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  • Cory Minkah Montalvo

5th Grade Art Project: Creating Socially and Community Conscious Ventures

Updated: Nov 30, 2018


Last November, a local branch of the beverage chain ink! Coffee used an advertisement that celebrated gentrification to promote their shop. The sign read, “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014”, and it sparked outrage throughout city, especially impacting people of color who reside in the Five Points/Curtis Park neighborhood.



As a result of the influx of people moving to Denver over the past decade, the practice of gentrification has become a significant issue for those born and raised in the city, as thousands of residents have been displaced by rising housing costs and “rejuvenation” projects. For some, gentrification means new opportunity and renewal of decaying spaces, but for many locals, the term describes an oppressive and unjust practice that’s rooted in financial and racial privilege.


Many of our students and families are among those affected by gentrification. As a means to engage the issue in an authentic way, YEBO engaged 5th grade students at University Prep Arapahoe St. with an art project that challenged them to explore how businesses and organizations impact the community around them, either positively or negatively.


To do so, we partnered with art teacher Lauren Fabre and challenged the students to unpack the concept of “gentrification”, identifying how its practices affect their lives and/or the lives of people they know. The students then learned about the history of the Five Points/Curtis Park neighborhood and how/why the social dynamics of the area have evolved throughout the last 150 years. With this knowledge, the students began analyzing how the work and physical spaces of various local businesses either uplifted or oppressed the neighborhood’s history, identity, and culture. Finally, the students designed their own business, school, or organization that addressed a need or problem in our community, while also celebrating the local heritage.


For context, the students learned about the work and business philosophies of local cafes, including ink Coffee, Prodigy Coffee, and Coffee at the Point. Steph Frances, founder and CEO of Prodigy Coffee, visited the students and showed how her coffee shop addressed a need in the community by employing and training youth who dropped out of high school. Ms. Frances also spoke on how her business contracted a local artist to paint murals on the building that celebrated the community’s spirit and identity.


In following sessions, the students explored the interiors and exteriors of other coffee shops, businesses, schools, and organizations, specifically reflecting on what emotions were created by these physical spaces, as well as how the community, if at all, was celebrated.


The final piece of this project challenged students to work as teams and identify a problem, and then design a business, school, or organization that could solve that problem. The students thought about how they wanted the interior and exterior of their buildings to feel, and how their ideas would uplift the community around them. From these designs, the teams constructed models of their ideas by using recycled materials.


Many thanks to Steph Frances and Prodigy Coffee for visiting with our students, as well as for the wonderful work they do with our community’s youth. Prodigy is an excellent example of how to make money but stay conscious to the community’s needs and identity. We should also take time to explore and learn from the amazing projects and ideas of our students.


Below, you'll find some of the amazing creations. Enjoy!



Health for Gun Violence Inc. - We created a business/community organization to try to solve the problem of gun violence. Our organization tries to solve this problem by facilitating conversations and by offering counseling services. We hope people feel happy and welcomed when they are inside of our building, and that they feel safe to share what they think and feel."


Helping Homeless (HH) Organization - We created an organization to try to solve the problem of homeless in our community. Our organization solves that problem by providing shelter, food, and job training opportunities to people who are homeless. We hope people feel welcomed and calm when they are inside of our building, and we hope that our organization can make people feel accepted no matter what their culture.

Problem Solvers - We created an organization to try to solve the problem of bullying in schools. Our school tries to prevent bullying by giving students space to talk about and solve their problems. We hope people feel joyful and welcomed when they are inside of our building. We accomplished this by making our building bright and colorful and by making designs on the walls.


Answering to the Anonymous - We created a community organization to help combat isolation, because we noticed that many problems that people face are caused by feeling isolated. Our organization tries to solve the problem of isolation by bringing people together and having conversations. We hope people feel positive and safe when they are inside of our building. Our organization celebrates and honors our community because it provides space for all people of the community to come together and help each other.

Help the Homeless - We created an organization to try to solve the problem of homelessness in our community. Our organization solves the problem by creating a free shelter that offers people the things they need to be successful, as well as helping people with addictions so they are ready for the world. We hope people feel welcome and jubilant when they are inside of our building. Our organization celebrates our community by including murals that celebrate Colorado.

Curtis Park Mall - We created a business to solve the problem of homelessness and issues around money in our community. Our business solves these problems by providing free food, having clothing that costs one dollar or less, and by providing free job training so that homeless people can make money. We hope people feel safe and cared for when they are inside of our building. Our building also has a room for a church to give blessings to people, as well as a fashion show and a bell to tell people when it is open.


Strive and Achieve - We created a community organization to try to solve the problem of bullying, tobacco use, suicide, and homelessness. Our organization tries to solve those problems by raising awareness about the issues and communicating effectively with others. We hope people feel safe, healthy, and comfortable when they are inside of our building. Our organization celebrates our community by including murals of the Mexican and American flag on our building.

Strive and Achieve

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©2018 by Youth Empowerment Broadcasting Organization (YEBO).