Alpha Workshops and School
With a stunning collection of handmade crafts ranging from wallpaper to textiles, tables, lighting and accessories, The Alpha Workshops seems like your average – if incredibly productive – New York City decorative arts studio. But the 18 year old non-profit organization is anything but that.
Founded by Kenneth Wampler, The Alpha Workshops is the only organization in the nation dedicated to training and employing those living with HIV. The venture, which includes an in-house school, nurtures creativity in students, then puts their accomplishments on show in classes, showrooms and homes across the country.
“It was becoming apparent, although the drug cocktail hadn’t happened yet, that people were living with HIV longer and needing to occupy their time,” says Wampler.
“And nothing like a life threatening illness to help people reorder their priorities. If you always wanted to be a painter, you get right down to it.”
Building on his past as a decorate artist and his work in housing for homeless HIV patients, Wampler sourced donors and public funding to launch The Alpha Workshops school and studio. Welcome students through scholarship programs, the goal is to enroll them in a two part curriculum. Graduates are then matched with jobs at the studio or elsewhere.
“Most students come to us without any real education or professional experience, or anything related to decorative arts,” says John Sullivan, director of sales and marketing at The Alpha Workshops. But over 36 weeks of training, they ultimately grow into wallpaper designers, textile creators, furniture makers and dedicated craftsman.
The result is an output of remarkably unique products like the Eden Roc Lamp, and the redefining of traditional techniques like the Japanese Negoro Nuri. They are products that are both a source of pride for the makers, and a sustainable income that keeps the project going.
“We have more clients than ever before, and we’re selling to a broader group of clients,” says Wampler. “I have to hope that some of that is due to the fact that, not only are we producing beautiful work, but we’re doing it in a way that is responsible and really does help the people who made it.”
To see some of the work from The Alpha Workshops check the slideshow below: