written by:
photos by:
February 26, 2009
Originally published in American Modern

Students are redesigning their environment under the guidance of Publicolor, a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 by industrial designer Ruth Lande Shuman.

With a little paint and a lot of passion, the nonprofit group Publicolor is redesigning community institutions from homeless shelters to hospitals, police precincts to Head Start classrooms. Founder Ruth Lande Shuman oversees the latest metamorphoses.
Photo by 
shuman ruth portrait
With a little paint and a lot of passion, the nonprofit group Publicolor is redesigning community institutions from homeless shelters to hospitals, police precincts to Head Start classrooms. Founder Ruth Lande Shuman oversees the latest metamorphoses.

Past security guards and down a dingy stair, visitors to Manhattan’s Intermediate School 117 arrive suddenly at a bank of doors the color of the sky after a spring rain. Through the next door (bright green), 13 middle-school students are perched on ladders, armed with brushes, rollers, and a loud radio, coating the walls with high-gloss latex paint in Shimmering Lime, Blue Wave, Sun-Kissed Yellow, and Apple Green.

IS 117 used to be just another gunmetal-gray institution barely discernible from nearby low-income housing projects. Today, its students are redesigning their environment under the guidance of Publicolor, a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 by industrial designer Ruth Lande Shuman. Over the past decade, Publicolor has recruited thousands of at-risk New York City teens to paint 75 school buildings and 87 community sites. Each year, more than 600 kids—90 percent from distressed public-assistance households and streets rife with drugs, gangland graffiti, and gunfire—volunteer for Publicolor’s after-school Paint Club program. Dozens of them continue to meet on weekdays and weekends for tutoring, college prep, career guidance, and, always, painting.

With paint donated by Benjamin Moore and blue masking tape from 3M, Shuman begins each trimester by explaining that color is a communication tool and then teaches the kids to use it. To design the color scheme for each school, she asks students to create their own colors and put the most popular combinations to a school-wide vote in the cafeteria. When the scheme is finalized, Paint Club kids gather after school to share a snack, change into old clothes, and paint for a couple of hours.

Delia Rodriguez, who grew up in Hunt’s Point, where less than 50 percent of teens graduate from high school, joined Paint Club when she was 14. “It kept me busy,” she says. “I wasn’t spending time with people in my neighborhood who were selling drugs or hanging out on the corner all day or having babies.” Today, Rodriguez is 22, an accounting student at a local college and the assistant to Publicolor’s CFO. “We tell her,” Shuman says, smiling, “that it’s a lifelong commitment now.” And one that seems to be contagious: Once Publicolor paints inva neighborhood, Shuman has noticed, residents begin to take pride in their place. “People get the message,” she says. “It means: They’re worth this.”

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016
gable game austin texas cantilevered home facade windows upper level car port
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to indoor/outdoor living. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
June 18, 2016