Youth Development

Publicolor, Inc.

  • New York, NY

Mission Statement

Publicolor fights poverty by aggressively addressing the alarming dropout rate and low levels of educational attainment and youth employment in New York City. We do this by engaging high-risk, low-income students, ages 12-24, in a multi-year continuum of intensive design-based programs to encourage academic achievement, college preparation, job readiness, and community service. Our unique applied learning model uses design and design thinking as vehicles to stimulate and inspire low-performing students in New York City's struggling middle and high schools, empowering them to prepare for successful employment and rewarding lives.

Through the simple act of picking up a paintbrush, our students create social change. Our introductory program, Paint Club, engages students in the transformation of their own institutional-looking schools through the power of carefully chosen color and design, the affordable medium of paint, and collaborations that bring together our students and the community as a whole. Participants gain a new sense of accomplishment and connection as well as strong job readiness skills. The work of transformation continues for a core group of participants at high risk of disconnection who are then inducted into our intensive, multi-year continuum of college and career readiness programs. This continuum is anchored by COLOR Club (grades 7-10) and Next Steps (grades 11-12). Students meet 2 or more afternoons a week for workshops and academic prep, and Saturdays at transformations of public schools and community facilities. Most students also participate in Summer Design Studio, our 5-day, 7-week intervention to prevent summer learning loss through an innovative design-based curriculum. Additionally, all Publicolor graduates enrolled in post-secondary education are offered scholarships to help them cover the gap between the financial aid we help them access and the true cost of college.

Publicolor specifically targets New York City's most underserved communities across 4 boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens), such as Bushwick, East New York, Far Rockaway, Hunts Point, Melrose and Harlem, working with only the lowest performing schools and the most at-risk students. These are the neighborhoods in NYC that struggle most with the challenges of financial stress, unstable housing, single-parent households and low educational attainment.

In spite of the challenge of serving low-income, at-risk students, Publicolor achieves huge success: 97% of our 2015 seniors graduated high school on time vs. 55% from their same schools, and all of those graduates enrolled in post-secondary education vs. 51% from similar backgrounds. College persistence from first to second year of college was 89%. In recognition of our creative programming as a national model, Publicolor received the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award presented by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

Main Programs

  1. Paint Club
  2. COLOR Club
  3. Next Steps
  4. Publicolor College Scholarships for Community Service
  5. Summer Design Studio
Service Areas


New York

New York City, 4 boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens)

ruling year


Founder + President since 1996


Ms. Ruth Lande Shuman



youth, schools, public schools, education, teens, at-risk, inner-city, color, painting, youth, youth development, CBO, painting, applied learning, service learning, literacy, volunteers, volunteerism, new york city schools

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Also Known As






Physical Address

20 West 36 Street 9th Floor

New York, NY 10018


Cause Area (NTEE Code)

Youth Development Programs (O50)

Community, Neighborhood Development, Improvement (S20)

Arts Education/Schools (A25)

IRS Filing Requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

Programs + Results

How does this organization make a difference?


Self-reported by organization

With each school revitalization and every one of our tutoring sessions, career and college prep workshops, summer design classes, and college tours, the number of Publicolor success stories grows. Having transformed their own lives and communities, our students continue to deliver results with impact:

The total number of NYC public schools transformed by Publicolor since 1996

The total number of under-resourced community facilities revitalized by our students

The on-time graduation rate of our 2015 high school seniors vs. 64.6% among their peer group (and 100% of our graduates then enrolled in post-secondary education)

The first to second year persistence rate of our graduates attending college in 2015-2016 vs. 67.9% at CUNY schools

The total number of COLOR Club and Next Steps workshops offered each year, presenting topics on career exploration, life skills development, financial literacy and college preparation—a commitment of 60 contact hours per student (matched by 60+ hours of academic tutoring)

The number of students and teachers impacted annually by the warm, welcoming color and design we bring to their schools


Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Program 1

Paint Club

Paint Club, our introductory program, meets 5 days a week (Tue-Fri after school and all day Saturday) at 12 underperforming middle and high schools each year. During each 12-week residency, Paint Club engages up to 15% of the student body, ages 12-21, in project-based learning. Unique to Publicolor, 100% of our students’ work impacts 100% of the community. Students paint warm and welcoming colors onto the walls of their drab school buildings, transforming these environments into student-centric schools, thereby changing the attitudes of students, teachers, administrators, custodians and security staff. Paint Club engages participants in applied learning and community service—especially meaningful activity for those who are turned off by traditional approaches to education. Students learn the commercial skill of painting as well as strong, transferable work habits like time management, attention to detail, breaking down a large project into a logical sequence of smaller doable tasks, collaboration, and perseverance. Academic concepts are integrated into the curriculum as students take on activities like calculating square footage, paint gallonage and cost, and mastering words like “meticulous” and “inventory” on our word wall. Over 1,000 corporate and community volunteers paint alongside our students each year, informally mentoring them on their careers and the education needed to succeed.

