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One America - Publicolor

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One America

Program: Publicolor, New York, NY
Contact(s): Ruth Lande Shuman, President and Founder: (212) 722-2448
Purpose: To organize volunteer painters to use the power of color to transform public spaces

Background Program Operations Outcomes


Publicolor was founded by industrial designer Ruth Lande Shuman as a way of engaging young people in their education by involving them in making their schools warm and inviting places through the imaginative use of color. Through Publicolor, dismal public spaces can be transformed into places of hope, energy and transformation. Publicolor is a nonprofit organization with a mission to organize a community of volunteer painters to use the power of color to transform public spaces, most especially in impoverished neighborhoods. Because the participants of the program are multiracial--Asian, African American, Hispanic, African, Haitian, Caribbean, Caucasian, Dominican and Ecuadorian, Publicolor also creates multicultural coalitions within schools, helping to ease racial tensions. In July 1997, Publicolor won a contract with the New York City Board of Education to transform up to 15 schools in the city for $15,000 per school.

Program Operations

Publicolor organizes students, teachers, parents and community members in paint clubs at each school, meeting after school and on Saturdays for 8-12 weeks to prime and paint hallways, stairwells, cafeterias and entrance halls. Club members agree on which colors they would like to use in order to celebrate the diversity represented in their schools. Over a period of time, members of the paint club learn good work habits, leadership skills, the value of collaboration, how to paint like professionals, thus developing a potentially marketable skill. After the original assignment, paint club members continue to hone this skill on Saturday paint projects within their own neighborhoods in community centers, homeless shelters and medical facilities. Corporate and community volunteers painting alongside students act as mentors.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

According to outside evaluations and feedback from school administrators, some significant transformations take place inside these schools. The more vibrant and positive environment created by Publicolor leads to an improved attitude for both students and teachers alike and a sense of pride and ownership replace feelings of abandonment. Students also reported having a stronger sense of cultural identity. A recent evaluation by Bank Street Teachers College notes that students feel safer in a school transformed by Publicolor, that the incidents of graffiti are reduced and the rise in morale leads to better attendance records which in turn lead to better reading and math scores. The rise in self-esteem observed in paint club members who begin and end a project together leads Publicolor to conclude that color, community, commitment and completion is a formula for success.

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