As I ascend the stairs to the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology’s (WMCAT) offices, Adam Weiler, founder and director of Ambrose, beckons me in to a bustling space. At long workshop tables, two graduates of WMCAT’s Teen Art + Tech program are having a design meeting, while another, Gen-Dairec Buchanan, methodically slides a squeegee across a screen, applying blue ink to a t-shirt. Gen-Dairec lifts the screen, removes the shirt from the press, and loads it into a conveyor oven to bake the bright design.
Kirk Eklund, a manager at Ambrose, comes over to Gen-Dairec’s work. Together, they inspect the prototype shirt, scrutinizing it for microscopic imbalances and misprints. Their work will soon be applied to a large t-shirt run for the local non-profit, WMEAC (the West Michigan Environmental Action Council). Already, Gen-Dairec and his fellow apprentices have created major orders for Amway, the Grand Rapids Public Library, and the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
Ambrose, a social enterprise arm of WMCAT, has teaching and mentoring students like Gen-Dairec at its core. Margaret Anisko, who is attending GRCC this fall, says that Ambrose helped her work on college applications, envision major career decisions. Learning the skills it takes run a commercial screen-printing business has been a huge part of it. While making t-shirts, Ambrose’s apprentices gather economic support, social capital and professional development necessary to catapult them into the creative career landscape.
As we talk, Weiler muses about the experience of making his first t-shirt design. “When you see your t-shirts around town, it’s really awesome. You’re like, wow, I’ve created something that has value.” It’s the same discovery that Ambrose apprentices have made over and over this fall, he says. At the same time, “it’s not entirely about the t-shirts.” Ambrose fosters the leadership and entrepreneurial skills of its apprentices in a radically empowering way. “The ultimate goal would be working managers into consultant roles,” Weiler remarks. Already, the apprentices are learning to lead and impact the future of our community.
One mantra at Ambrose is, “everything is a prototype,” Weiler explains. At Ambrose, apprentices learn to engage the design process to capture value. Ultimately, they will apply that learning in any arena they choose—in college, and beyond. You can visit Ambrose's website to make an order, support Ambrose apprentices and impact our community.
Here are a few examples of apparel, posters, and packaging that have been printed at Ambrose: