Inside this classroom at the West Harlem Skills Training Center, a group gets tips on future careers in the trades. The once-blank walls now feature photos, documenting life around here over the past four decades.
"It's a mix of back in the day photos that I took long ago, well over 20 years ago, when we still had graffiti on the trains, when Harlem wasn't quite the gentrifcation capitol that it's become, and new things," said photographer and filmmaker Cathleen Campbell.
Campbell was the first person chosen to showcase her work on the walls here, part of a new artist's exhibition series presented by the skills center, its parent the West Harlem Development Corporation and the Manhattan Community Board 9 Arts and Culture Committee.
Co-chair Joyce Adewumi says the goal is to provide more cultural enrichment for families in an area that is predominantely low-income and has a lack of gallery space.
"To build new audiences for our artists and to have the community enjoy more," Adewumi said.
Training center manager Migdalia Rodriguez says opening the doors to artists was a no brainer. The center is one of the programs instituted by the Development Corporation as part of the community's agreement with Columbia University, which is undergoing a major expansion in the neighborhood. She says covering the walls with art elevates the space for folks hoping to elevate their lives during a time of upheaval in their neighborhood.
"You can't come in here and have an attitude in the morning and feel bad. When you see the art, it kind of makes you feel good," Rodriguez said.
Everyone here agrees that Campbell's photos were the perfect way to kick off this series. She hopes it brings out the spirit of Harlem, both past and present.
"The reason why you wanted to move to Harlem in the old days was not the architecture, although it has great architecture here. The reason you wanted to move to Harlem then, and I would argue now, is because of the people," Campbell said.