As a response to the growing number of New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS, founding Executive Director Kenneth Wampler and a dedicated Board of Directors established The Alpha Workshops in 1995. Modeled on the early twentieth century English Omega Workshops and the American Arts and Crafts movement among others, The Alpha Workshops was the nation’s first non-profit decorative arts studio to train and employ people with HIV/AIDS or other disabilities/vulnerabilities in the decorative arts.
A former actor and decorative finishes artisan, Wampler spent the 1980s and early 1990s working with the AIDS Resource Center – now Bailey House – building supportive housing for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS. He eventually conceptualized The Alpha Workshops as an innovative approach to unifying the disparate spheres of decorative arts, supportive employment, and HIV/AIDS under one progressive mission.
The Alpha Workshops evolved into a fully-licensed vocational training school and elite decorative arts studio. Year after year, Alpha continues to expand its constituencies, funding base, and design client list, as well as increase the breadth and professionalism of its decorative arts training programs. As the organization embraces new opportunities and challenges, Alpha maintains a deep and lasting commitment to the HIV+ and LGBTQIA+ communities, as well as the community of individuals with disabilities or other vulnerabilities in New York City and beyond.
SELECTED HISTORIC HIGHLIGHTS
Since its first editorial in Interior Design magazine in 1997, The Alpha Workshops has received press coverage in Architectural Digest, Connecticut Cottages & Gardens, Contract, Domino, ELLE DECOR, House & Garden, House Beautiful, InStyle Home, Interior Design, Metropolis, Metropolitan Home, Metrosource, Newsday, Newsweek, New York Magazine, New York Spaces, O at Home, POZ, The Daily News, The New York Times, The Robb Report, Time Out,Traditional Home, Veranda, and Vogue Living.
1998 POLLACK introduced a line of fabrics adapted from Alpha designs. Sales over the next decade generated more than $100,000 in revenue. In 2008, POLLACK launched a second collection of Alpha designs. Over 25 years, Alpha’s licensed collections grew to include partnerships with a number of elite industry manufacturers.
1999 Artisans create 4 large murals for Clearview Cinemas. Since then, Alpha has completed many corporate commissions and installations including work for: Benjamin Moore, Anne Klein, Lifetime TV, WebMD, New York School of Interior Design, Takashimaya, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas.
2001 The Alpha Workshops introduced Painted Papers, a line of hand-painted wallpapers. The Texture Collection, a second line, followed in 2008.
“Best Practices: Vocationalizing the Homefront”, a publication of the Corporation for Supportive Housing that highlights innovative training programs, featured The Alpha Workshops. Alpha also participated in the National AIDS Housing Conference – presenting its successful model of training and employment for people living with HIV/AIDS
2002 Funding from New York State’s Adult Career and Continuing Educational Services – Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR, formerly VESID) began supporting Alpha’s decorative arts training programs.
Seeking to expand product lines and possibilities for job creation, Alpha launched its first hand-cast lamp, the Eden Roc Lamp, created by staff artisan Obediah Fisher. The Eden Roc lighting collection is now a signature offering from The Alpha Workshops.
As part of the restoration of Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City, Alpha recreated a historically accurate faux marble floor in the house’s grand entryway.
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum selected two designs from Painted Papers (Infinity and Sunflower) for its permanent collection.
Alpha received a 2002 ELLE DECO Design Award for Wallcoverings.
2004 Alpha is awarded a 2004 Community Hall of Fame Award from Thirteen/WNET for contributions to the community.
2005 Alpha completed an intensive restoration process for the ballroom of the Prince George Hotel that involved mold making, casting, and decorative painting. The project received a 2006 Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
2006 The New York State Education Department awarded Alpha a license to practice as a private vocational school.
Alpha’s residential portfolio grows to include collaborations with many top-tier designers, among them: Samuel Botero, Jamie Drake, Celerie Kemble, Thom Filicia, Kelly Wearstler, Steven Gambrel, Albert Hadley, and Matthew Patrick Smyth.
The Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse, the Greenwich Showhouse, the Showtime Showhouse, the Designer Visions Showhouse, and the Hamptons Showhouse all regularly included Alpha’s products and decorative finishes.
Alpha was a finalist for the Forbes Enterprise Award.
2008 Alpha received a 2008 Henry Chapin Self-Reliance Award.
2010 The IFDA (International Furnishings and Design Association) presented Alpha with its Circle of Excellence Award for special humanitarian efforts.
2011 Alpha received its first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and its largest grant ever from the Gerda & Herman Lissner Foundation. Other grants have been received from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Angelo Donghia Foundation, MAC AIDS Fund, American Express Foundation, New York Community Trust, The Richard J. Fasenmyer Foundation, the Jerome Robbins Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and H.van Ameringen Foundation. Our leading corporate supporters have included: Benjamin Moore, Bloomberg, Con Edison, Koroseal, the New York Design Center, and Tiffany & Co.
2013 Executive Director Kenneth Wampler was inducted into Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame with a special Leadership Award for his work in the nonprofit sector. Astral, a design from The Texture Collection created by legendary Wallpaper Studio Manager Barry Axtell (now retired), received Interior Design magazine’s Best of Year award for Wallcovering.
2018 The Alpha Workshops embarked on an exciting partnership with The Jewish Board of Children’s and Family Services. Through its new structure as a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Jewish Board, The Alpha Workshops received enhanced administrative and financial services while retaining its autonomous brand identity and unique decorative arts training. The combined programmatic capabilities of two such distinctive and complementary organizations enabled both teams to provide additional support and enhanced community resources to staff, students, and clients alike.
2019 Founder Kenneth Wampler retired from his 24-year tenure as Executive Director to pursue other interests. Longtime Finishes Studio Manager Edward Farrell officially assumed the role of Executive Director in May; his elevation elicited accolades and applause from longtime Alpha supporters and the design community at large.
Under Ed’s stewardship, The Alpha Workshops won a 2019 Interior Design Best of Year award in the Wallcoverings category for its Capsule Collection, an inventive re-imagining of six classic wallpaper patterns produced in partnership with Benjamin Moore.