Updated: Jul 15, 2019
The Walls Project is transforming Baton Rouge, inside and out.
Even those who have not heard of The Walls Project are likely to be familiar with some of the organization’s work. It’s responsible for the frequently Instagrammed mural on the side of the former Harrington’s Cafe with brightly colored triangles and butterflies, along with dozens of other murals scattered across the city.
What began as a Kickstarter to build the first mural in 2012 has evolved not only into a full-scale public arts campaign over the years, but also a successful community outreach organization.
Through its 3-year-old program, The Futures Fund, The Walls Project offers coding and photography classes for middle and high school students to help them get a head start on skills in demand in today’s workforce.
While The Futures Fund is open to all students, the program is geared toward lower-income children. By implementing needs-based tuition, The Walls Project ensures these classes are available to any student interesting in taking them.
Classes take place Saturday mornings at Baton Rouge Community College and Southern University, but will eventually expand to LSU. While the program currently has around 300 students enrolled, The Futures Fund is not always the first program associated with The Walls Project since its results aren’t as tangible as brightly painted walls.
Marketing director Helena Williams wants to change that. She first became involved with The Walls Project as a volunteer, painting fences at BREC’s Gayosa Street Park.
A Baton Rouge native, Williams moved to San Francisco with her mother when she was 14. She moved back to the Capital City six years later with a broader perspective on the nature of a city, she said.
“One of the things I became aware of was the difference in a real metropolitan city and how Baton Rouge should be and how it’s not,” Williams said. “I’ve always been a big proponent of if you want there to be change, it’s better to do it yourself than to wait and hope for someone to do it.”
Williams funneled this energy for driving change into her hometown, working hours upon hours weekly for The Walls Project. Volunteerism turned into a contract doing graphic design work for the company, which turned into a full-time job as the marketing director — one of the organization’s three permanent positions.
The organization’s renewed focus on The Future Fund has resulted in the materialization of a new set of goals for the organization: First, The Walls Project creates murals and other public art, then cultivates youth in the community and teaches them creative, practical skills applicable to the workforce and in return, these children grow up to reactivate the community by strengthening Baton Rouge’s economy.
The Futures Fund offers more experienced students the opportunity to further hone their skills through paid work-study programs.
“We try to instill in them a kind of entrepreneurial mission in themselves,” Williams said. “We’re hoping that with all these skills that there’s going to be an economic boom here.”
Although the project is still relatively new and most of its participants are still minors, Williams has already seen participants in these programs contributing to their communities. One 17-year-old started his own business while another has an internship coding for the mayor.
Currently, The Walls Project team is preparing for its fourth annual MLK Day Festival of Service, a large scale event spanning 20 blocks — between Airline Highway and Swan Ave. — where thousands of volunteers will pick up trash, paint murals, plant an urban forest and fix peeling paint around the city. The event will be on Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend — Jan. 12-15.
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