Alumni Launch Entities and Initiatives to Integrate Art into Communities

Adarsh Alphons

Many members of the MICA comm unity showcase their creative and artistic talents through their own small businesses and product lines. Below is a sampling of a few founders whose creative businesses showcase art or help transform communities.



Founded by MICA faculty member, artist, and author Mina Cheon and Morgan State University faculty member and architect Gabriel Kroiz, K-Town Studios opened in spring 2014 in Baltimore’s Koreatown (K-Town) neighborhood. Located in the Cheon Kroiz Building, named after the married couple, the three-story commercial building offers studio/housing in varying sizes to artists in the Baltimore area. Cheon knows firsthand the importance of having a safe and clean artist studio to create artwork. Her need for a permanent studio was the catalyst for establishing K-Town Studios. “After a couple of months, I realized how meaningful it is to provide sound studio spaces for artists and recent MICA graduates who contribute to the collective scene of the building, which is about dedication toward studio culture, research, and making art,” she said. Cheon, who is Korean-American, is elated that the building is in the city’s Koreatown neighborhood. Current tenants of the building, which is walking distance to the College, include several MICA undergraduate and graduate alumni. Both the artists and studio add to the Station North Arts & Entertainment District as well as the Remington neighborhood in Central Baltimore. Cheon’s connection to MICA runs even deeper. She was the founder and director of the study abroad program MICA Korea, held each summer in Seoul, Korea, from 2004 to 2007. Cheon was also featured through an essay in Beyond Critique: Different Ways of Talking About Art, a book by MICA faculty members that provides insight into critiques. She is also the author of Shamanism + Cyberspace.



Community involvement is of the utmost importance to Ashley Minner, so much so that she used her thesis work at MICA to bring art to her Native American community in Baltimore. “Having grown up in the community, I think it’s wonderful that you can dedicate yourself, your career, and your living to doing something you would do naturally,” Minner said. As the recipient of an Open Society Fellowship—an honor that comes with a stipend of nearly $50,000—Minner turned that work into a thriving children’s art program, the Native American After School Art Program (NAASAP), at the Baltimore American Indian Center. The program uses art as a vehicle for Lumbee Indian youth to address issues that matter to them. “MICA prepared me to be a founder/owner of a creative business by holding me to standards of high quality, by teaching me proven techniques, and by giving me a trial-by-fire training on time management,” Minner said. Even now, as a first-year student in the PhD in American Studies program at University of Maryland, College Park, Minner remains dedicated to NAASAP while maintaining an exhibiting artist practice. The program continues to evolve, she says, depending on what the year brings and participants’ interests. “MICA prepared me to found and steward NAASAP by providing me with outstanding mentors who truly and openly modeled what it is to lead lives as educators/artists/social activists/entrepreneurs,” Minner said. “They affirmed my story—my identity—while at MICA, which often felt like a whole other world from the Baltimore I grew up in. This increased my courage and my confidence. It helped me to flesh out the vision for what was to be. They helped me know it was possible. And they have celebrated every success with me along the way.”



In addition to his art practice, Jeffrey Kent is the founder of Sub-Basement Artist Studios, an alternative art space in Baltimore, and co-owner/founder of Unexpected Art & Décor, a pop-up gallery project that occupies otherwise vacant spaces with art. Kent views his roles as artist and gallery owner as intertwined. “When I work at both roles, I am wearing many hats, such as researcher, accountant, constructor, public relations manager, and curator, and being very specific in selection of my materials and the artists I work with,” Kent said. Kent explained that starting the Baltimore spaces came organically. “Both spaces, in their respective times, became available at the perfect time when I needed space,” Kent said. With Sub-Basement, he realized he could better utilize the location by sharing it with other artists with similar needs, so he created studios where artists could work, exhibit, and sell. The opportunity for Kent’s second space came from his involvement with a pop-up gallery installation at Artscape 2013. The concept was invited to extend its duration in a storefront at The Fitzgerald, near the MICA campus. As a busy artist, Kent knew he needed a partner, which he found in artist and interior designer Jeanine Turner. Together they launched what is now Unexpected Art & Décor, a gallery space showcasing art and artist-made furniture, with two locations. Kent credits MICA for helping him sharpen his abilities as a creative business owner. “While attending the MFA program at MICA, I acquired clarity through a rigorous academic program on the importance of art theory and curatorial practice in operating a successful creative business,” Kent said. “Specifically, I was versed in how to curate exhibitions, including but not limited to art selection, installation, lighting, documentation, and marketing. These are fundamental skills that I exercise in creating and operating Unexpected Art & Décor and Sub-Basement Artist Studios.” Kent is currently considering locations for Sub-Basement Artist Studios’ relocation in the spring.



On the website for his nonprofit ProjectArt, Adarsh Alphons tells the story of being kicked out of school at age seven for drawing in class. As the founder and executive director of ProjectArt, Alphons leads his team with a goal of providing art education in low socioeconomic areas of New York. The organization partners with libraries, hires faculty, and creates a curriculum that allows the progress of each student to be tracked. Classes are offered once a week for a total of 10 weeks. Three times a year, the students have an exhibition. Alphons was previously a director of visual arts at the Harlem School of the Arts, where his students’ love for art inspired his idea. ProjectArt gathered research from various institutions to assemble information detailing the long-term impact of an arts education. The statistics show that students with a thorough arts education have higher GPAs, get an average of 96 more points on the SAT, and are three times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree. “Children with a thorough arts education are far more likely to be innovators, entrepreneurs, and patent owners,” Alphons said. “It also prevents dropouts; there’s a huge economic impact right there.” Alphons learned the value of an education early on. For the entrepreneur, educator, and artist, MICA showed him “…the power of having an amazing teacher that can open children’s minds, teach them to take learning into their own hands,” he said. This year has proven to be very fruitful. This past May, Alphons was selected to represent the United States on behalf of the United States Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and speak about new and innovative models of promoting social change through the arts. He was also named one of the company Pave’s 25 “Rising Stars” in March and was accepted as a Columbia Community Scholar in July. In the past three years, Alphons has created the overall vision and built major support and awareness for ProjectArt, resulting in it being named one of Vanity Fair’s favorite charities in 2014.