For goodness' sake

Queen Anne resident's book sheds light on kids

Michael Peringer is a businessman. Vice-president of a local heating equipment company. In addition to those duties, Peringer is the president of the SODO Business Association. But what the long-time Queen Anne resident and father of five might eventually be most remembered for is starting a nonprofit in 1995 called ArtWorks, which is still thriving today.

Mike, a modest fellow who, in conversation downplays his own efforts to brag about others, started ArtWorks after receiving a small grant to the South of Downtown Business Association he founded, and still presides over.

"One of the most intractable problems faced by the community was the E-3 Busway, lined by warehouses along its entire two-mile route through the industrial district," Jim Diers wrote in the foreword to Good Kids: The Story of ArtWorks," written by Peringer and published last year to rave reviews.

But let's let Peringer tell it.

"It started with a small grant from Seattle Public Utilities to clean up graffiti, which was all over. There were 65 buildings, with graffiti on virtually every one," Peringer recalled.

The cleanup was so successful, Peringer and his group applied for another grant, this time from the city's Department of Neighborhoods. They got it.

"We pulled 300 tons of garbage out of there, from Royal Brougham in the north, to Spokane Street in the south. Then we wanted to do 13 murals. But when we started we didn't know how to do murals," Peringer said. "I went to a group called Street Smart Art that did public art with kids on community probation, and other programs from the Juvenile Justice Center. We ended up doing 23 murals [with them]," Peringer added with a touch of pride in his voice.

From there ArtWorks has blossomed, creating more than 350 murals for schools, parks, businesses and construction sites, with, they like to brag in their own informational pamphlets, "enough vibrant artwork to cover three football fields."

The program has provided mentoring, arts education and on-the-job training to more than 2,000 at-risk youth. ArtWorks has also led art projects for youth groups and schools that have engaged 3,500 more kids.

That diversity of approach is ongoing according to current ArtWorks executive director, Terry Pottmeyer, who took over the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit last year.

"We currently have eight court-involved youth in a weekday program, eight more court involved youth in the Saturday program and an after-school program at Cleveland High School (south end of Beacon Hill) for youth who volunteer (not mandated by courts)," said Pottmeyer, a mother of four boys ranging in age from 14 to 24.

Pottmeyer, who had her own business and worked for other nonprofits before assuming the reins of ArtWorks last year, is a strong advocate of the program she oversees.

"It helps at-risk youth to develop creative expression and it benefits the entire community because it is public art. When they (kids) are doing murals in the summer, community members come by, comment on the colors and interact with the artists. Both the kids and the community benefit from that," Pottmeyer said.

In the summer, ArtWorks kids work an average of 20 hours a week, and are paid minimum-wage salaries by the county. During the school year, kids work in the new ArtWorks studio, back in SoDo where it all began, at 923 S. Bayview St., from 3:30 to 6 p.m., five days a week. The Saturday-program kids put in the same sort of hours.

The young artists are supervised primarily by contract artists Pottmeyer hires. The folks she hires must be multi-skilled.

"They have to be able to engage the youth and do the murals," she said.

That's where Todd Lown comes in. The University of Washington graduate in print-making came to ArtWorks in August and has been working with kids on construction panels for the South Lake Union neighborhood. Real estate firm Vulcan Inc. and developer Schnitzer West LLC are co-sponsoring the mural work that Lown conceived. It's a historical timeline of the neighborhood, a sort of back-to-the future theme.

"That one has the Bluebill flight that took place on June 15, 1916," Lown said, pointing to a completed panel of Bill Boeing's first delivery plane. There are also panels that show the original street cars that ran in the neighborhood from 1889 to 1941. Students Chris Beck and Marius Crisan were busy painting in the panels that Lown had designed. Lown worked alongside them.

"I've stayed young at heart, and a lot of pop culture that defines the youth culture was underground when I was young," Lown, 30, said of how he connects with kids with entirely different upbringings than himself. "I show them how to use the brushes, to instill in them the joy that painting has brought me. People are people and there's always something to talk about."

Adjoining the Bluebill flight and streetcar scene will be a panel section dubbed "Saviors of Education."

Lown and Peringer said Asa Mercer, who just happens to be Peringer's great uncle, was just 22 years old when he brought 11 teachers from Massachusetts to the emerging Seattle territory. The trip, during the 1850s was pre-railroad and so the teachers, all female, traveled by ship around South America's Cape Horn and up the Pacific Coastline.

Another student, Derrick Harris, who has been painting with ArtWorks was busy working on an early harvest themed mural, designed by J. Gordon.

That mural and others will be used when needed, Lown said. Part of why ArtWorks appeals to developers is that the organization works to have an inventory ready to go.

The organization also likes to work with businesses on projects beyond construction site murals. Just last week it held its second annual "A Collective Vision" photography event at the OKOK Gallery in Ballard. It featured work from 19 Seattle-area photographers. Some of the proceeds of sales went to ArtWorks.

ArtWorks is also working with Western Neon and Esquin Wine Merchants on a neon/paint mural to be put in place at Fourth Avenue South and Lander Street. Western is providing the neon, Esquin the space.

"That could be a $30,000 to $50,000 job," Peringer said of the preliminary budget for the project.

ArtWorks isn't a free ride for the at-risk youth involved. Pottmeyer and others see it more as an opportunity for the youth to learn skills that will benefit them in later years.

"We do have expectations. You have to call in if you're going to be late or if you're not coming. You have to be ready for work when you arrive. And," she added, "there can be no fighting or arguing."

Even in their pamphlets seeking donations, members and volunteers, ArtWorks doesn't try to cover up their results.

"Seventy percent of the youth in our mural program do not reoffend and leave our program prepared for their next step in life," the literature reads.

And getting dropped once doesn't necessarily mean the dismissed youth can't reapply.

"We've had youths not ready to make their commitments who came back later. There's no enduring black mark [for getting dismissed]," Pottmeyer explained.

Pottmeyer noted, when asked, that the program's ethnic and racial makeup reflects the areas involved. In Seattle, it's primarily youths of color and in south King County, it's more balanced racially.

"The programs reflect the school districts involved," Pottmeyer said.

Not just the kids benefit from ArtWorks. Peringer has gotten to know a lot of the kids over the years and was surprised by the intelligence and "forward thinking" qualities he found in some of the kids. "When they leave and do well in college or on a job, it is really very gratifying," he said.

Peringer's book, "Good Kids, the Story of ArtWorks," is chock full of fascinating stories about graduates of the program.

"Angela [last names not used by Peringer or Pottmeyer] is now a professional muralist and Aida went on to college. These kids just need to have a break, and get pushed in the right direction. Many come back to volunteer because, they tell me, ArtWorks meant so much to them and helped them build their self-esteem. This is an opportunity for them to be positive and most of them take it," Peringer said.[[In-content Ad]]