This Non-Profit Is Giving East Harlem Teens Free Classes In Digital Art This Summer

POWRPLNT’s founder Angelina Dreem wants to give teenagers the chance to try art on for size.

June 12, 2015

Last summer, I stumbled upon a little gallery in Bushwick. It was called Stream, which was spelled out in neon letters above its front window, and its white-washed walls were home to a collection of work that I found intriguing but also a little intimidating. It seemed drenched in a very specific internet-y language that I didn't yet understand, and that made me feel like an outsider, like it maybe wasn't for me.

I've been thinking about that feeling, recently, and how it relates to the intimidation I felt in the weeks before I joined an electronic music magazine for an internship back in 2002. I spent days "cramming" in preparation—re-reading all my old issues, trying to memorize random facts in case an editor or writer decided to quiz me and call me out for not knowing enough about the music I loved. Of course, nothing of the sort happened; instead as the weeks went by, music journalism became less of a terrifying, impossible dream, and more like something I could maybe do.

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Unless you're in possession of a titanium-plated level of self-esteem, everyone needs a little encouragement to get into something new. I was lucky that I got the chance to try out something I was curious about to see if it was for me. But what are the options for today's teens—the ones who aren't old enough for internships and who don't have access to expensive creative tools? One organization that is trying to answer that is POWRPLANT, a non-profit that offers free courses in professional digital art software to young artists, or those interested in art, aged 13-18. From June 30th to July 23rd, POWRPLNT will be setting up shop at the Hunter East Harlem Gallery, offering a range of classes led by experienced artists like Rodan Tekle and Deanna Havas. If you're aged 13-18, you can sign up now. I caught up with Angelina Dreem, the founder of POWRPLNT to find out more.

What is POWRPLNT?

POWRPLNT is underground arts education. It's an effort to not be exclusive/alone/divisive as we progress deeper into digital dependency. What does it look like? It looks like computers and artists and teens hanging out doing only what they desire to do. Our focus is interest-driven learning, interest-driven teaching. Because you need to define your interests and your dreams early in order to reach them, and that’s definitely not being taught in schools. POWRPLNT is access to dreaming and the tools to make dreams real. It's horizontal learning, teaching artists learn from students, young people teach artists. It always makes me cringe to say students, though if I get too semantic people don’t take it seriously. We are all students at POWRPLNT, engaging with the medium of digital art and social justice.

When and where did you first set it up?

The first installation was at Stream Gallery in Bushwick. On June 1st 2014, we opened for Bushwick Open Studios, and the show included work from Analisa Teachworth, Molly Soda, Ivana Basic, and 16 year-old graphic designer, Terrell Davis. The space was small, filled with an aquaponic garden that I spent too much of the budget on. The budget being my savings. $5,000 and a lot of angels believing in the idea is what made POWRPLNT happen.

Where did the idea for POWRPLNT come from?

The name originally came from one of my designs for an all-inclusive iPad Internet Bar pod that was lined with hydroponically grown vegetables—the pod would provide food and internet wherever it was placed. That expanded as I was talking to my now creative partner, Anibal Luque. He really encouraged me to expand it and make a space. One of my life goals is to create creative multi+trans-disciplinary space for people of all backgrounds to connect and share ideas. I was one of the founding members of the now defunct Body Actualized Center. That was my first experience with creating space and working with artists. For whatever reason that project didn’t engage with the world around it as much. I tried.

To contextualize: POWRPLNT came out of a very visceral experience of being confronted with gentrification in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The artists move in and don’t engage with the population that they “colonize” (to quote the name of a new development in the area). But kids and teens these days are really smart, and the internet has definitely both homogenized as well as diversified the information that they receive—most kids know who Basquiat is and, thanks to Jay-Z, they know what “performance art” and Picasso babies look like. Pop culture and art has blended in such a way that everyone wants to be an artist, and technology has made it so that, yes, everyone can experiment, share their ideas, and are given a platform to succeed. But there is a big barrier with cost of entry to get a MacBook, get Adobe Suite, get a DSLR camera or whatever—these are kind of standard tools of the artist today. POWRPLNT came out of the desire to at least provide teens with the opportunity to see if they even like being creative and self-disciplined and experimental.

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Who are the artists who will be leading classes this June?

I’m really excited that we are collaborating with conceptual “net” artist Deanna Havas, 3D digital designer Rodan Tekle, musician and multimedia artist David Van Witt, and a few recent graduates of the Hunter College IMA MFA program. I’m really excited to see this iteration of the project. It’s going to be much more focused on youth learning and engagement with the gallery space set up as a studio space. I want people to print inspiration, shoot videos and engage with the space and the people around them. Deanna grew up around there which is really interesting.

Why do we need IRL classes when kids have access to YouTube tutorials online?

Not all kids have access to YouTube. That’s the privileged view! We assume everyone has internet and a computer. I also believe in social contact and engagement, cross-generational exchange in resistance to the isolation of technology. I really like the idea of people doing something very insular, like chopping away at a video, together in the same room. I think it keeps the energy alive and makes artists feel less alone. Not everyone works this way, but I think to be able to ask people questions and get real answers is more encouraging than scouring YouTube.

What are you most proud of in POWRPLNT's evolution so far?

I was just reading some testimonials from the last group of kids that we had, who were students from City-As-School, an alternative school in Manhattan, and what stood out to me was a kid saying that the program affirmed her desire to go to college for graphic design. I think that’s amazing because it means she could see art in her future, as a part of her life. So many teens have came in being like “I love making music, but my mom says I’ll never make any money doing it"—we don’t promise that they will make money, but we introduce them to the possibility, we open up their world of options just by sharing and networking. That makes me so excited because I really believe in the power of inspiration to transform us.

One of the best classes we had was taught by Brian Whatever, the designer of Whatever 21 clothing. His class was called BRANDED and it was all about building a fashion brand identity. He had taught before and was really good. Each of the young artists used Photoshop to design their clothes. We teamed up with Print All Over Me who gave a presentation, brought fabric swatches and generously donated a version of each of the student’s final designs. At the end of the session we had a photo shoot fashion show and we all modeled the clothes. It was great.

How can kids sign-up for POWRPLNT sessions this June?

Call or text 347-927-6881 or visit our website.

What are your plans for POWRPLNT in the future?

Besides wanting to secure a permanent location in New York, I’d like to do an installation in Los Angeles over the winter, teaming up with a gallery and artists there. My dream installation is to team up with MoMA and have an outpost at the Far Rockaways next summer. Hi Klaus, call me.

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This Non-Profit Is Giving East Harlem Teens Free Classes In Digital Art This Summer