsburg the Chamber aims to “grow enough in services & memberships to hire an Executive Director.”
The other participants in the Launch Wilkinsburg cluster are (in alphabetical order):
The Center for Civic Arts
“We value the arts as the thread that defines who we are, and the light that empowers communities.”
Arts programming in Wilkinsburg is at the forefront of The Center for Civic Arts’ mission. With no high school & no YMCA, youth have little exposure to art in general. “Arts education in & out of schools is almost non-existent in Wilkinsburg, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington, Braddock Hills… ” says CCA director Jody Guy, whose family has lived in the borough since 1916. “The lack of opportunities for our 12- to 17-year-olds leave few safe & healthy ways to engage with each other & the community.”
The core of CCA’s education plan is the Artist-in-Residence Learning Lab, wherein teaching artists-in-residence work with youth in a variety of media — digital music engineering, spoken word, hip hop music, narrative film, storytelling, public art – to produce a portfolio. On Saturdays the Center offers a la carte & all-ages studio time. (The Center’s home is at The Wilkinsburg Christian Church, for now.)
Also on the CCA calendar: an 8-week summer mentor program, participation in the Stoner Way mural project, vacant lot reuse, acquisition of artist studio space, and the Spring Break Camp for Peace — crowdfunding now for a week in the (portable) studio with Akil Esoon, writing & producing songs about the community.
“A community hub that is innovative, motivational & inspirational. A place where upcoming artists can display their talents.”
A unique & upscale coffeehouse is what fledgling caterer Audrey White has envisioned for Wilkinsburg. Unique in that a focus will be on chicory-infused products, and familiar what with the offerings of a community “third space” — pastry & specialty coffee, and spoken word & local art.
White will be scouting locations for ChicKory Cafe while working with the Launch team on fundraising.
Finance Middle School
“I believe Wilkinsburg has enormous potential. I believe that if you give youth tangible, life-applicable tools, they are able to succeed.
It’s all in the name: middle school for financial literacy. Today’s pre-teens are ripe for education in banking, investing, even business ownership. So entrepreneur Sherry Williams wants to start talking money at an early age; at her Finance Middle School, students will start with fundamentals, eventually developing ideas into formal pitches to mentors & investors. Already on board are teacher Briana McKoy & Duquesne professor Julia Williams.
Under Launch mentorship, Williams will develop a 6-week pilot program for this summer, with an eye toward implementing programs at area middle schools next academic year.
Gizmos Dog Lounge
“Casual, social woof-woof fun.”
Khalil Stanback was raised with a K-9 in his Wilkinsburg home & has “always wanted to be a part of making [the city] a more desirable, multi-use area.” His idea? A membership-based dog-friendly space in a city environment, with “retro ambiance.” Amenities in mind include member newsletter & free dog treats, wifi & TV, and adult beverages.
Stanback hopes to secure a location & plan a grand opening through Launch Wilkinsburg.
K-Theatre Dance Complex
“We expose [students] to an artistic discipline that will allow them to excel in any profession that they ultimately pursue.”
K-Theatre Dance Complex is a school for students 7-17 emphasizing dance technique, terminology, theory & drama to mold strong & captivating performers. Filling a much-needed void (dance is not offered in Wilkinsburg public schools) & via partnership with the Neighborhood Youth Outreach Program, the school has already tripled enrollment in only its second year.
Continuing to grow relies upon these collaborations so, with Launch Wilkinsburg, founder & artistic director Kontara Morphis aims to increase her network & raise funds for equipment, showcases & additional teaching staff.
A Peace Of Mind, Inc.
“The field of human service is vast and a necessity in all communities focused on growth and upward mobility.”
Offering affordable housing, diverse & economical fitness classes, art therapy, and mindfulness programming, A Peace of Mind, Inc. (APOM) is looking to Launch an aggressive marketing campaign.
“People need to know we’re here,” says executive director Felicia Robinson.
The nonprofit has completed construction of its studio & continues to build clientele. Future plans include building a donor list, growth patrons and staff, building our network, receiving grant opportunities, and physical expansion (including groundbreaking on the studio-adjacent childcare center).
Currently APOM is crowdfunding a program called “Painting Through Pain,” focusing on at-risk teens 13-18 who struggle with depression, anxiety & post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Speak Life Community
“Actively grow & develop as artists. Collaborate & begin to share ideas on how to be a positive channel in society.”
“The goal is to be a positive voice,” says certified event planner & Speak Life Community director Violet Scott. “Bring all the arts together, and unify, educate & help growth of the artists.” SLC strives to unify youth via workshops, open mics, symposiums & community discussions.
With Launch Wilkinsburg, Scott will locate office space, expand the community’s network of artists, poets, community leaders & organizations, and develop curriculum to grow this summer’s workshop series to a year-round program.
Virginia Dere Swimwear
“If you give someone an opportunity to learn new skills, and possible employment, that’s building the community to prosper.”
Virginia Dere is a swimwear line, produced in the Pittsburgh area & designed for women who desire modest swimwear without forfeiting style. Through Launch Wilkinsburg mentorship, founder-designer Gabrielle Haywood intends to complete a business plan & find start-up capital so that product testing can begin by year’s end.
Wilkinsburg Christian Housing
“WCH helped turn two abandoned houses into livable homes that are no longer eyesores in the community. We are now working on our third house.”
In 2010 the owner of two abandoned properties donated them to the Covenant Fellowship Church & Wilkinsburg Christian Housing was born.
There are currently more than 700 abandoned properties in Wilkinsburg. Using volunteer & donated resources as much as possible, WCH’s goals are to rehabilitate these houses & provide affordable homes that won’t require significant work by the new homeowner. (Importantly, these houses then return to the tax rolls, providing greater revenue for the borough & school district.)
Through Launch Wilkinsburg, executive director Autumn Butler looks to increase community support, particularly by increasing the pool of volunteers, including skilled laborers.