In selecting our Paint Club sites, Publicolor evaluates NYC Department of Education statistics. Key data points include ethnicity, % ELL (English language learners), free/reduced lunch, student achievement and/or graduation rates, % IEP (Individual Education Plan) and chronic absenteeism—measurements that help us identify low-performing schools. All students at a Paint Club site are invited to participate, and we make special efforts to recruit students identified by administrators as at-risk of dropping out of school. In FY15, our Paint Club schools had an average enrollment of 94.4% Black and/or Hispanic, 92% free lunch, and 18.1% ELL.

Program success is measured by surveys administered to students, teachers, principals and security staff as the project nears completion, and we also survey our volunteers. Additionally, program staff submit weekly reports on activity and attendance. 


Youth Development

Population(s) Served

Poor/Economically Disadvantaged, Indigent, General

Youth/Adolescents only (14 - 19 years)

Ethnic/Racial Minorities -- General



Program 2


Following Paint Club, the work of transformation continues for a core group of students at high risk of disconnection who are then inducted into our multi-year continuum of programs. COLOR Club currently serves 92 students in grades 7-10 (ages 12-17), offering a mix of academic prep and career exposure/life skills workshops 2+ afternoons a week, plus weekly civic engagement at Saturday painting sites where they continue to hone their commercial painting skills and job readiness skills. The COLOR Club curriculum is focused on enhancing 21st century learning: the 4Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity), life and career skills, information and technology, and core subjects. Workshops meet 1 afternoon per week, divided between grades 7-8 and grades 9-10, in 5 modules: Health and Wellness, Financial Literacy, Entrepreneurship, Design and Design Careers, and Life Skills. Students meet at least once a week for Publicolor Prep, our support program for college readiness offered 5 afternoons a week. Using our curriculum and study guides, experienced volunteers present differentiated content for grade and academic levels with the goal of providing the necessary support to push past remediation and achieve on-time graduation. With the move to an expanded office space in March 2016, Publicolor now offers a designated student study area and computer lab along with workshop spaces. On Saturdays, students serve as apprentices at Paint Club sites, honing painting skills and work habits as they take on new responsibilities. Modest stipends tied to attendance and responsibilities introduce concepts of financial independence. College planning is supported with 2 multi-day, multi-campus college tours for 10th graders and Next Steps 11th graders.

The FY16 COLOR Club roster is 88% Black and/or Hispanic, 5% Asian, 4% Other and 3% White. 93% are free/reduced lunch. We aim to maintain a 50-50% male-female ratio.

Program success is evaluated through program activity, data collection, assessment of content knowledge, and participant surveys. Evaluation is tracked long-term, which enables Publicolor to collect longitudinal data for enhanced organizational learning. Program activity is monitored by the weekly management tool, a checklist of program activities and services. Data collection includes demographic and family information (from student in-take forms), program attendance, school report cards, scores on diagnostic tests, and grade progression.


Youth Development

Population(s) Served

Youth/Adolescents only (14 - 19 years)



Program 3

Next Steps

NEXT STEPS is our college and career prep program currently serving 70 students in grades 11-12 (ages 16-21). Building upon the COLOR Club model, it offers 1 day of workshop and 1-5 days of Publicolor Prep a week. Workshops (30 2-hour sessions) focus on exploring post-high school options. Students assess their interests and aptitudes, discuss possible career paths, then plan for the post-secondary education they need to succeed. College planning is supported by guidance on applications, essays, interviewing and financial aid as well as 2 multi-day, multi-campus college tours for 11th graders and COLOR Club 10th graders. Volunteer mentors drawn from our network of experienced professionals are paired with all seniors, providing guidance from 12th grade through the first year of college via monthly check-ins. Next Step students continue to paint at school transformations and earn stipends. Those with strong skills and interest are invited to join Fresh Coat, our semi-professional apprentice team of 15 students (ages 16-24), earning hourly stipends by transforming under-resourced community sites and strengthening their job skills. Strong design students are also invited to join Design Team (6-8 students), meeting each week to design and create marketable products sold online and at fundraisers to support Publicolor.

The FY16 Next Steps roster is 96% Black and/or Hispanic, 3% Asian, and 1% White. 88% are free/reduced lunch. We aim to maintain a 50-50% male-female ratio.

Program activity is monitored by the weekly management tool, a checklist of program activities and services. Data collection includes demographic and family information (from student in-take forms), program attendance, school report cards, scores on SAT diagnostic tools and evaluation tests, grade progression and high school graduation. Assessment of content knowledge following select programs or activities measures student learning.


