Tyrique Muhammad’s big bright eyes focused on drawing two romantic lions resembling Nala and Simba from “The Lion King” onto a wooden surface at the Carpenter Art Garden. The 9-year-old has been drawing since he was in preschool.
The Carpenter Art Garden is located on one of Binghampton’s most dangerous streets. What was once a drug house has been renovated into what is now known as the Purple House.
Residents of Binghampton are able to grow and harvest their own fresh produce, students receive free tutoring and art is created and displayed from the inside walls to the sidewalks.
The program is funded by a combination of donations, fundraisers and investments by founder Erin Harris. An average of 100 kids are served a week.
Tyrique’s school, Cornerstone Preparatory, has cut art education from the school’s budget. The school is a part of the 16 percent of schools that are not teaching art in the United States according to reports released by the National Center for Education Statistics. That number translates to over four million students not being taught visual arts in American schools.
Unfortunately, Cornerstone Preparatory is one of the schools that are at a disadvantage and can not teach art because of a lack of funding.
“Some of these kids have a lot going on at home. When they are here, they can be as creative and free as they want to be.” — Erin Harris, Carpenter Art Garden
According to researchers at the National Endowment for the Arts, students who are involved in the arts have better social skills and tend to have better grades.
Harris was once an art teacher. She said she understands how important art is to children. She acknowledged the problem and created a solution that helps children, parents, and the schools simultaneously.
“Some of these kids have a lot going on at home,” Harris said. “When they are here, they can be as creative and free as they want to be.”
The Art Garden staff not only encourages art, but other forms of expression as well.
“We have art shows, poetry sessions and we build a lot of our own furniture,” Harris said. “We go on fieldtrips and have speakers come. Everything is free and it’s all for them.”
Tyrique is one of seven children in his family. All seven are involved in the Carpenter Art Garden.
He said that when he is at the Art Garden he feels like someone is noticing him.
Megan Banaszek, director of programs and community outreach, said that all of his siblings are talented and even though he is one of the younger siblings, Tyrique is a big inspiration.
“He’s a little quiet, but once he warms up to you he will talk about anything, but he is so talented,” Banaszek said. “When I saw his work in his portfolio I knew we had to put it on display.”
Tyrique has been featured in a few art shows and has made money off his drawings and paintings. He said that he uses the money to buy art supplies to draw at home.
“I come the Art Garden to learn new art techniques,” Tyrique said. “I feel really comfortable here.”