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Training AIDS Patients for Careers
  Dec 21 2010 Wall St Jnl
Jamie Drake wants to give people living with HIV and AIDS an entry into design. The interior designer is giving $10,000 to the Alpha Workshops, a New York City-based nonprofit that trains and employs people living with HIV or AIDS in the decorative arts.
Created by its executive director Kenneth Wampler in 1995 to improve the quality of life for HIV patients, the organization runs programs that teach artisan skills such as gilding, wallpaper design and production.
"If you're creative and can focus on something that you are making, you no longer focus on your illness," Mr. Wampler says. "We provide the place, skills and the jobs and then the people change their own lives."
For years the group hired nearly half of the graduates to produce work for the other side of its business: a line of wallpapers, lamps and tables, as well as work on decorative finishing, gilding, restoration and custom projects. That business generates up to $600,000 a year, or nearly half the organization's income.
The Alpha Workshops has worked on dozens of New York residences and institutions such as the Gracie Mansion and the ballroom at the Prince George Hotel. As the economy slowed in 2008, sales fell by 25%, Mr. Wampler says. While Alpha didn't lay any employees off, it couldn't hire workers and began placing graduates in companies that utilize handcrafted work such as a books shop and photography studio.
Now as business improves for the design industry as a whole, the organization has started to hire again. "What we can do to create jobs in this time and place in America and the world couldn't be more important," Mr. Drake says. A key to creating jobs is to increase marketing and communications with designers. Last month, Alpha brought on interior designer Celerie Kemble, Interior Design magazine editor Cindy Allen and Michael Bruno, founder of online antique marketplace, on to its board.
"We've worked hard to become the darling of the interior-design industry," says Mr. Drake, who first came to Atlas as a client and in 2001 joined the board of directors.
Growing up in Woodbridge, Conn., 54-year-old Mr. Drake attended Parsons School of Design before launching Drake Design Associates in 1978.
"No matter how great the organization is and what it produces, I've learned that challenges arise," says Mr. Drake who lobbies the design and architecture community to get involved with the nonprofit.
"Even so, I believe in the strength of the human spirit and have seen people's faces literally come alive through this organization."
Alpha Workshops
The Alpha Workshops is the only not-for-profit organization in the country that trains and employs people living with HIV/AIDS in the decorative arts. ...
Alpha Workshops brings two very disparate worlds--supportive employment and high-end interior design--together under one roof. Conceived by Ken Wampler in 1995 to improve the quality of life for people living longer--and healthier--with HIV/AIDS, Alpha Workshops provides training and employment in a creative field in a professional, flexible work environment that accommodates the special needs of its staff and helps them regain financial and emotional stability. We are also a wonderful resource for interior designers who need custom painting, gilding, and finishing or a one of a kind project. Our work can be seen throughout the newly renovated Gracie Mansion as well as other prominent homes and businesses throughout the New York metropolitan area while its wallpapers and lamps are in homes and businesses throughout the country. Based in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, Alpha Workshops trains people with HIV/AIDS in a range of the decorative arts. Students in each 10-week Basic Training session, on average about six to ten people, come from a range of educational backgrounds. While some, have professional training in related creative fields, quite a number of the people Alpha has trained have no design or related work experience. During the 10 weeks of Basic Training, taught by our specialists, trainees learn gilding, decorative paint finishes and faux finishes, color theory, and wallpaper design and production.
Wampler, whose background is in theater and design, spent the late 1980s and early 1990s at the AIDS Resource Center developing supportive housing for homeless people living with HIV. Wanting to integrate his early career with his present one, he began searching for a way to combine his creative skills in decorative painting with his knowledge of social work and the supportive housing field. Inspired by the Omega Workshops, the early 20th-century decorative arts collective founded by the noted English critic Roger Fry, and aware of the numerous creative people living with HIV/AIDS, Wampler began to formulate the idea for The Alpha Workshops. "I knew there were lots of talented people living in supportive housing, many of whom were looking for the chance to focus their talents," he says. "The Alpha Workshops represents an opportunity to build their identities around their work rather than around their illness." He canvassed his contacts in the fields of supportive housing, employment training, and the design industries, and then assembled an advisory board of professionals both inside and outside the design industry. Then Alpha Workshops began at the beginning, with paper donated by Materials for the Arts and paints donated by Golden Acrylics: "We started out painting paper, because that's all we had," Wampler says.
Since its inception, Alpha has gone from two employees and earned income of $7,000 to a current staff of 35 and earned income in 2005 of over $600K. That represents well over half of our total current budget. In the beginning, our clients included a few interior designers, retailers and private individuals. Now, Alpha has expanded its reach deep into the design community and beyond. The Alpha Workshops has done work for corporations such as Benjamin Moore, Lifetime Television, eBay, Jones Apparel Group and Origins cosmetics. The work of our staff artists can be seen in the New York mayoral residence, Gracie Mansion and the ballroom at the Prince George Hotel, as well as multiple designer showhouses and luxury homes throughout the New York metro area. In 2002, Alpha was the recipient of the Elle Deco International Design Award, has been featured in magazines such as Metropolitan Home, House & Garden, Interior Design and O at Home and several of their designs are in the permanent collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Alpha was chosen for inclusion in Metropolitan Home's "Design 100" in 2001. In 2004, Alpha received the Community Hall of Fame Award from WNET, Channel 13 in New York.
The Alpha Workshops, Inc. 245 West 29th Street 14th Floor New York, NY 10001 phone: 212.594.7320 | fax: 212.594.4832 | e-mail:
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