Mas Camp 2011: A Jobs Grant Success Story

This year, we’re trying to find new ways to connect our donors with the wonderful work they support in our community. I’ll be publishing this “success stories” from our grantees from time to time on this blog. And here’s a great one from last year’s Hartford Arts & Heritage Jobs Grant Program:

How the Hartford Arts & Heritage Jobs Grant uses the arts to boost our local economy
In 2009, the Greater Hartford Arts Council partnered with the City of Hartford to administer the Hartford Arts and Heritage Jobs Grant Program, a new initiative designed to fund cultural programs and projects that create or retain jobs, drive economic activity and welcome audiences from outside the City. Since its inception, the jobs grant program has retained more than 30 jobs, created more than 200 temporary positions, invested more than $2.5 million in local businesses and received national attention as a successful model for using the arts to affect urban change. Your contributions to United Arts make possible the administration of the Jobs Grant program, which supports the valuable work of our arts and heritage organizations and makes a real impact on our local economy.

Fixing a costume headpiece

The Institute for Community Research’s Mas Camp Youth Employment Program is a perfect example of the tremendous success of Jobs Grant funding. Mas Camp had two simple goals: to teach the rich cultural history and traditions of the Caribbean community to teenagers in Hartford’s North End—a neighborhood steeped in artistic heritage—while hiring local educators and artists to create Carnival-style costumes for performers at Hartford’s Caribbean festivals and celebrations. Using a tried-and-true apprenticeship and mentorship model, experienced craftsman would spend the summer teaching students how to create authentic Caribbean costumes, keeping their cultural traditions alive across generations.

The energy at Mas Camp was electric. Housed in a make-shift workshop behind a North End row house, 15 teenage girls spent hours learning the artistic disciplines of their ancestors by hand as they constructed colorful gowns, sewed sequined headdresses and created larger-than-life costume spectacles. All the supplies were purchased from Hartford vendors. The finished pieces were loaned to Hartford’s Brazilian, Hooker and Columbus Day Parades and the popular West Indian and Caribbean Jerk festivals, saving other arts organizations from the costly expense of renting costumes on their own.

Students in finished costumes.

On paper, the ICR’s Mas Camp program was wildly successful: 5 temporary jobs and 15 youth employment positions were created, nearly $8,000 was invested at Hartford businesses and more than 5,000 people had the chance to see these exquisite costumes on display. But more important is the indefinable impact of these Jobs Grant-funded programs: thanks to your investment, the girls and their instructors could proudly watch as professional dancers performed in their dazzling, one-of-a-kind creations, entrancing audiences and celebrating the unique diversity of our community.

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