“I think we have to get the chromosomes!” isn’t a typical comment offered during a placement visit, but for Just-A-Start Corporation’s art selection committee, biological themes were a rallying cry. The group, who selected artwork for their newly leased Biomedical Careers Program space, was comprised of past program participants as well as staff members from the program and the TeenWork program. The group’s lively discussion while selecting an original art collection offered a new kind of collaboration and an appreciation for the diverse perspectives of their community.
Just-A-Start is a community development corporation dedicated to building the housing security and economic stability of low-to-moderate income people in Cambridge and nearby communities. Through innovative, comprehensive and integrated programs, Just-A-Start provides and preserves affordable housing, offers education and workforce training for youth and adults, and builds community engagement.
The Biomedical Careers Program provides comprehensive biotechnology skills training to adults who do not have access to higher educational programs due to financial constraints, and provides well-trained entry-level technicians and lab support members for biotechnical, research, and medical industries. The program provides hands-on training shaped and guided by industry experts and a strong academic foundation in sciences (the course furnishes some college credits at Bunker Hill Community College).
The art selection committee brought their knowledge of the natural world to the discussion, connecting with realistic artwork depicting flora and fauna as well as abstract art that evoked microscopic views of blood cells, plant cellulose, and amoebas. They even noticed tools of their training reflected in the art, such as Bunsen burner flames and stacks of Petri dishes.
“From start to finish the process of acquiring art was gratifying and the selection of art was educational and enlightening,” staff member Brenda Comeau reflected. “Our group was full of personality and had varied backgrounds, representing many parts of the world as well as holding various roles within Just-A-Start, but we came together as a team and made the selection process almost effortless.”
JAS staff member John Altidor agreed, “Hearing others’ opinions about certain art pieces was very surprising. I learned that art brings out different ideas and feelings from person to person.” Lisan Parker, another JAS staff member mused, “Having the opportunity to view over 300 pieces of art in a fixed time period was at first a daunting thought. Initially, I couldn’t imagine how a group of about 8 different individuals, from varying backgrounds and interests could come to a consensus on 30 pieces. However, we were able to do just that.”
The Biomedical Careers program draws diverse, highly motivated applicants, often immigrants with international academic credentials and/or work experience in related fields. The intensive nine-month program helps low income individuals find good jobs quickly and helps companies fill their staffing needs fast. Now in its 24th year, the program has an 89% graduation rate and 77% of graduates have been placed in biomedical careers with average $35K starting salaries for the most recently placed graduates. More than 400 alumni currently work as professionals in local biotech companies.
There was much discussion during the art selection about how art could reinforce the program’s belief in personal progress through learning. “As we worked through the art selection, it was amazing to see how the art pieces brought out a very passionate dialogue,” staff member Felipe Gomez reflected, “It was great to see how this process brought students together with staff and how many of the art pieces selected brought out the mission of the organization.”
Now that the art has been installed in the program space, members of the community have forged strong connections with the work. “Each day I walk in to the office and smile as I encounter each piece of art and continue to find joy throughout the day as I notice each one. Along with the visual came the memories of the group explaining why it should be selected, reinforcing my understanding of the members of the group,” Brenda Comeau added.
Class of 2016 student Sahar Abdul-Adl was immediately drawn to Elaine Alibrandi’s piece, Fire and Flame, “Because I felt the passion in it. It made me think of the passion and birth of a new me. The struggle to come into a new sort of me. The struggle with balancing school, life and growth I go through now. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. I’ve made this sacrifice to go to school now with the benefit of opening new doors for a better life afterwards. Not a new life, but a better one. The flames represent the new small opening that will one day all open up. Sort of like a phoenix.”
For more information please visit: www.justastart.org