AFH Alumni Stories: Edition 02—Alberta Wright
With both of her parents being artists, Alberta Wright was exposed to the creative process at an early age. However, with the nature of their work, Alberta’s family moved quite frequently. It wasn’t until she arrived in Boston during the fourth grade that she and her family finally put down roots. This exposure to creative employment and constant uprooting at a young age evoked a wariness in Wright’s involvement with art.
“I took art in school but I never really wanted to do art because I saw the hardship my parents went through as artists. So I was more interested in studying art history or about art, not making it.”
Wright was first introduced to AFH in 2005 by a friend, Jesse Racusen, who she attended Boston Latin School with. This word of mouth network between teens across the Greater Boston area is a defining part of AFH’s recruitment method.
“Getting paid, getting to do something fun and interesting, and getting to be around my buddies was the motivation,” explains Wright.
She continues, “Jesse also invited other friends of ours to join and once I got there, I liked all the people and so the next summer, I returned and encouraged more of my friends to apply.”
Wright’s first impression of AFH was that it was an energetic, fun space to be in. Despite the initial nervousness about her performance and feeling pressure to be independently creative, she quickly recognized AFH as a space of acceptance.
“I wanted to fit in with everyone. School can tend to feel segregated but here it was very much like we’re all artsy nerds and if you paint well, I’m going to come over and look at your stuff. And even if you don’t paint well, I want to help you. It was just this place where I felt like differences melted away and it was just fun.”
During her time at AFH, Wright worked within the Painting Studio as well as with silk screening. She was also extremely curious about the spray paint medium, an art form her Painting Studio mentors Jason (SWAT) and Rob (PROBLAK) had mastered. A favorite project and a moment of pride for Alberta was a special spray paint lesson with Jason and a fellow Painting Studio teen artist, Sahra Nguyen.
“SWAT had me go through a few hoops to get to the lesson — I had to get specific tones of paint, pick an animal to paint that had lots of different areas of shading, really prepare,” she recalls. “I ended up creating something that day that I really loved, a purple elephant with sad eyes.”
“The preparation and extra effort was important both because the art form is so sacred in a way — you have to earn it — and also because it made me live out that habit we need as professional creatives — to stick with something, to plan, and then to just try your hand at something new.”
The summer after she graduated from Boston Latin School, she worked with the AFH office as an intern, developing a mobile exhibition program. Transitioning as a teen to an intern in the office was an experience that Wright thought of as educational. It highlighted the model that AFH cultivates to include alumni as a part of its administration and sustainability strategy. This experience also opened doors for Wright’s future in creative employment beyond AFH.
“I got to see more of how AFH functions as a part of the City of Boston ecosystem and how it’s relevant in business. I also got to go to events that spoke to my interests and recognized me as an autonomous young adult becoming an independent person.”
Wright attended Barnard College and graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History and Human Rights. After graduation, she was involved with Teach For America, which took her to New Orleans, where she taught English. Her early years in New Orleans were marked with the heavy realization of failing charter schools as well as a lack of arts programs.
“I was seeing how there could be something like AFH in New Orleans because there were so many creative young people. There were jobs growing in graphic design especially.”
In collaboration with an incubator program called 4.0 Schools, Wright designed and received funding for several small pilot programs to address the need for arts in the classroom. She was able to implement these programs in different charter schools throughout New Orleans and the results led her to stop teaching and begin fully pursuing the creation of an arts program that would eventually become Young Creative Agency (YCA).
“I essentially ran Young Creative Agency after teaching school and the focus was kind of different from AFH because we started with graphic design and built up to fine arts later on.”
The inception and delivery of this program was something that Wright found difficult to balance. This is where she cites AFH’s encouragement and backing as crucial. “Claudia De Piante Vicin, my mentor at AFH, was an enormous source of support and advice. Susan Rodgerson [Co-Founder and Executive Artistic Director] was also super supportive and AFH actually became our fiscal sponsor.”
Wright was later nominated for Teach For America’s Social Innovation Award, which led to incredible exposure for YCA. Towards the end of 2015, YCA began partnering with the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), the largest opportunity youth-serving organization in the greater New Orleans region, which eventually led to an offer from YEP to fund YCA’s model in August of 2016. So far, the organization has seen wonderful success, with clients including The Ace Hotel, Teach For America, the NBA, and several artist collectives, not to mention the large teen population YCA has been able to reach. However, this is only the beginning.
“So things are looking really good and we’re excited to grow. We’re obviously so indebted and thankful to AFH for inspiring this and also the funds that they gave us to get started.”
It is clear that Wright’s time at AFH had a tremendous impact on her as well as her future career path. Wright specifies that AFH provided her with the education needed to navigate a career in the arts. She saw it as a space that combined a love for art education with a desire to be involved in business and client work.
“It speaks to the knowledge that I acquired that the [AFH] model is a really powerful one and it’s relevant in any urban center where there are creative young people. It’s the power of a safe space that allows creative young people to connect with art. That was the big takeaway,” she said.
The establishment of YCA, both in its model and community impact, is a direct byproduct of what Wright learned while at AFH. This community impact fostered through arts education and creative employment, first seen by Wright at AFH, is the lifting motivator that inspired her to start her organization in New Orleans.
“AFH benefits young people because it puts money in their pockets that they share with their families and community members; it gives teens the skills they need so it’s not just a paycheck; it benefits working artists because they can become mentors — meaning AFH benefits the whole arts ecosystem and creates more diversity in the arts and in colleges.”
It is clear that AFH provided Alberta with direction, immeasurable support and guidance (long after she completed the program), and a career enabling Alberta to combine her love for the arts with education and while perpetuating the AFH model of helping young people to find their place in the world.
Wright currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is starting the groundwork for a Young Creative Agency LA. YEP Design Works is thriving with Wright’s replacement while Wright’s work with YCA also continues with a City of New Orleans-and-Arts Council partnered project called the Creative Digital Equity Initiative. The initiative expands Wright’s work at YEP Design Works to include studios in public art, music, and fashion, and opens its doors to youth enrolled at traditional public high schools, as well as those in the Opportunity Youth category.
You can learn more at yepdesignworks.org.
Interviewed and written by Grace Yuh and Jane Elmets.