Tesfaye Tessema at StudioNYCHA: Making a Difference in His Community


StudioNYCHA features this collage made by NYCHA residents at the Manhattanville Senior Center with guidance by artist instructor Tesfaye Tessema.

Since posting on the Developing Lives program a couple weeks back, I’ve been a regular visitor to the StudioNYCHA site, and just the other day I noticed a new page on a particular artist that I’d like to bring attention to today. Tesfaye Tessema is currently highlighted on StudioNYCHA for his contributions to the NYCHA community, and I think he deserves recognition here as well. This blog is my effort to bring attention to and share the contributions of artists working in and for the New York City community, and to promote art as a public good. Everyone deserves access to art, and there is much research available to prove the that power art holds to encourage thought and reflection, as well as to strengthen communities.

Tesfaye Tessema exemplifies a commitment to his community in through his art, words, and actions. After moving to the States from Ethiopia as a young man, he received an MFA from Howard University and eventually made Harlem his home. As a Master painter, printmaker, and muralist, Mr. Tessema’s art has been displayed around the world in countries such as Japan, German, England, and France. Here in the U.S., institutions such as the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, the Schomberg, the Library of Congress, and the United Nations in New York City have all collected his works. The vibrant colors patterns, and designs found in his art reflect a deep love of jazz (he was highly influenced by Duke Ellington as a high school student) and African American culture.

Tesfay Tessema has spoken widely of the value of community, and his connection to it as an artist. Here are two quotes I discovered that reflect his beliefs:

“I think people have a right to claim my art. I would like the world to know that all of us are artists. There are no special people made to be artists. What comes out on the canvas is what we’ve all taken in from our environment, expressed through our own personal interpretation.” – Parish Gallery

“Together we form a tree.” – 1978 Maplewood Arts Center

Despite his global renown, Mr. Tessema remains grounded in his neighborhood and its people. He volunteers his time with various age groups at multiple NYCHA developments, including the Manhattanville Senior Center and King Towers Community Center. Tessama teaches art to seniors, as well as children. According to the StudioNYCHA site, a piece centered on the concept of “Springtime” that Tessema helped the children create was featured at the NYCHA 2012 Resident Art Show. He speaks of the importance of these NYCHA programs, and the fact that while they are incredibly valuable, they are in need of additional support.

It’s inspiring to see a successful and influential artist like Tesfaye Tessema not only acknowledging his community, but participating as such an active member. He’s making a difference both in the lives of the people he interacts with, as well as those that experience his works of art.


About Alex Holt

I am a local artist from Brooklyn, NY. I love art, design, books, photography, gardening and blogging.
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