Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC Youth

by NYC Salt
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Visual Art Skills & College Prep for NYC  Youth
Sep 9, 2019

Lenses of the Unseen Capture the Untold

What do you do in a country that is obsessed with identity and its political manipulation, but actually offers few coherent vehicles to discover it, claim it and express it in a healthy way?

One organization in New York City is trying to provide an answer to this question through art, community and the offer of lifelong relationship. NYC Salt invites high school students into a two-and-a-half-year-long photography program that is at once family and school, bridge and launchpad. The students hail from neighborhoods that don’t typically get an artistic hearing, at least not for a livable wage: Hell’s Kitchen and parts of Queens, the south Bronx and Brownsville.

“NYC Salt has become the heartbeat of a larger community,” says Alicia Hansen, who founded the organization in 2008 and is a decorated photographer in her own right. “It’s a tragedy that there’s so much talent out there that isn’t being tapped into. We are losing out by not investing in that talent … You never know who’s going to solve the next disease.”

It’s not just pragmatics, but heart. Walk into the Salt studio two blocks from Penn Station, and you’re immediately softened by smiles and scented candles. It feels like home, a bowl of Granny Smith’s resting on the counter amid scads of natural light. The staff whirs away with chipper purpose, their ease with newcomers palpable. Strangers are clearly welcome here, strangers who won’t be strangers – to others or themselves – for long.

“I was originally inspired by the film, Born into Brothels,” Alicia says. An Academy Award-winning documentary made in 2004, it features Kolkata’s red light district from the eyes of the prostitutes’ children. “The kids in that film wound up being interested in the camera itself … and before the producers knew it, they had started a school for these young girls.” 

So Alicia attempted something similar in 2005, not sure if it would take in New York City. The first class she offered, high schoolers surprised her by showing up every week. “You can always tell those who really want it,” she says. “These kids had hunger.” She decided to grow it into a full-fledged non-profit. 

“The demographics of this profession historically have been white men,” Alicia says. But how does one flood the top tier of the industry with different ways of seeing and being seen? 

Using her strong production skills and the scrappy fearlessness every artist in New York City has to develop to survive, Alicia began building Salt. “There was nobody involved that had a depth and breadth of nonprofit knowledge,” Alicia says. “We just made our way.” She likens it to photographing a complex multimedia story. “You’re basically just taking one large problem and breaking it down into smaller problems to solve day by day.” And solve they do. 

“I was originally inspired by the film, Born into Brothels,” Alicia says. An Academy Award-winning documentary made in 2004, it features Kolkata’s red light district from the eyes of the prostitutes’ children. “The kids in that film wound up being interested in the camera itself … and before the producers knew it, they had started a school for these young girls.” 

So Alicia attempted something similar in 2005, not sure if it would take in New York City. The first class she offered, high schoolers surprised her by showing up every week. “You can always tell those who really want it,” she says. “These kids had hunger.” She decided to grow it into a full-fledged non-profit. 

“The demographics of this profession historically have been white men,” Alicia says. But how does one flood the top tier of the industry with different ways of seeing and being seen? 

Using her strong production skills and the scrappy fearlessness every artist in New York City has to develop to survive, Alicia began building Salt. “There was nobody involved that had a depth and breadth of nonprofit knowledge,” Alicia says. “We just made our way.” She likens it to photographing a complex multimedia story. “You’re basically just taking one large problem and breaking it down into smaller problems to solve day by day.” And solve they do. 

“I was originally inspired by the film, Born into Brothels,” Alicia says. An Academy Award-winning documentary made in 2004, it features Kolkata’s red light district from the eyes of the prostitutes’ children. “The kids in that film wound up being interested in the camera itself … and before the producers knew it, they had started a school for these young girls.” 

So Alicia attempted something similar in 2005, not sure if it would take in New York City. The first class she offered, high schoolers surprised her by showing up every week. “You can always tell those who really want it,” she says. “These kids had hunger.” She decided to grow it into a full-fledged non-profit. 

“The demographics of this profession historically have been white men,” Alicia says. But how does one flood the top tier of the industry with different ways of seeing and being seen? 

Using her strong production skills and the scrappy fearlessness every artist in New York City has to develop to survive, Alicia began building Salt. “There was nobody involved that had a depth and breadth of nonprofit knowledge,” Alicia says. “We just made our way.” She likens it to photographing a complex multimedia story. “You’re basically just taking one large problem and breaking it down into smaller problems to solve day by day.” And solve they do. 

The NYC Salt program boasts a remarkable success rate: 100 percent of Salt graduates earn a high school diploma and are accepted into college, many of them (86 percent, to be exact) first-generation. Students have won scholarships and prestigious awards and ranked in the top photography portfolios in the country. 

“We make two requirements of our students,” says Alicia. “Showing up, and engaging in the work.” She and her colleagues put a lot of time and energy into making it fun: Field trips, pizza dinners, state-of-the-art equipment that they can use off-site. Classes start in September and go through June. Most classes meet once a week for three hours each, with some of the more advanced classes meeting two evenings a week. Teachers come in from careers at The New York TimesNational Geographic, and Fortune Magazine, to name just a few. All credit Salt for giving their skills fresh purpose, to say nothing of a demographic learning curve.

“There’s a level of trauma where our kids come from that kids from more Caucasian families don’t understand,” says Alicia. “Our kids often don’t have food at their home tables. They live in unsafe neighborhoods. They’re surrounded by people who do awful things to each other."

“How to train up a generation that’s coming from these kinds of contexts?” she asks. “It takes a lot of sacrifice. You just have to take the time to invest in people from diverse cultural backgrounds.”

Salt takes a highly individualized approach with each student, requiring at minimum two-and-a-half years. A major part of Alicia’s goal is to get kids to take ownership of their lives, to find their agency and use it well. “As teens you’re just getting to know yourself: Who am I? Photography is just the starting point.” It is the gateway to explore one's interior landscape and follow the breadcrumbs to a public mission. 

“Philanthropic foundations think too often in short-term increments of impact," says Alicia. "We cultivate a lifelong relationship, to the extent our students want it. The only way for there to be long-term significant change in poverty is for there to be long-term relationships that go very deep.”

Salt has developed an extensive alumni network that still contributes to Salt shows, mentors Salt students, and, for many, serves as a crucial form of family. When Alicia is pitched a gig, she regularly hands them off to alumni. “Salt is community,” she says simply. “We celebrate the life milestones: Quiceañeras, college graduations, marriages, babies.” 

Devin, who started with the first Salt class in 2008 and now works in the studio as a full-time staffer, has known Alicia since he was in 6th grade. Alicia looks over at him replenishing the apple bowl, some wistful nostalgia in her eyes. “We’ve kind of seen it all,” she says.

Links:

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook
Comments:

About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information

NYC Salt

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @nycsalt
Project Leader:
Emma Pfister
New York, NY United States
$28,160 raised of $50,000 goal
 
82 donations
$21,840 to go
Donate Now
lock
Donating through GlobalGiving is safe, secure, and easy with many payment options to choose from. View other ways to donate

NYC Salt has earned this recognition on GlobalGiving:

Help raise money!

Support this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page.

Start a Fundraiser

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence

Snorkeler
Our
Impact

Woman Holding a Gift Card
Give
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle
GlobalGiving
Guarantee

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.