Purpose Prize

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Stella Aguirre McGregor

Urbano Project, Inc.
Purpose Prize Fellow 2014

She brings creative teens and professional artists together to create socially relevant contemporary art.

For more than 30 years, I have been an artist, cultural worker and arts educator in Boston. I believe art is an essential part of life – and a catalyst for social change.

In the ’80s, I started an artist-run space for contemporary art that drew kids away from drug-dealing and into the arts. Later, I consulted for the City of Boston’s Big Dig’s Artery Arts program and worked for the state cultural council.

In 2003, I developed an innovative arts education program in which teens who acted as both curators and artists learned from professional contemporary artists. When that program faced closure in 2009, I had a choice to make. I could retire and spend more time with my family and in my studio, making my own art. Or I could find a way to keep alive a program I had seen change the lives of so many teen artists. It wasn’t really a choice at all.

  • 1,000 students have made art through the Urbano Project in the past five years 

  • 99 percent of participants go to college 

  • 94 percent view teaching artists as role models


The next month, I launched the Urbano Project. It is the culmination of my career in developing collaborative art spaces, youth arts education and public art projects. We bring together public high school students and professional artists from across the Boston area at a professional exhibition and studio space in the Jamaica Plain community. We offer small but intensive workshops, classes and studio work led by a dozen professional artists every year.

In the past five years, more than 1,000 youth have made art with us in a range of media. More than half are immigrants, and 88 percent are students of color. Two-thirds are female. For many, Urbano is their only chance to engage in creativity-based learning – let alone with established artists as role models.

We’re one of the few programs that helps students interested in creative careers prepare for and apply to college. In fact, 99 percent of our participants go on to college, and some have received full scholarships.

Every year our artists and professional artists collaborate on public art projects that reflect a theme relevant to our students’ social landscape. Through the young curators program, students conceive and produce exhibitions in our gallery, drawing up to 3,000 members of the public every year.

Urbano’s work lies at the intersection of youth development, artistic exploration and social justice. Ultimately, we hope to create great artists – and community leaders who work for social justice.