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Jason Ponnequin (left), 27, first walked into the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle's University District in 2005. He had difficulty paying his rent and was homeless. A shirt with his design will be sold at a newly-opened gallery in Pioneer Square. (Photo: Brandi Kruse/KIRO Radio)

Gallery sells shirts, art created by homeless youth

A new gallery and retail store in Seattle's Pioneer Square will feature art and T-shirts created by at-risk and homeless youth.

Command Print (CMDP), which is located at 2nd and Yesler, celebrated its grand opening on Thursday. The storefront will be open to the public during the week and will curate art shows each Thursday.

A collaborative effort between Efflux Creations and the Sanctuary Art Center, CMDP is dedicated to bringing the public "art and apparel for social change."

Much of the art and merchandise that will be featured in the store was created at the Sanctuary Art Center, a non-profit located on the second floor of a church in Seattle's University District. The studio serves as a drop-in location for homeless youth and has been around since 1999.

Street kids and other at-risk youth ages 13 to 25 participate in activities such as screen-printing, painting, pottery, stained glass, beading, drawing, drama and music.

Jason Ponnequin, 27, first walked into the center in 2005. He had difficulty paying his rent and was newly homeless.

"I came here to do art. It was always one of my favorite things in high school," he said. "It was something fun to do and there were tons of supplies."

He came for six years before becoming involved in the center's screen printing program and was hired on as an employee in January of this year. He now works more than 20 hours a week and has helped to design T-shirts that will be sold at the store in Pioneer Square.

One of his designs, which will sell for roughly $20 a shirt, features a praying mantis.

"It is nice to know that you've done something, created something and other people actually enjoy it also," Ponnequin said. "Having somebody else enjoy it and actually be willing to pay for it is...sort of an acceptance thing I guess."

Troy Carter, the executive director of Sanctuary Art Center, was wearing Ponnequin's praying mantis shirt as he prepared for CMDP's grand opening.

"As corny and as cheesy as it is, our slogan is, 'life changing shirts,'" he said. "And I just - I believe in it."

More than selling shirts, Carter said the center and the storefront allow him to spend more time with the youth and understand their needs.

"It's really about the time. It just become about the conversations around the [screen printing] press," he said. "And those conversations lead to trust and building a relationship."

"I'm excited to have long relationships with these guys," said Lance Lobuzzetta, owner of Efflux Creations and an employee at the art center.

Lobuzzetta said they are often a source of advice for the youth and give them tools to hold down a job and maintain housing.

"We really do become their parental figures in a lot of ways," Carter said.

The center also offers paid internships to youth, including students from nearby Shoreline Community College. Michael Matute, 18, was given an eight-week paid internship at the center and has stayed on full time to help with the busy summer season.

"I work in the screen printing shop most of the day," said Matute, who would pursue a career in screen printing if given the chance.

"I'm a hands-on type of guy so anything where I have to be physically doing something is something I really enjoy."

Ponnequin said his work with the art center has come full circle. He now spends time helping kids who "drop-in," much like he did seven years ago.

"Which is pretty fulfilling," he said. "As long as I can stay here I'm going to stick around."

Although Ponnequin has been on and off the streets since he first started coming to the center, he is now looking for an apartment with his girlfriend.

"I've been working full time, I've got plenty of money to pay rent and I just need to find the right space," he said.

He encourages the public to check out the T-shirts and art for sale in Pioneer Square. Most of the items are designed and created by youth at the center.

"All of them are really great young people...really talented young people," he said. "They'd be really excited just to sell their art. It's awesome encouragement for them."

Proceeds from the sale of T-shirts designed at the art center will benefit programs there, while 90-percent of proceeds from the sale of artwork at the gallery will go back to the artist.


Brandi Kruse, KIRO Radio Reporter
Brandi Kruse is a reporter for KIRO Radio who is as spontaneous and adventurous in her free time as she is on the job. Brandi arrived at KIRO Radio in March 2011 and has already collected three regional Edward R. Murrow awards for her reporting.
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