A new feature of Blue Avocado. Each issue, we’ll highlight a community nonprofit that is doing great work within their sector. This issue brings you a nascent nonprofit that bridges social services and the arts. The Trenton Community A-Team (TCAT) in Trenton, N.J. demonstrates how creativity and the arts can be a lifeline for those struggling with social services issues and provides a way to reinvigorate urban communities. Like many small nonprofits trying to get established, the organization struggles with having enough resources to provide ideal staff and programs, but they say seeing the talent and enthusiasm of the participating artists keeps them going.
We asked a few questions to Board Chair, John Kelly about what TCAT is and what they can teach us.
How many years have you been in operation?
We began working as a 501(c)(3) since July 2014, however the organization itself has a twenty-year history.
What is the mission of your organization?
TCAT wants to support, develop, and promote self-taught, local artists because art can be transformative, by reframing the artist’s connectedness to self and others and by enhancing community pride.
How did you get started?
In 2001, five self-taught visual artists who used the services of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) and had participated for several years in the Extra Helpings arts program at TASK, met with a TASK volunteer to discuss the possibility of forming an artist cooperative. The idea was to offer the clients, who possessed artistic interests and talents but did not have the personal resources to pursue their creative activities, a collegial environment in which they could hone their creative abilities and ultimately sell their artwork and share the benefits of their efforts.
Because from the outset, the artists made all the decisions about how the A-TEAM was run and what projects it undertook, membership in the group also provided an opportunity for the artists to learn entrepreneurial skills.
What are your biggest successes?
The number of artists who emerged over the years from within the soup kitchen community and fact that the growth of their natural talents seems apparently to have no limits; also, the fact that the success of the visual artists, now their own 501(c)(3), led to the development of an arts program at the Soup Kitchen that now includes musicians and writers, as well as TASK artists.
What makes you stand out? What do you do that is special or important within the field?
The high degree of participation by the artists, themselves, in every aspect and function of the organization distinguishes this organization. Artists’ input is sought for all decisions.
What advice would you offer others working in this field?
Take every opportunity that’s offered and consistent with your mission and let the artists lead the way.
To learn more about TCAT and the A-Team artists visit: www.trentoncommunityateam.org
or like them on Facebook.