Applications are now open for the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation’s Youth Initiative, which funds up to $3,000 to Wilkinsburg groups and organizations that support the academic and civic endeavors of local young people. Since 2010, the program has sponsored more than 30 youth-oriented initiatives, including summer camps, art and music programs, and sports clubs.
As one of the 2022 grant recipients, the artist-run print shop, Meshwork Press, utilized the grant to fund its annual summer program, Growing Creative Entrepreneurs. This learn and earn program is an opportunity for young artists to not only grow their personal creative ambitions, but also develop business experience.
“All of the kids get paid a small stipend to purchase their materials and to learn art and design,” said Haylee Ebersole, Meshwork Press founder, artist, and teacher. “We choose up to five youths every summer, and we teach them basic entrepreneurial skills. They dream up one product or several products they want to make, and then we work with them on designing or making them.”
At the end of the summer, the kids get the opportunity to sell their art at a market hosted by Workshop PGH’s Kelly Malone at her retail and studio space in Wilkinsburg. During the first summer, the artists sold out all of their art. In fact, in 2022, the group made a profit of $1,300, which was an increase from 2021.
“It was beautiful,” said Kyrie Bushaw, Ebersole’s business partner at Meshwork Press, who has a background in design and business management. “We got so much support and people just came. Three hundred people at least, and the kids were so excited to make some money. They were so shocked at what they could do. Some of them were crying. They just didn’t know. They didn’t have a vision for it yet.”
Each yearly initiative has a community-based element, and in 2022, those same five students from the summer program worked together on a mural. But not your typical mural—a mobile one that could go anywhere in the community.
“They generated this idea,” said Ebersole. “For all of them, they were dealing with this concept of ‘perception is everything.’ While there are circumstances in their lives and neighborhoods that they can’t control, there is a lot to be said for perspective and trying to reframe situations and seeing the best in them.”
The group took photographs of different spots in Wilkinsburg and Braddock and tied the two communities together through a collage of different places they found important. Through drawing and adding color and other elements, they sketched over all the images as an act of taking power back while holding an optimistic view that change and transformation can happen.
At the center of the mural is a butterfly collage made of the group’s eyes.
“That was really fun to take pictures of everyone,” said Ebersole. “That was the final piece that tied it together.”
Currently, the mural is located in former Wilkinsburg Mayor and Civically Inc. Founder/President Marita Garrett’s office window located in the Hunter Building at the corner of Penn and Wood in Wilkinsburg’s central business district.
“Maybe it’ll have a different life somewhere else at some point,” said Ebersole. “Or maybe we’ll make another one.”
For now, Meshwork Press hopes to continue to work with young artists and champion their passions.
“This is a dream for sure,” said Bushaw, “to provide the space for young people to figure out their creative powers and just go, and for us to show them the arena of constructing a creative product. This is our dream.”
The application for WCDC’s Wilkinsburg Youth Initiative is available at wilkinsburgcdc.org/youth-initiative. Learn more about Meshwork Press at meshworkpress.com.