Nearly thirty years after she entered Artists For Humanity as a teen in 1995, chef, small business owner, and artist Amril Foster found herself back at AFH. One of five individuals selected for the inaugural cohort of The AFH Artists Fellowship program, Foster is once again exploring her creativity at AFH. Though the program started three months before our interview, Foster’s excitement is still palpable: a mixture of gratefulness to be back and amazement at everything that has changed.
At sixteen, Amril Foster was no stranger to artistic expression. Growing up in the Codman Square neighborhood of Dorchester, she took after her older brother, a graffiti writer who introduced her to the local creative community. Although Foster performed well in school, describing herself as a “pretty academic” student with a talent for chemistry, her true passions laid elsewhere. Through her brother, Foster became involved with the African Latino Alliance (ALA), a graffiti and street art collective in Boston.
When I ask her if she could pinpoint the first time she heard about AFH, or the first people she met, she struggles to recall a specific moment. The reason, however, has less to do with Foster’s memory, and more to do with the nature of AFH in the late 90s. Smiling, Foster explains that the overlap between ALA and AFH–two groups dedicated to young people embracing their creativity–was significant. With common members and interests, Foster fondly describes bouncing from ALA meetings to hours at AFH: “It was like art, all the time.”
Work created by Foster during her time as a teen at AFH.
Now that Foster is back at AFH, spending several hours a week in the studio, she has a front-row seat to observe how the organization has evolved. One of the changes she highlights is the vast expansion in the number of teens employed, “I look down and see all those kids and I’m like, this is nuts.”
“Back then, it seemed like it was the best-kept secret,” Foster explains, “there was not that many of us here…not even 12.” Though they were smaller in number, the account she offers of her experience as a teen at AFH is more than substantial.
“[AFH] gave us an outlet and a place to go, you know, to do art, not necessarily to hang around the street.”
Artists For Humanity's former studio space.
Though Foster considered herself a creative person before AFH, it wasn’t until joining that she realized the important role art could play in her life in a professional sense. As a paid teen artist mentored by working artists, Foster gained a better understanding of how she could benefit from pursuing her interests.
“I thought that was pretty cool…it showed you the possibilities, this person is a working artist…it’s something to look up to.”
Work created by Foster during her time as a teen at AFH.
Recalling one of her proudest moments at AFH, Foster tells me about the time she spent in the graphic design department at Bronner Slosberg Humphrey–a marketing agency– along with several other teens. Through AFH, the group was assigned a project, and given the opportunity to observe professionals at work. Located on the fifteenth floor of the Prudential Center, Foster describes an office with leather-walled meeting rooms, heated floors, and ergonomic chairs. “This was before ergonomic was even a term,” she adds with a laugh.
Despite her time at the agency being one of her favorite memories, the aspect of the experience that stuck with her most was not the project the teens completed itself, but the opportunity to see the professional art world up close.
“I loved it…all those people, they were doing it already.”
When it came time to graduate high school and move on from AFH, Foster knew she wanted to maintain the serious role creativity played in her life. Using the portfolio and experience she developed at AFH–along with a glowing recommendation from AFH's Founding Executive/Artistic Director Susan Rodgerson–Foster applied and was accepted to the Massachusetts College of Art & Design.
After attending college, Foster started working as a freelance artist, primarily creating custom airbrushed apparel and shoes. Though she had never worked in food service before, she decided to pick up a job at a local pizza place to supplement her income.
Foster's apparel work.
Describing how she learned to spin dough and prepare food, Foster explains that “it ended up coming very easy to me…it was like art.” What started as a way to make extra money slowly became a larger part of Foster’s professional life as she realized her appreciation for working with food.
Over the years, Foster has found herself at a variety of different establishments. Currently, she works as a chef for the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, providing hot meals to people in need. As the only employee in a program with a large team of volunteers, she is responsible for coordinating a group of people who don’t normally work in a kitchen environment to collaborate efficiently.
Though Foster expresses gratitude for her experience in food service, she does admit that there have been times when the work feels monotonous. Nevertheless, she strives to keep things interesting by maintaining a balance with her artistic practice. In addition to her food service jobs, Foster has built a small business–Am Strokes Custom Art–hosting paint parties and continuing to create custom apparel.
Part of Foster’s business includes hosting paint parties.
Giving her art the attention it deserves, however, has been difficult in the face of her other responsibilities. That was, until the Spring of 2023. Selected for the first cohort of The AFH Artists Fellowship program, Foster has spent the past few months developing a body of work to be shown at a group exhibition this coming Fall.
“I love it. I absolutely love it,” she beams, “I’ve tried to keep [my practice] up…this Fellowship just fell right in line with that.” While Foster has always been confident in her desire to keep her creative side active, the fellowship position has expanded her resources and connections, bringing art back into the foreground.
Artwork by Foster.
When I ask Foster how she would describe the role art has played in her life recently, she responds with gratitude: “It is a constant thing…more now than ever…it’s like it’s a part of me again.” Hearing her talk about the time she has been spending at AFH as an adult artist, I am reminded of the memories Foster shares about her experience as a teen.
“It gave you an outlet…you were happy to go there…It wasn’t like, ‘Oh I gotta go to work.’ It was just like, ‘I’m going to AFH.’”
No longer a “best-kept secret,” AFH continues to inspire creative teens, alumni, and beyond, to realize their potential.
“I just remember it being such a great time in my life,” Foster shares nostalgically, as our interview comes to a close. With the past couple of decades bookended by two memorable experiences at AFH, Foster has spent her time in between continuing to flex her creativity–whether it be in the kitchen or the studio. Though her fellowship ends this September, the evergreen passion for art Foster cultivated at AFH will doubtless continue to take her down exciting paths.