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In an era of budget cuts, CRED Magazine offers a creative outlet for the city's youth

The CRED team

CRED cover

Busking at CRED

CRED cover

Working on CRED

CRED Cover

CRED layout

With the Philadelphia School District's financial crisis putting arts on the chopping block across the city, creative opportunities for local youth seem to be drying up faster than a splash on the summertime sidewalk. 

In the midst of that fraught atmosphere, Village of Arts and Humanities Executive Director Aviva Kapust is touting a project that overcomes both funding shortfalls and the ephemeral nature of the digital world: a professional-grade magazine created, curated and designed entirely by people under 25. 

"What all of us are most proud of is that, we believe, we really are the only magazine model that operates like this in the world," says Kapust of CRED Magazine, now celebrating its third year and fifth issue going to press. 

The Village of Arts and Humanities, a non-profit founded in 1989 by Lily Yeh, began with an "art park" on a single vacant lot in North Philadelphia. Since then, a variety of regional partnerships have let the Village blossom into a "Creative Campus" spanning eight buildings and twelve parks. It features art studios, a community kitchen and teen-managed urban farm, an outdoor stage and dance studio, a public computer facility and an artist-in-residency program.
With the help of about 600 volunteers, the Village serves about 5,000 young people and their families every year. According to Kapust, it's the only place in a 260-square-block radius where kids can get after-school arts education.

Throughout her coast-to-coast career as a graphic designer and creative director, Kapust always enjoyed pro bono work that connected youth with the arts. "I really found a lot of joy in recognizing talents in people that maybe they didn't even see," she explains. "I ended up deciding that I wanted to change what I was doing completely."

Kapust began volunteering at the Village three years ago.

She thought it would be tremendous if there was an outlet for the young people who were constantly creating. Maybe the Village could help launch a newspaper column developed by young people? And then she figured, why not a newsletter?

"Forget that," Kapust recalls thinking. "Let's do something really important, let's not just talk about the Village; let's talk about young people everywhere."

In 2011, the Village received a $5,000 grant to launch CRED Magazine, and leveraged that money to raise over $170,000 more. The first issue, published in January 2012, drew 350 submissions from youth across the city. For the fourth issue, published last spring, Village curators received 1025 submissions. To date, CRED has published the work of about 400 young people, the youngest just eight years old.

CRED currently receives support from the Knight Foundation's Donor-Advised Fund, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and Impact100 Philadelphia.

Part of that money goes directly to the young people involved: CRED makes a point of paying its contributors. "We pay out about $3,000 to $4,000 per issue," says Kapust. "We really want to fuel the young creative economy." She's been touched to see some of the writers and artists mail the checks right back, so the money can go towards future issues.

Curating those issues is another unique aspect of the CRED process. Youth from throughout the city and surrounding suburbs -- from university students to elementary schoolers -- submit their art, creative writing or story pitches. Then all contributors receive a link to an online poll where they can see and read everyone's work, and vote for their favorites. 

"They don't know how old an artist is, where they're from, or what color their skin is," explains Kapust. "The decision is based solely on merit." A team of young designers tallies the votes and chooses about 80 works for each issue. "I tell them to curate it like you would a gallery," she adds.

For Kapust and managing editor/co-founder Heather Jones, a recent Temple University graduate, the quality of the magazine is paramount. 

"I want people to look at the magazine and see something very professional," says Jones. "When I tell them this whole thing is created by youth under the age of 25, they're shocked."

Writer Reggie Meyers, 23, affirms the value of the CRED ethos. The New Jersey native, now living in North Philadelphia, received his bachelor's degree from Temple this year and penned two CRED articles while he was a student. "It gives artists some much-needed recognition and encouragement," he says. "CRED is another way of saying to them that their art is valuable; their work is good."

Kapust insists that publishing CRED in print is essential to its mission -- the pages of a magazine "don't disappear," flashing by like a blog post or a status update. With the arts increasingly sidelined in schools, it's important for kids to hold something in their hands.

"It's the real social network," explains Kapust. "It's happening off-line, in person, and it's important that the world recognize that kids are not just online." 

This is particularly important since approximately 80 percent of households in the Village's neighborhood do not have access to the internet on a home computer. CRED can be a resource and a point of pride for everyone, regardless of income or broadband access. 

The CRED model has recently drawn attention from other cities interested in launching something like it. CRED staffers estimate that with a printing of 10,000 copies, each issue (distributed for free across the city) reaches about 30,000 readers. 

"They go quicker than we can get them out," says Kapust proudly. "They're kind of a hot commodity." 

ALAINA MABASO, a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist, has landed squarely in what people tell her is the worst possible career of the twenty-first century. So she makes Pennsylvania her classroom, covering everything from business to theater to toad migrations. After her editors go to bed, she blogs athttp://alainamabaso.wordpress.com/. Find her on Twitter @AlainaMabaso.
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