EPACENTER helps youth build creativity and skills

EPACENTER helps youth build creativity and skills
Photo Credit: Chris Bagley

Silicon Valley is full of innovation and creativity, but not everyone has the resources to act on that creativity — something groups like EPACENTER are working to change.

We want to make sure that youth of color and the underserved have equal access to creative tools and the resources that allow what they dream up to come alive, too,” said Nadine Rambeau, executive director of EPACENTER, a creative youth development organization in East Palo Alto.

EPACENTER offers classes and training in the arts, design and technology for youth up to age 25. Its programs include workforce development programs that can lead to high-wage careers, as well as art therapy and civic art programs.

Boy's ArtA recent Arts & Culture Community Action Grant from Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Community Catalyst Fund, EPACENTER will fund a workforce development and civic art project in which participants will create a mural in East Palo Alto. About 20 to 30 youth ages 16 and up will serve as apprentices to an East Palo Alto muralist, and together they will design a mural for the water tank of an affordable housing complex. SVCF’s support will underwrite the project, including participants’ pay.

Participants will work with residents of the housing complex as well as members of the broader community to get ideas and feedback. The mural will be applied to the water tank using a film, and the project’s participants will get to tour the fabricator’s facility and learn how the process works.

Addressing Longstanding Inequities

Kids CraftingSVCF’s Arts & Culture grants are part of its long-term strategy to achieve systemic change in Silicon Valley by addressing disparities in both funding and influence that have left BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities and undocumented communities with inequitable roles in shaping the region’s future.

The goal is to partner with arts organizations to inspire action rooted in the ability of the community to face any challenge that comes their way, said Mauricio Palma, director of community-building for SVCF. The arts are a way for communities “to create new pathways for themselves beyond the challenge they might be experiencing,” he said.

“The arts help with community healing, community engagement, and offering folks real platforms for their concerns, hopes and aspirations to be heard,” Palma said.

Grants were made available to nonprofits serving Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, with priority given to BIPOC-led and allied organizations and those with annual budgets under $1 million.

The leaders of the organizations that received grants are “wonderful innovators and entrepreneurs,” Palma said. “Within the context of racial justice and equity, they have had to carve their way into the creation of spaces that were nonexistent. Their brand of art is directly tied to community resilience.”

Building an Organization, Engaging the Community

EPACENTER is a relatively young organization, founded in 2015. Before the pandemic, the group operated from a small studio in East Palo Alto. During the pandemic, the group switched to virtual workshops and classes. A new building, opening soon, will allow the group to pivot to in-person activities and expand their programming.

The SVCF-funded water tank mural, which the group hopes to start in the fall and finish in spring 2022, illustrates how EPACENTER uses art as a basis for workforce development. The project will give participants valuable exposure to the technology used to create large-scale designs.

“Every building you go to in a major city has huge signs outside. They will be working with the top fabricator in the region that does this kind of work,” Rambeau said. “The project will get them familiar with people who utilize creative services, get them out in front of the community as leaders, and introduce them to the nuts and bolts of creating a large-scale design project.”

Learn more about SVCF’s grantmaking programs here.

Learn about SVCF’s other 2021 Arts & Culture grantees here.

Photo Credit: Chris Bagley