Travel along the coastal route of the El Camino Real and explore the rich, diverse cultural and artistic identity of San Luis Obispo County. This installment in the series celebrates the mavericks, pioneers, and experimental thinkers of the county.
As charities and nonprofits battle it out for limited funds in an economic downturn, a local agency with a big heart and even bigger ambitions has founded a unique business model to raise funds for their programs. The San Luis Obispo Child Development Resource Center (SLOCDRC) has been providing child development and therapeutic interventions to strengthen families for over 40 years. This past year they opened the sm(ART) Studio. "It is a class, retail, and studio location for artists, teachers, and families with a unique eco-friendly twist," described Executive Director and founder, Terri Kurczewski.
SLOCDRC was seeking unique funding opportunities to support their programs, which would blend their work with children and the community, with environmental causes important to the sustainability of the county. "As a board we discussed various nonprofit business models and we created a spin on the thrift store model and devised our sm(ART) Studio program," said Kurczewski. The sm(ART) Studio serves as a second-hand shop for donated and recycled crafting materials and an open studio for the community to create crafted projects from the donated goods or for teachers to purchase art supplies for their classrooms.
"100 percent of the supplies and materials are donated," said Kurczewski. "We have received materials donated by local interior designers, The Apple Farm, National Reso-Phonic Guitars, Green Goods and many who have cleaned out their craft rooms and said 'here you go!' We are also extremely grateful to Better Business Financial Services," she added. The San Luis Obispo accounting firm helped allocate and subsidize the studio space where sm(ART) Studio is located.
The sm(ART) Studio held their grand opening this past June. Crafting moms were amongst their first users and most enthusiastic according Kurczewski, "The moms were like 'Wow this place is so cool!' That first day I thought we would have to work hands-on with the kids, but they stood up on their own, grabbed their own supplies and with no instruction from adults, crafted their own projects using reclaimed materials we had sitting out on the shelves."
"Besides the retail and arts & crafts component of the Sm(ART) Studio, it is also an idea studio," described Kurczewski. "We often feature finished projects and artworks from local upcycled crafters and artists. This inspiration, along with a constant influx of new donated materials provides a place in the community where arts and crafts materials can be purchased at discount prices, businesses and individuals have a place to donate materials to benefit a children's charity. Everyone can reap inspiration from the materials through classes, studio hours, and thoughtful displays."
Kurczewski's funding model is on trend with many nonprofits nationally. These groups while focused on their core issues and missions, have augmented their governmental funding allocations with projects mapping for-profit business models such as retail storefronts. Most of the money for programs are raised locally, often from their regular donor base, but expanded to reach an audience that may not have overlapped normally with their mission.
"There is no business like this in San Luis Obispo County, except for maybe Habitat for Humanity's ReStore which sells used building and housing supplies. With an economic downturn, parents, artists, and teachers are looking for cost effective ways to carry out their creative endeavors. The rising popularity of crafting, upcycling, DIY, and repurposing goods I feel makes this a unique educational retail establishment with an untapped market," said Kurczewski."
The response from other local nonprofits has been met with smiles and cheers boasted Kurczewski. "Our social services colleagues have been nothing but supportive and encouraging. They see us as pioneers in the model we developed as a revenue stream for our nonprofit, and they are cheering us on in our success."
sm(ART) Studio hosts a popular "Ladies Night" crafting session. Kurczewski opens up the studio on Thursday nights once a month, armed with an arsenal of recycled crafting supplies and a table filled with hors d'oeuvres and libations. Ladies Night crafter Judy West and her spouse Virginia Jensen attend every chance they can get. "We moved to the Central Coast from the very conservative Tehachapi foothills where we raised Llamas and Virginia painted," recalled West. "In the small ranch subdivision where we lived we were ostracized. We were on our neighbors' shit lists because we stood out for being lesbians and for raising Llamas, which was a double whammy in that horse-loving community. Moving to the Central Coast we were welcomed the moment we settled in, especially at get-togethers like this."
For the artists and crafters who use the studio, it is all fun. But Kurczewski sees a larger but more subtle purpose. "Having a program unrelated to our core mission can help expand our outreach and create healthy activities for the families we serve," Kurczewski explained. Many of the children the Child Development Resource Center serves are at risk of abuse or neglect, homeless or in need of additional support. "Overall, we assist children and families in their efforts to have positive and healthy family relationships," continued Kurczewski. "Components of our services include therapy and referrals to other agencies for families to access essential community services, coupled with parent education and advocacy to expand parents' capabilities to foster the best possible development of their children and themselves."
Many of these families now participate in the sm(ART) studio offerings, which has empowered families to expand their community participation into activities such as the Girls Scouts and local youth sporting leagues.
Kurczewski continues to grow sm(ART) Studio classes. She added a Teen Crafting workshop to the studio's calendar of activities as well as holiday camps for kids, open studio hours, and classes for homeschoolers, bridal parties, birthday parties, and teacher professional development.
For Kurczewski, as a former teacher and principal, and as an eco-minded mother to a theatrical kindergartner and as the wife of a musician, the sm(ART) studio connects the dots for her personal life and professional life. "The eco-seed was planted so to speak, in my long-standing aspiration to leave a better planet for my daughter. My experience as an educator, my work in social services, and our eco-friendly principles at home (growing our own organic produce, and ardent recycling) have all collectively prepared me for the brainchild and development of the sm(ART) Studio. We are educating for tomorrow through our actions today."
Top Image: Craft projects on display at the sm(ART) Studio, San Luis Obispo. | Photo: Catherine Trujllo.
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