Art has a way of speaking to a person’s soul. Erin Harris is an art teacher, so she knows the impact creativity has on children.
Today, Erin is executive director of Carpenter Art Garden, an organization in Binghampton that works with the neighborhood’s children to advance their creative potential and self-worth through exposure to artistic, educational and vocational programs. Founded in 2012, Carpenter Art Garden didn’t start from some grand master plan. In fact, Erin’s inspiration came from a video that featured a group of young boys throwing paint-filled balloons against a wall on an empty lot in the Crosstown neighborhood.
When she saw the colorful fence, something clicked for Erin. She realized maybe an art garden for Memphis children to create and express themselves could work. And thanks to help from the Binghampton Development Corp., Erin found the perfect spot in an empty lot on Carpenter Street just across from Lester Middle School.
That location wasn’t random. “It’s across from a school on the hardest street in the neighborhood,” Erin says now. “There were two active drug houses. But this is the only street where that large population of children walk to get to school. That’s what made sense. Those children deserve some type of beauty or access to something hopeful.”
After clearing the lot and getting supplies, Erin went out on a Saturday with folders of drawing sheets, pencils and crayons. One little boy showed up with his mother. Soon, others joined. And before the end of summer, Tuesday became the designated art day for any child or adult to stop by and just create together. It’s that simple.
In the ensuing years that empty lot has grown to include a variety of programming for the community. Yes, art is the core, all of which is centered on the outdoor art garden where children still gather on Tuesdays to create art. But the big purple centerpiece – literally – is The Purple House, built in 2014 on the lot next door. The multipurpose space is a home for small group art lessons, tutoring, a laundry co-op for neighborhood families and employment opportunities.
Speaking of employment opportunities, Carpenter Street Bike Shop is across from The Purple House where neighborhood youth have opportunities to work as bike mechanics and more. The Mosaic Art Park is nearby on the corner of Carpenter and Mimosa where community participants and teen staff work on a mosaic meant to honor neighborhood residents.
That one empty lot back in summer 2012 meant to bring the neighborhood’s children together to create art has grown into so much more, and it’s all organic. “There wasn’t a plan,” Erin says. “It just happened how it was supposed to happen, adapting to residents here. There are some really strong relationships between everybody that participates. It’s like a family.”
Carpenter Art Garden is active throughout the week thanks to Erin’s vision and the dedication of volunteers and staff to make something special for the neighborhood. Volunteers are always welcome, as are financial contributions and art supply donations. To learn how you can support Carpenter Art Garden, visit www.carpenterartgarden.com/support.
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