Tresor Nimi, 19, of Racine poses for a photo taken by Racine Creative Center student Anais Hernandez during the United Way’s OneRacine event, held Oct. 6 at Festival Hall.
BY KATIE MATTESON
It’s been about a year and a half since Tim Baumstark and a handful of volunteers, including Chris Uran, TJ Zager, Sarah Winsall, Tonya Sims, Ralph Tunstel, David Morgan, Nathan Upton, and Theresa Dixon, opened the doors to the Racine Creative Center at 440 Main St.
During that time about 140 middle school and high school students have regularly attended workshops and open sessions, explored technology, got a taste for college and career paths for the new gig economy (a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs).
Students have designed ad campaigns and packaging for shoes they got to choose at a local shoe store (and then got to keep the shoes), explored their community using a lens ball to photograph their favorite local sites and learned coding for websites and search engine optimization (SEO).
Their parents have gained a better understanding of their teenager’s creativity from the exploration of the profession of graphic design and other creativity-driven activities.
Founder and Executive Director Baumstark cited a few of the center’s early successes:
- Blaca attributes taking a coding class at the RCC to scoring an internship at Spellman College in Atlanta.
- Local entrepreneurs working in the center were helped by RCC students with design solutions.
- Jonah went from being an unfocused kid to becoming one of the most dedicated volunteers, as he became empowered through development of his talents in game design. “No one has ever trusted me before,” he said.
- Christian started by working with graphic design and discovered his talent and passion for composing music.
- A recruiter from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design is a frequent visitor to the RCC and has provided RCC students with scholarships.
- Sound Producers/Rappers/Writers/Artists Nemo and Michael are writing the text for the RCC team that will compete in the Chicago Shakespeare Slam at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in December.
- Truman, who struggles in traditional school due to dyslexia, has become more confident and empowered through his exploration and mastery of coding. His mother reports he’s doing better in school and better in life.
- The RCC is building a partnership with The Prairie School’s STEAM program.
And while it’s hard to quantify the impact of a program geared to providing students with an “understanding that their ideas have value, believing in themselves and their capabilities and teaching resiliency and the ability to be agile.” Baumstark said he’s definitely observed “kids standing taller.”
Baumstark believes that providing students with free career-focused workshops and access to technology, professional mentors, combined with empowering them with decision-making responsibility in the RCC’s operations is critical to its success.
“While some have suggested that we implement a sliding scale for class fees, I think it’s important to keep a level playing field by maintaining free access to technology and training for everyone,” Baumstark said.
The challenge, Baumstark said, is keeping the non-profit organization funded from an operational standpoint. Programs and workshops are getting funding support.
The start-up costs for the center were provided from a one-time grant from Racine County’s Department of Youth and Families Delinquency Unit using state funding designated for prevention and early intervention for at-risk youth.
The grant allowed for the purchase of six iMacs and a Microsoft Surface Studio touch-screen computer, photography and virtual reality equipment, along with tables, chairs and other furnishings.
This year, the RCC also received grants from the Racine Community Foundation, The Racine Dominicans, Best Buy and the Racine Unified Extended Learning Program.
Baumstark, a graphic designer who owns Boxhead Design located in office space directly above the RCC, has recruited other volunteers from the creative worlds of graphic/digital design, motion graphics, video/photography, web design, package design and coding to conduct the afterschool and summer workshops, who are also on hand during the RCC’s drop-in hours, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5-7 p.m. and Saturdays, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The RCC is currently raising funds for the purchase of three more computers for a total cost of $15,000.
Baumstark said that with a total of 10 computers, the center would be able to facilitate workshops that would qualify as field trips for Racine Unified School District students.
He said funding and volunteer instructors are also needed for desired classes that will give the students exposure to emerging technology like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and industrial design.
Donations can be made on the RCC’s website, racinecreativecenter.com or mailed to the Racine Creative Center, 440 Main St., Suite 100, Racine, WI 53403.