This Queens digital art program gives students a doorway to a better future

Photos by Naeisha Rose

The Animation Project, an initiative that helps at-risk youths channel their struggles through digital art, has arrived in Jamaica.

The program received $1.4 million last year from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment to reach vulnerable youths across all five boroughs, some of whom are on probation, according to founder Brian Austin.

“I bring technology into the picture because job skills get to come in play,” Armstrong said. “The kids get to tell their story, they get to learn animation and how to use a computer in the process, so they come out with a real job skill and the stories they tell are processed through a therapist.”

At the city’s Department of Probation (DOP) in Jamaica on Oct. 25, participants showed off their most recent Made in New York Animation Project video and began to brainstorm their next project.


The event was held at the DOP’s Jamaica NeON Center, located at 162-24 Jamaica Ave., featuring students discussing their brainstorming process and 3-D modeling. They also talked about how they learned to do voice-overs, develop a storyline for their animation, direct the project and select a soundtrack over the course period, which lasted between 12 and 13 weeks.

“It’s a free program and they can come back as often as they want,” said Janet Allon, the First Deputy Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME).

The participants in the program also have the opportunity to explore a career track through internships, according to Meredith Dean, clinical program director at The Animation Project.

“The advisory council is people from the industry who are involved in mentoring and are advising this program because they know where the jobs are and how to work in the industry,” said Allon. “They sometimes come to visit the kids.”

Fox News staffers also took their time to meet the kids and talk about the animation graphics they use on television, according to Allon.

“In January [2019], Fox will host all of our interns for a day,” said Dean. “They will get to shadow animators in their studios and [Fox animators will] come back and do a master class [for the interns].”

Between 2017 to 2018, there were 1,800 students in the program. Over 300 of them are in Queens at the Jamaica NeON Center, M.S. 358 and M.S. 217 in Jamaica, according to Katarina Mayers, a spokeswoman for MOME. Nearly 100 students are trained as interns and 14 have been offered opportunities for commissioned work.

Some of the major industry partners are from Nickelodeon, Avalanche, Take Two Interactive, Tit Mouse, The Mill and Blue Sky Studios, according to Dean. This program also works double-fold, because in 2024 it was estimated by labor statistics that the city would need to fill 10,000 animation jobs.

Entry-level jobs in animation pay $40,000, the average salary is $58,900, and on the high-end individuals can make somewhere from $90,000 to $100,000, according to Alia Jones-Harvey, MOME’s Director of Education & Workforce Development.

Lyndon Sylvester, 22, of Jamaica is one of the many people who turned his life around since being on probation two years ago.

After being underemployed when he dropped out of college at 19, he found himself in trouble that led to him being on probation. Mentors at NeON center helped him find a better path through programs at the center. Sylvester is now a recruiter for The Animation Project and hopes to work in the video game industry.

“He’s a great role model for others,” said Assistant Commissioner Karen Armstrong of the DOP’s Queens County Adult Services. “He’s off probation … and he is a great role model for other probation clients.”

While cleaning the pantry at the NeON center, which provides food for the food insecure, Sylvester who is a fan of animation heard about the program a year ago and decided to be a part of the recruitment efforts for the initiative and also uses his position to learn animation while at the job.

“I have recruited clients for the NeON’s sports and arts program, and this was something I did before,” said Sylvester. “I ended up just doing it and that completely changed my life a lot … This field could possibly help me in the future and I could be an animator and I have a doorway for myself towards the future. I have to use it.”



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