Schools help to build a CommuniTee by Johanna King
contributing writerThursday Apr 10, 2008 Two South End elementary schools and a local business are teaming up to raise money for school art programs - and they’re doing it with a touch of fashionista flair.
The CitySquares.com CommuniTee Art Project is enlisting the help of the students at the Hurley and McKinley schools to come up with a design for a T-shirt they think represents the spirit of the South End. After a neighborhood-driven selection and voting process, the company, an online Boston city guide headquartered on Harrison Avenue, will produce and sell the winning shirt design on their website and at participating local businesses. The profits from the shirt sales and any donations made will be donated to the schools’ art programs.
Ben Saren, founder and CEO of CitySquares.com, said that the idea for CommuniTee was born about two years ago as a way to draw attention to professional artists in the community. It soon grew, however, into a school assistance program after Saren sold a paper-cutter on Craig’s List to an East Boston art teacher.
"When we opened up her van [to load in the paper-cutter] it was full of art stuff she had been collecting around the city," Saren said, adding that the teacher explained her school couldn’t afford an art program, so she spent her weekends collecting supplies at her own expense and volunteered her time to give kids "art on a cart" for one hour a week. Saren was shocked to hear of the state of art programs in public schools. "It just became sort of a bigger mission for me."
The "mission" was originally imagined as a program that would generate awareness of the importance of art education throughout Boston, in addition to raising funds to support those programs. Saren said that the South End is the first neighborhood to benefit from the project. "I think the South End is a more mature community... it seems like all the people who live in the South End have a stake in the South End," Saren said, of the company’s decision to launch their community initiative here. "Also, our office is in the South End and we like to think that the South End is our home, too."
The students are currently creating their artwork for the project, which will be submitted to a selection committee that will ideally include members from teachers and students to government officials and business owners. "We’d like to have a member from every group in the community," Saren explained.
The top 20 designs, as chosen by the committee, will be put on CitySquares.com and the public can vote for their favorite beginning April 22. A gala held in June will unveil the winning design.
"The message here is not only about local school art programs but responsibility to your community," Saren said. "Businesses have the same responsibility [as residents]... to give back to the community and do right by their neighbors."
CitySquares.com is still working out all the details of the project, from who will make up the selection committee to which businesses will sell the final product. Any person or business interested in sponsoring CommuniTee is invited to call 617.459.4921 or e-mail email@example.com. For more information, visit www.citysquares.com/communitee.