The Carpenter Art Garden opened in 2012 on a street that its founder was told to avoid. There were drug houses and crime on Carpenter Street but also two schools, so Erin felt that was where it had to be. The original art garden transformed a blighted, vacant lot into a place of beauty where over 100 children now gather each week to create art and build relationships. In five years it has grown to include: the renovated purple house next door which serves as a space for tutoring, small group art lessons, computer access, community service and book clubs, a laundry co-op for families, and employment opportunities for children and adults; a community workshop across the street that houses vocational training and job placement opportunities in bike maintenance and repair, sewing, and cooking; two community vegetable gardens down the street that provide skill training, community building, and plots for families to grow healthy eating options; a traveling farmers market cart for carrying fruits and vegetables to neighbors; and a mosaic sculpture garden in honor of neighborhood residents.

The Carpenter Art Garden is about empowering the children and adults of the neighborhood to change their community. The love and beauty cultivated there has spread to the whole neighborhood through wooden yard hearts the children deliver every Valentine’s Day and now includes the whole city of Memphis through murals they have installed in other blighted areas, as well as through the now famous Grizzlies yard hearts that grew out of those original Valentine hearts. People from every zip code order the Grizzlies hearts and come to the Art Garden to pick them up. Programming has grown from once-a-week afterschool art classes to small groups and activities every day of the year including regular bike outings; visits to local artists’ studios, galleries, and museums; and even out-of-town trips in the summer.

We talk with David who grew up at the Art Garden. He started going there when it first opened and now works as a teen leader to help the younger kids be their best. He also has taken over the painting of the Grizzlies hearts so their original creator, his friend Donte, could complete the bike mechanic training program offered across the street. David shares with us his passion for art and how excited he was that the Carpenter Art Garden opened at the same time he moved into the neighborhood. He discovered that art was what he wanted to do, even though he had never known about it before then. David says everyone in the community knows him for the work he does at the Art Garden, and he feels their pride in and love for him.

Ricky cuts out all the wooden yard hearts. This year everyone in the neighborhood wanted one, so he cut 1000 of them! Ricky tells us how the community has changed because of the Art Garden. He says the drug houses and crime are gone and that there has been no trouble since it came to Carpenter Street. Ricky loves seeing what the Art Garden means to the whole neighborhood as well as to its children who are able to grow up in a better environment than he did.

Erin closes by telling us about the changes she has seen in the neighborhood. She says there is more beauty and stronger community and that the children feel safe and proud when they see art they have created making their neighborhood more beautiful. She wishes every neighborhood could have an art garden so that all children would have the opportunity to help improve life in and for their own neighborhood. We do too!