Designer Favorite Alpha Workshops Has a New Owner

Alpha Workshops—the much-beloved New York nonprofit founded by Kenneth Wampler in 1995 to train those with HIV/AIDS or disabilities, in the decorative arts—is now a wholly owned subsidiary of another nonprofit, the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (the Jewish Board). The nonprofit includes the vocational school Alpha Workshops Studio School (AWSS), which is licensed by the New York State Department of Education, and the Alpha Workshops Studios, the design decorative arts atelier staffed entirely by graduates of AWSS, producing custom decorative paint and plaster finishes, gilding, art installations, hand-painted wallcoverings, custom case goods, hand-finished lamps, and other custom interior works.

Founder Wampler will be moving on from his role as executive director; a new senior director will be hired. His new role within the organization, Wampler tells AD PRO, is “purely to act as a transitional agent, bridging to a new senior director… and helping Alpha continue its fine work. These are big transitions, both new leadership under The Jewish Board’s guidance as well as the departure of a founding director. Though the foundations of Alpha’s mission and philosophy remain intact, much has happened during its 24 years of existence.” He shares two significant changes that have impacted the nonprofit; the first: “When we began Alpha, HIV was still very much life-threatening, and our overarching objective was to offer hope. Due to medical advances, this is thankfully no longer the case and some of Alpha’s original staff members are well and thriving, and have been central to Alpha’s growth in the school and studios.” Despite the second major change named by Wampler—multiple recessions and economic collapse around the globe—”Alpha not only lived through both of these major changes, it grew. I have every reason to believe that with the support of The Jewish Board, programs can be built in both the school and the studios, increasing Alpha’s business model to reach and help others.”

An Alpha Workshops artisan holding tools

Photo: Emma Hollister-Colby for The Alpha Workshops

One of the Alpha Workshops’ challenges, according to David Edelson, president of the board of trustees of the Jewish Board, had been a lack of resources: “Like most smaller nonprofits, the Alpha Workshops was faced with a challenging climate and lacked the resources to grow and expand,” noted Edelson. The Jewish Board serves the five boroughs as well as Westchester with services that address mental and physical health, family, employment, and education. “When Alpha approached us, we recognized the opportunity to create a different kind of model that would help both organizations thrive,” said Edelson. The benefits flow both ways: As a subsidiary of the Jewish Board, Workshop students will receive access to housing and mental health resources. Additionally, the Alpha Workshops’ back office, comprising finance, information technology, and human resources, will “benefit” from the Board’s infrastructure and support. The Jewish Board’s clients, in turn, will be able to take advantage of the Alpha Workshops’ arts training and vocational programs.

Programming won’t be cut, says Wampler, but rather expanded over time (a current initiative, My Creative Future, targets young people aged 17-24 and serves as an introduction to creative occupations) and the school and studios will live on. What is Wampler most enthused about in terms of the new ownership? “I would so not call it ownership and that is what excites me about this. It is a partnership! At the very first meeting between Alpha and The Jewish Board, we understood that, to a great extent, we speak the same language regarding helping people to overcome challenges. Alpha simply does it in a creative context which makes it a perfect complement to The Jewish Board, and brings the broad array of services that they bring to over 40,000 New Yorkers each year to our students as well. It also opens access to Alpha’s programs to all of those already being served by TJB. Perfect!”

“New York City is the largest creative economy in the world. The Jewish Board and the Alpha Workshops will now jointly work to educate and find employment for new generations of artisans,” designer Jamie Drake, chairman of the Alpha Workshops’ board of trustees, said. “We are all immensely grateful to Ken Wampler for his vision and dedication over the past decades and look forward to a new chapter in the organization’s history.”

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