The Steam Exchange is a community arts organization based in the Smoketown neighborhood where individuals explore the arts through creative play and production. We also use the arts as a platform for young people to engage in innovative ways to explore concepts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEAM). We aim to foster a sense of community, pride and ownership in the Smoketown neighborhood and to encourage community-based, creative entrepreneurship by connecting people with the skills and facilities to develop quality projects. All of our programming is free to youth who live, learn or worship in Smoketown.
Over the past few decades, the majority of neighborhood businesses have closed or relocated, leaving Smoketown predominantly residential. This initiative directly meets residents’ stated needs according to the 2014 Vision Smoketown report conducted by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. Both employment opportunities and safe youth activities were mentioned as priorities within the surveys, with ‘increased activities for kids’ within the top five priorities for neighborhood improvements. Workshops and open studio hours will invite Smoketown residents of all ages to learn the process of screen printing and realize their own ideas. We know that screen printing is very popular among neighborhood youth and through this project, we will increase the number of youth we serve. We have a mobile screen printing cart that we have taken out to over 30 neighborhood events over the past 2 and a half years, printing with hundreds of Smoketown residents of all ages. At each event, the youth come back to our cart repeatedly so they can make multiple prints. Also, working with over 150 neighborhood residents, we have created 3 series of collaboratively designed screen prints, comprised of 20 images to date.
The Steam Exchange would like to transform a portion of our community art center into a small-scale commercial and community screen printing shop. 714 South Clay Street is a former liquor store on a high crime block that had remained vacant and deteriorating until the Steam Exchange partnered with Louisville Metro Housing Authority and neighborhood businesses, nonprofits, and residents to begin renovating and transforming the property. The building is set to open for classes and workshops in summer of 2017.
The print shop will operate as a small business, providing paid internship opportunities for Smoketown youth that lead to part-time employment. Proceeds will be reinvested into Steam Exchange programs, reducing our dependence on grant funding. The Steam Exchange will partner with local schools and businesses to create a client base for our work.