Art is a moral power … revealing to us a glimpse of the absolute ideal of perfect harmony.
Edward Mitchell Bannister, Painter
---1914 - 1988
On the Westside of Harlem a new creative renaissance is underway. Unlike the previous cultural renaissance of the 1920’s and 1930’s, this one is driven by the forces of economic empowerment and created by women with a vision of developing partnerships that generate cultural vibrancy, commercial viability and economic stability.
SoHarlem’s unique social enterprise is steadfastly taking root in the Manhattanville Factory District with the help of local organizations and businesses like Janus Properties and others. These groups have helped make the dream of affordable spaces for artisans, not-for-profits and small businesses a reality.
Janet Rodriquez, SoHarlem Creative Outlet, Founding President and CEO, has a keen and personal understanding of the value and critical importance that the arts play in youth and community development. Her extensive background in policy, grant making and corporate philanthropy have provided her with the professional skills to navigate the many challenges necessary to create jobs, train local people for employment opportunities, serve residents and tourist.
Rodriquez was born and raised in Harlem, which only underscores her commitment to the people of the area and its community goals and objectives. “I just think that every time there’s redevelopment in a neighborhood that is predominately made up of poor people or people of color, those very people who live in those neighborhoods never benefit, and that’s one of the key reasons I do what I do,” She said.
For nearly nine years Rodriquez has gone far and wide to find the best professionals to assist her Artisans. Recently, she asked Fiber Arts, CEO - Vallorie Henderson, a friend and colleague who worked with her years before at the Kentucky Arts Council, to provide input relative to Crafting. Rodriquez says that at the time, crafting was beginning to evolve in Kentucky.
“The Kentucky Craft market was in its infancy… it was interesting to go back and forth to Kentucky from different perspectives and see how it had grown and I know that Vallorie played a major role in developing the Kentucky Craft scene and in my opinion she is the expert.”
The art of crafting is one of many of the creative entrepreneurial talents utilized by Rodriquez and the SoHarlem Creative Outlet to afford opportunities for local based Master Artisans and Trainees. These works of art are then showcased online and throughout the SoHarlem premises to generate revenue. Rodriquez says the works are both functional and wearable, and include items like jewelry, art publications, oils, soaps, designer tiles, plates, quilts, designer framing, walking sticks, textile designs and various other consumable products.
Henderson believes the Kentucky connection to SoHarlem is undeniable, “The Kentucky Arts Council is kind of the unifying piece here, Janet use to work for the Kentucky Arts Council, she is reaching out to good folks and business models that she feels most comfortable working in… and utilizing those aspects of it.
Kentucky has been held up as a national industry standard within the craft world for developing the craft industry and they’re doing it through wholesale. For me that’s the acknowledgement that I’m looking for is that the way to grow this business is not through doing every festival and fair that’s happening every weekend out there to the public, but it’s developing those wholesale accounts that are long-term and lasting in sustaining a business.”
According to Henderson, the experience gave her some insight into the entrepreneurial aspect of Rodriquez’s Creative Outlet. She stated, “I didn’t understand the employment development component of this organization. They work with a core group of artisans that they then partner a match with folks from the community that are given an opportunity to receive job training. That whole job training part of this was the key that I was missing. So, it’s all about economic development and workforce creation staying in this community. “
Henderson further added, “As we are seeing more and more, the business world is thinking creatively; they’re looking to creative business models and saying we can apply that across the board to all kinds of industries.”
SoHarlem’s success is anchored on the following three key programs:
1. The Cultural Workforce Program – Janus Properties and community organizations employ unemployed Master Artisans to train resident artists for cultural industry jobs.
2. Creative Entrepreneurs Program – Entrepreneurs gain access to SoHarlem’s business and creative environment to be a part of the incubation process in order to grow potential markets, conduct test product runs, develop and implement thought out business plans.
3. Creative Outlet Program – Is the earned income program, which addresses SoHarlem’s community needs via promotion of products created by local master artisans and trainees.
The SoHarlem; Creative Outlet is located in Suite 340, 1361 Amsterdam Avenue, in the Mink Building, in New York. Rodriguez invites tourist to visit in person or online (www.soharlem.org ) and meet the people who live their passion and make a difference in the community each and every day.