BOSTON — Quincy Market is a maelstrom of Massachusetts merchandise. But make your way past all the Red Sox caps, stuffed baked beans and lobster tchotchkes and you’ll find a brilliant little boutique oasis in the corner of historic Faneuil Hall. It’s Artists for Humanity—The Store featuring merchandise designed by teenagers. Very clever ones.
For 21 years now, Artists for Humanity has employed teenagers to make art. Roughly 225 students from Boston neighborhoods annually make their way into AFH’s Fort Point channel headquarters named the EpiCenter to find their muse and mine undiscovered talents in seven artistic media including painting, sculpture and video production. This is not just a fluffy confidence-building exercise. AFH’s professional artists, teachers and mentors guide kids into creating art they sell. And not just to proud parents—major Boston corporations and banks have commissioned AFH works. Now the enterprise is expanding with their very own store featuring T-shirts, mugs, tote bags, buttons, water bottles and more sporting student designs.
“We didn’t want this to be like all the other stores,” says AFH Marketing Director Rich Frank. It’s not. Wicked populah now is a red T-shirt featuring a Tim Burton-esque Boston Terrier with a very Boston bark. Proceeds go to AFH, the teen designer receives royalties and with Holliston-based souvenir chain Color Inc. generously providing the retail space, the non-profit’s overhead is nil.
Artist for Humanity’s reach is jaw-dropping. Architectural Digest magazine twice commissioned the group to create its signature tables featuring recycled materials for AD events. That led Neiman Marcus to commission tables for a new California store and that led Newton-based shoe company Clarks to order up tables and stools made of old catalogs for an upcoming convention.
AFH alum Kershner Williams, who splits his time between The Store and mentoring at the EpiCenter, is all about the business. The students “are going to create something that someone’s always going to see,” he says. “They need to focus on that because once they put that together, they’re selling their story.”