Artist and teacher Ronald Kustrup hopes to combat violence with art in Point Breeze.
The KIND Institute at 1242 Point Breeze Ave. will open to the public Saturday, Oct. 31. The Institute will celebrate its grand opening with a Halloween event filled with art and live music starting at 6 p.m.
The gallery space in the institute will serve as a venue for local artists to display their artwork. Beyond just an inviting space for artists, the institute will welcome children in second- to fifth grades to participate in educational after-school programs. The center will provide a variety of art and educational programs for the local community, including on nutrition and language.
Kustrup is a working artist, a graduate of the University of the Arts, and an art teacher at West Philadelphia High School. He’s also the co-founder of the KIND Institute. Kustrup’s partner, Maria Pandolfi, is also a former art teacher at G.W. Childs Elementary School in Point Breeze. The struggling Philadelphia school system was a big motivator for the creation of this institute.
“Maria and I founded KIND two years ago,” said Kustrup. “I was her student teacher, and we hit it off. They cut the art program from G.W. Childs. So we created a proposal [for the Institute] and sent it out. The kids need the art. Before it would help – now, it is necessary.”
Pandolfi and Kustrup’s professional relationship translated into the opening of the KIND Institute. The business duo hopes the institute will help unify the community.
“I see myself as a catalyst that will bring the people together, because there have been issues between the neighborhood getting gentrified,” said Pandolfi.
Beyond attempting to address the gentrification issue within Point Breeze, Kustrup (below) described his vision of encouraging students to find their own path.
“KIND stands for Knowledge Inspiring Nonviolent Decisions,” said Kustrup. “We want to show kids that you don’t have to do violence just because you are surrounded by it. You can make your own path.”
Kustrup coordinates with a variety of individual donors, companies and fundraising campaigns in efforts to raise funds for the gallery.
“Maria and I are investing all the money we have into the company,” said Kustrup. “South Philadelphia Tap Room, Ultimo Coffee and Ori Feibush have been welcoming. We are also doing a GoFundMe [page].”
These funds will help maintain the center, but also provide financial support to students in need. Classes for the after-school program are $35 a week.
“Classes are open to the public, and we give scholarships to people who can’t afford it,” said Kustrup.
When searching for employees, Kustrup looks for candidates who would work best with the students and reflect similar characteristics of his current team.
“Anyone who is working for us – whether it be teachers, advertising or marketing – they have to have a personality that is the same personality as us,” said Kustrup. “Our staff dichotomy is hardworking but very friendly and relaxing.”
Mike Romeo, a cartoonist and KIND Institute art teacher, enjoys the friendly work environment and relationship Kustrup cultivates with his employees.
“It’s a general kind of openness – ‘OK, awesome,’ ‘OK, cool,’” said Romeo. “Those bits of encouragements are always positive.”
Romeo hopes to bring this same easy-going mentality to his classroom.
“One of the things I love most about comics is that you can have a scrapbook and pencil and make something,” said Romeo. “I want to convey that to the kids. It is something you can do easily and simply.”
Kustrup’s previous professional relationships led to the involvement of a few current staff members. Cory Espinosa, KIND Institute graphic designer and future art teacher, collaborated with Kustrup on past art projects. Kustrup’s collaboration with Espinosa motivated him to join the KIND Institute team and to help bring the institute’s mission alive.
“I plan to teach courses formed around design,” said Espinosa. “It is a tool they can use to get their ideas out there and messages they can agree with.”
While the gallery opens on Halloween, Kustrup continues to work on finalizing projects for the institute. Kustrup is heavily relying on the collaborative and resilient spirit of his team to complete the final touches in the gallery.
“I assign people roles,” said Kustrup. “Then they take those roles and work with each other as I communicate with them. I am a spider in the center making sure the net is connected.”
Kustrup is currently working with Ross Stoops, KIND Institute gallery director and studio supervisor, to collaborate with more people and companies to strengthen the art program.
“I am mostly excited to bring in lots of different artists,” said Stoops.
Kustrup hopes his efforts in organizing the participation of community-based organizations, companies and staff of the KIND Institute will help the center positively influence the neighborhood.
“The number one thing for me is the community,” said Kustrup. “I want to make a change and a difference.”
– Video, text and images by Madeline Presland and Morgan Falconer