By Ginene Mahoney, MAUS
Assistant Director of Marketing Services
Drexel University Office of Institutional Advancement
My name is Ginene Mahoney, and I am a former student in the Arts Administration and Museum Leadership Program. I started the program in 2016 as a part-time student and a full-time Drexel employee: Administrative Assistant in the Office of Institutional Advancement. Before coming to Drexel, I graduated from Saint Joseph’s University with a BA in Fine Arts (Painting) and a minor in Italian. I worked at a paint-your-own pottery studio, taught after school art classes in the City of Camden, NJ, got a Master’s degree in Community Arts from Eastern University, and worked as an Adoption Specialist in the Philadelphia foster care system. No matter what my job or place in life, I have always had a passion for using art to create change.
In Neville Vakharia's core class of Creative Enterprise and Innovation, I was able to express this passion through our final group project. Our groups were tasked with creating an enterprise, program, or service utilizing the arts, and ours chose to develop a nonprofit that created art installations for the visually impaired. Although this was a theoretical enterprise, we were taught to view it as if it were or could become a reality – a very Drexel concept. This was such an exciting endeavor that I chose to take Arts Entrepreneurship (also with Neville) as my elective course. In this class, each student created their own arts enterprise and focused on identifying customer segments and tailoring our business models to meet their needs. Through all the work and research I have done, I’ve come to know the arts can make a difference in people and their lives, which led me to develop the Creation Cart.
I designed the Creation Cart – a mobile arts and crafts instruction table – to be a part of free produce markets within the nonprofit Philabundance, the region’s largest hunger relief organization. These produce markets, called Fresh For All, take place weekly across the City of Philadelphia. People in need line up sometimes hours in advance, to get free portions of fresh fruits and vegetables from Philabundance. With the idea that learning an artistic skill and creating a piece of art can have a lasting impact on those in need, the Creation Cart would not only give community members something to do while waiting but also build their resilience. Since my husband works at Philabundance, my plan after creating my business pitch for class, was to pitch the Creation Cart to Philabundance and work together to make this a part of their Fresh For All program.
The next step was for me to see a Fresh For All first hand to get a better feel for the customers in person and to see the logistics of the market. So, I worked a volunteer shift at the nearest Fresh For All – South Philadelphia. It was great being able to interface with community members and see their food needs being met. What I did not expect, however, was the fact that nearly all of the customers at this Fresh For All were immigrants who did not speak English. How could I teach an art technique and lead a meaningful conversation with people I could not communicate with verbally? At the time I was also 6 months pregnant, so with a roadblock in front of the Creation Cart and an upcoming shift in my life focus, my goals for making the Cart a reality fell to the wayside.
However, about a year later, a classmate of mine from Neville’s class, Alanna Garavaglia, was bringing an enterprise of her own to life – a farmers market in her community of Morris Plains, that also brought in a youth music group and other arts opportunities. She reached out and asked if I would be interested in bringing the Creation Cart to the farmers market and provide customers with the opportunity to Create. It was a long drive, but I could not resist the opportunity to see the Creation Cart in action. I set up the Creation Cart as an art station instead of walking it around as I would at Fresh For All, and I was able to interact with a handful of kids interested in making food-related art.
While the venue was different from what I had envisioned for the Creation Cart, bringing my idea to life at all helped reignite my passion for teaching art and sharing with others the benefits of creation. It also helped me consider solutions to the issues facing the Creation Cart and gave me confidence in the fact that I’d already done it.
Around the same time as the Creation Cart’s debut in Morris Plains, I organized a volunteer opportunity for my department at Drexel to distribute produce at Philabundance’s Dobbins High School Fresh For All, in North Philadelphia. Just like the South Philadelphia Fresh For All, people were lined up at Dobbins hours in advance of the actual market. Unlike South Philly, Dobbins has a primarily English-speaking audience. Mr. Charles, the high school’s community liaison, was honored a few weeks earlier on Good Morning America for his community work and volunteerism with Philabundance. He also has deep relationships with the community members and a passion for bringing exciting opportunities to the people he serves. He talked to our team about the big community events he hosts at the high school for Thanksgiving and other parts of the year, and he appeared to be very open to bringing new ideas to his audience.
Now that 2020 is under way, I am excited to revisit the Creation Cart in two venues. I've been asked to bring the Creation Cart back to the Morris Plains farmers market this summer, and I plan to approach Mr. Charles to try it at Dobbins High School as well. Since I now have all the supplies for the Cart, it will be easier to show Mr. Charles that I am ready with my idea. With a spouse who works at Philabundance I can figure out whom to contact at the organization to make them aware of my arts enterprise and discuss the possibility of doing it at other sites, should it be successful at Dobbins. I am hopeful that with more opportunities to exhibit the Creation Cart, I will think of new and better ways to meet my original audience's needs - even those that speak another language!
Thanks to the Arts Administration and Museum Leadership program, Neville’s teaching and encouragement, the connections made with my classmate, Alanna, and the entrepreneurial spirit instilled in us as Dragons, I was able to make an idea something real and concrete, and I can continue to build and grow my dream.