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Artist opens studio to help marginalized creatives in York’s WeCo district

Artist opens studio to help marginalized creatives in York’s WeCo district

  • Artist and educator Ophelia Chambliss plans to use her new studio space — Ophelia’s Making Agency — not only to create art but to assist artists of color with the business side of creative work.
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From York to Lancaster to Gettysburg, murals by artist Ophelia Chambliss grace many of the region’s walls, expressing the stories of the communities they inhabit.

Ophelia now will create those murals from her new studio on West Market Street in York’s WeCo district, West of the Codorus Creek.

More than a working studio, Ophelia’s Making Agency will be a place where marginalized creatives and business owners can take their craft and their enterprise to the next level.

A petition to draft

Teaching art to the underprivileged was a childhood dream for Ophelia. Growing up in the world’s largest housing project in 1960s Chicago, she was surrounded by a rich community but had little knowledge of America’s ignominious racial history.

“We didn’t know about slavery and enslavement and the difficulties that people of color had,” she says.

In fourth grade in 1968, with desegregation ramping up, Ophelia was bused to a white school. Then in high school, she attended a Catholic girls school where students were taught to cook, sew, and type. At the boys school down the road, they studied architectural drafting.

“I wanted to take it,” she says of the drafting course, “so I started a petition at my school and the all-boys school that instead of me going to this home economics class―I still cannot cook to this day―I was allowed to leave class, leave my school, walk over to the all-boys school, and take the drafting class.”

Destination design

In college, she landed on graphic design.

As Ophelia honed her skills in design and fine art, she found that her true passion wasn’t just art for art’s sake but visual rhetoric―using art to communicate deeper ideas and tell the stories of communities.

“I do one thing, and I just do that one thing in many spaces,” she says, “and that is, I’m a communicator. So, I communicate visually through the murals, through public speaking engagements, through art and storytelling.”

In 2000, Ophelia left Illinois for a job at York Graphic Services. The firm was sold to a company in India a year later. After six more months with the company, Ophelia went back to freelancing but she decided to stay in York.

“At that point, I liked it here, and I said, you know what, I think I’m going to stay,” she says.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts and Science and her master’s degree in Communications from Penn State University.

A voice for communities of color

Through her lectures, mural installations, freelance graphic design, fine-art commissions, and work at the York County History Center, Crispus Attucks York, and Marketview Arts, Ophelia noticed a trend.

The marginalized business owners and artists of color whom she encountered were struggling. Many were afraid to ask questions or dream big. They couldn’t seem to navigate the business side of art or price their work to generate a livable income.

Ophelia founded Ophelia’s Making Agency with a vision to help underprivileged creatives see themselves as professionals and build successful careers.

Her childhood dream had come full circle.

“I think that talent is created equally, but opportunities are not,” she says, “so I really wanted to provide those opportunities to those communities that don’t have college degrees and didn’t have that business background and acumen.”

Ophelia envisions the WeCo district becoming an arts destination in York with an array of working artist studios and purposeful art-centered education and storytelling opportunities.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she encourages creatives, “and dream big.”

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