During the height of the HIV epidemic, our New Yorker of the Week was inspired to use his background in design to show how those living with the illness can still create beauty. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.
In one Chelsea studio, living with HIV is neither a secret nor a focus.
It’s the supportive environment Ken Wampler envisioned in the 1980s to help those deeply affected by the epidemic.
"I saw people who had a lot of time on their hands and heads that were full of fear and anxiety, and they were facing a world that was stigmatizing them and I wanted a place where they could let go of that." Wampler says.
So twenty years ago the longtime painter founded The Alpha Workshops. The non-profit trains people living with HIV in the field of decorative arts.
"The mission will always be to help people, help vulnerable people, who are looking for a change in their direction, a change in focus, to live healthier more satisfying lives, because they've discovered their creativity, Wampler explains.
Throughout the 6,000 square foot space, artists produce hand-made projects that cover the spectrum of interior design.
Whether it's making wallpapers or lamps, Wampler encourages self-expression.
"It’s been the best experience of my life," says Federico Pelaez, an artisan intern at The Alpha Workshops. "It has made me humble and more honest, and he has given me the tools and he has given me the answer. I’m a decorative painter. I’m an artist."
For many, as they try to master their craft, the creative process renews hope and confidence.
"It feels like I’m on top of the world." says Alpha Workshops student Jeff Beler. "A lot of times I leave school very exuberant and happy that I just accomplished something that I would not normally have done."
"It opened up a lot of new things for me," agrees Alpha Workshops artisan Shelton Holt. "It gave me so much that I never thought it was capable of doing, like communication skills, coping skills, you know, it gave me hope because I didn’t have no hope, and now I have a chance to give back to society."
And so, for helping to create new futures for those living with HIV, Ken Wampler is our New Yorker of the Week.
For more information, visit alphaworkshops.org.