M.J. Farkas credits the Industrial Arts Co-op with changing his life.
Growing up poor in Appalachia, he welded old cars out of necessity, never thinking it could turn into a career.
But when he heard about the Industrial Arts Co-op’s Mobile Sculpture Workshop, Farkas enrolled. The roving, summer-long initiative taught him and nine other high school students welding techniques and metalwork through the creation of public art.
Sparks flew in nearly a dozen city neighborhoods, from Millvale to Shadyside.
Now, several years later, the 19-year-old has a good job with a railroad company and owns a house in Pittsburgh.
“I have a pretty nice set up through welding,” Farkas says.
Tim Kaulen, founder of the Industrial Arts Co-op, is looking to generate more success stories by opening the Industrial Arts Workshop, a year-round, youth-based art and workforce development facility in Hazelwood. After seeing the success of the Mobile Sculpture Workshop — which, for five years, served as a pilot program for the larger endeavor — he knew it was time to put down roots.
With help from the Hazelwood Initiative, the organization that purchased the building on Herbert Way where the Mobile Sculpture Workshop will operate, Kaulen’s dream is becoming a reality.
When it opens next September, the 5,000-square-foot space will have a new roof and restrooms, a ventilation system, garage doors and 10 training booths where welding apprentices ages 15 to 18 will get hands-on experience from professionals and work on collaborative service learning projects.
“We realized a permanent facility and year-round programming would be supported and have an impact in Hazelwood and the surrounding communities,” says Kaulen, a self-taught welder and sculptor who started the co-op in Hazelwood about a decade ago. “I’m really grateful for the folks who have continued to advocate for us. It’s been a long-standing commitment for me to serve Hazelwood.”
The workshop will start accepting applications from local teens in the next few months. It recently received a grant from The Heinz Endowments and is at the end of a capital campaign.
To raise additional funds for the expansion, the co-op gathered a team of Pittsburgh-based artists to create and donate a sculpture modeled after the Carrie Deer, the 50-foot-tall masterpiece created by Kaulen and other co-op artists at the former U.S. Steel Homestead Steel Works blast furnace site in Swissvale.
“Little Buck” is being auctioned off with all proceeds going directly to the Industrial Arts Workshop. People can bid online until Dec. 1.
Kaulen is also seeking mentors, including active and retired artists, welders and metalworkers, who want to share their expertise with local youth to prepare them for the job market.
“Our goal isn’t to replicate what trade schools are doing, but to create strong candidates for other opportunities such as higher education and tech programs,” he says. “We’re laying the groundwork for how to be present, how to be on time, how to dress appropriately. Welding is just one of those trades that opens up so many other conversations.”
After his experience as a student at the Mobile Sculpture Workshop, Farkas served as an instructor for it the following summer.
“It’s very rewarding,” he says. “When I came into the program, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was a recluse. It made me more social and gave me something to be passionate about. I love seeing the journey the kids go through and seeing them have an outlet for their emotions.”