Day 72: Ambrose

PK Printing Session 2 Day 72: Ambrose
Photo by Rob Walcott.
Since 2001, Michigan’s state budget for the arts has decreased from $28.2 to $2 million. That’s huge, and could seriously damage Michigander’s—especially student’s—exposure to the arts. But such a void also carries potential for positive growth; artists across the state have begun to generate some exciting, new, and creative ways to engage with young artists. The Ambrose arts collective in Holland is just one of these new ventures.
PK Printing Session 3 Day 72: Ambrose
Photo by Rob Walcott

According to their website, Ambrose is “a collective of artists, designers, thinkers and makers dedicated to using our talent for good.” Ambrose was founded in 2008 by Iowa native Adam Weiler, his wife Jenna, and a group of six high school students. While meeting at Lemonjello’s in downtown Holland for coffee, the students outlined an ideal space to “get our hands messy with process, learn from experienced and passionate people, be creative [and] try new things.” Ambrose aims to operate within these guidelines.

Adam Weiler’s involvement with the arts was minimal in high school. While he did take art classes, once enrolled in Iowa’s Central College, he chose to pursue engineering. This all changed after Weiler attended a week long workshop put on by Tim Rawlins, a New York artist who worked with impoverished high school students during the 1980s. Rawlins had an enormous positive impact on his student’s lives with very few resources. The workshop inspired Weiler, teaching him “how art can enable transformation and creativity can develop community.”

Printmaking Workshop Day 72: Ambrose
Photo by Rob Walcott

Weiler swapped engineering for a double major in fine arts and visual communications and after moving to Holland, he began working with student artists as a youth pastor. There, he led summer workshops for middle school students. “We had poets, painters, photographers, and visual artists come in and lead two week sessions. The way they took to the material was really cool,” said Weiler.

The name Ambrose was chosen as a reference to the late 4th Century bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose. After the Goths invaded the Roman empire during his reign, according to legend, his response was to melt down all of the church’s gold to offer as ransom. Ambrose hopes to “follow in his steps by repurposing our fortunes of experience and education to aid in the holistic development of youth,” explains their website.

PKPowWow Day 72: Ambrose
Photo by Rob Walcott

Pulling in students from local high schools—Holland public, West Ottawa, Holland Christian, and Black River—Ambrose meets once a week during the school year and hosts more sporadic, open studios during the summer. The weekly meetings are grouped into workshops, usually around a month long, that focus on a specific idea or skill set—whether it’s photography, sewing, drawing, zine making or layout work—and take place in a number of venues, including the Holland Area Arts Council and a local screen-printing shop, Son Screens.

Weiler summed up Ambrose with these three values: collaboration, humility, and curiosity. The workshops conducted by Weiler and guest artists try to incorporate these principles, which are all central parts of being a creative thinker.

Though the number of students attending fluctuates, there’s a core group of around 15 who attend regularly. Any student in the area, with any level of experience, is welcome to attend and it’s completely free. Weiler noted that while “some students are very proficient, there are others who are just getting their feet wet,” which makes it a great place to learn or mentor others.

PK Printing Session Day 72: Ambrose
Photo by Rob Walcott
Part of what makes Ambrose so potentially useful to students is their focus on entrepreneurship. Weiler brings in artists from around the state to share with students their own particular artistic skills, but they also share professional struggles, teaching students why an artist must know a certain amount about math and marketing to be successful. Weiler believes that as a society, “we need creative problem solvers…creative people that are also entrepreneurial and able to manage things.”Screen-printing—mainly on t-shirts, but other materials too—has become a key component of Ambrose. With the generosity of Son Screens, students have created designs and learned how to run the presses. They are able to learn a very concrete skill, and according to Weiler, seem particularly drawn to screen-printing t-shirts because “instead of having to buy an Abercrombie shirt,” they see opportunities to create their own.Ambrose designs and prints one t-shirt each month (a “maker’s dozen), with help from a different outside artist each month. The printmaking process also involves a lot of math, logic, and entrepreneurial work, teaching students how to make multiples, keep track of inventory, and calculate overhead.

Most importantly, the focus on screen-printing helps Ambrose become “a sustaining space that offers goods and services by day and education by night,” a goal Weiler envisioned for the project. It’s exciting to see such an ingenious, engaging project unfold in West Michigan.

If you’d like to get involved with Ambrose, either as a volunteer, professional artist, or student, contact them online, where you can also buy the maker’s dozen t-shirts! ~Mike Guisinger, Regional Director

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[box]**Special thanks to Brian Mulder for suggesting this![/box]

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