Youth Development

Population(s) Served

Youth/Adolescents only (14 - 19 years)



Program 4

Publicolor College Scholarships for Community Service

To enable our graduates to stay enrolled in post-secondary education, Publicolor’s scholarship program helps cover the true cost of college. The annual tuition fees in New York State range from $5,000 to more than $25,000, which does not include books, housing, fees, food, or transportation. All too often the financial aid packages we help our students access are not sufficient, and for most of our students’ families additional loans are not a viable option. Publicolor awards annual scholarships of up to $4,300 per student ($7,000 for those in architecture and engineering) to help our graduates go to college and stay while pursuing their degrees.


Youth Development

Population(s) Served

Young Adults (20-25 years) -- currently not in use



Program 5

Summer Design Studio

Summer Design Studio (SDS) addresses the significant problem of summer learning loss—a silent contributor to the educational gap between high- and low-income students. We shorten the break in an already too-short school year that requires students to retain in September and October what they forgot over the summer. SDS, offered to continuum students in grades 7-11 (85 in 2016), is an innovative 5-day, 7-week program of math and literacy immersion taught through the scaffold of product design. Morning instruction at Pratt Institute (Mon-Thu, and deliberately held on a college campus so that our students feel comfortable in a college setting) explores design thinking—the quantitative and critical-thinking skills associated with conceptualizing, refining and constructing a product. The summer 2016 curriculum is focused on book design (personal journals) and digital technology. Students receive a college-level introduction to design with lessons on pattern, texture, color theory and 3D manipulation. They explore materials and patterns, and coordinate dimensions and spatial relationships to properly construct their products. Our digital learning module focuses on the creation of site-specific public service announcements using Adobe Creative Suite. Guest artists augment the teaching of our professional arts education staff. Afternoons are spent revitalizing underfunded NYC schools and community facilities, a hands-on opportunity to transform struggling environments through design (rising 11th graders engage in SAT prep classes 3 afternoons a week and 1 afternoon of site painting). Friday enrichment trips to museum and cultural organizations underscore workshop learning. SDS concludes with a student exhibition at Pratt’s Steuben Gallery.

SDS enrolls students from COLOR Club and Next Steps who will be entering grades 7-11.

Program activity is monitored by the weekly management tool, a checklist of program activities and services. Surveys are administered to students at the beginning and end of SDS to evaluate arts learning and arts engagement. Pre- and post-SDS diagnostic tests evaluate retention of math and literacy skills. Rising 11th graders in SAT prep classes also take College Board diagnostic evaluations before and after SDS.


Youth Development

Population(s) Served

Youth/Adolescents only (14 - 19 years)



Charting Impact

Self-reported by organization

Five powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

  1. What is the organization aiming to accomplish?
    We seek to address the high drop-out rate and growing problem of youth disconnection in low-income NYC communities. Our programs specifically target marginalized, at-risk students at underperforming schools. In the NYC metro area, disconnected youth—age 16-24, out of school and out of work—represents 15.2% of the youth population, impacting 1 in 5 Black and Hispanic youth. In struggling communities where Publicolor targets its work, like Hunts Point in the Bronx, that rate is over 1 in 3. Disconnection, over time, is linked to lower wages, higher incarceration and unemployment, worse health, and less happiness (Measure of America, “Zeroing in on Place and Race," 2015). Just 29% of NYC youth age 16-24 is employed (Center for an Urban Future, “Bridging the Disconnect," 2014) and those who stay in school are poorly educated: 41% of NYC's 12th grade cohort completed college/career prep, and only 35% graduated college-ready (NYC DOE 2015). NYC students are further disengaged by attending one of the most segregated school systems in the country; intense segregation strongly correlates with unequal access to resources and poor academic outcomes (UCLA Civil Rights Project, 2014). NYC's 1,179 public school buildings average 67 years old and 31% predate the Great Depression (CUF 2014). Too many are prison-like environments that defeat educators as well as students, contributing to conditions that feel unsafe, unproductive and uninspiring. Low-income schools and neighborhoods are marked by an absence of visual beauty and stimulation.

    The goal of Publicolor is to keep low-income at-risk students in school and on track for on-time high school graduation, college enrollment, and full employment. Our applied learning model builds strong, transferable work habits and a sense of accomplishment and connection, especially among students who are turned off by traditional approaches to education. Our students develop an appreciation of art and design in their own lives as well as the community at large, and are exposed to design thinking as an approach to give them meaningful control over their lives. In joining Publicolor, students engage in a long-term intervention that empowers them to prepare for a future that includes college and career.
  2. What are the organization's key strategies for making this happen?
    Publicolor's top strategic priority is to significantly increase the size of our programs to serve more low-income, high-risk students. With the active engagement of our Board of Directors over the next 3 years, Publicolor hopes to increase enrollment in Paint Club to 1,500 per year, transforming 39 more low-performing public schools (12 in years 1 and 2, 15 in year 3); increase the number of community site transformations (12 in years 1 and 2, 22 in year 3); increase the number of high-risk students in Publicolor's intensive continuum of programs from 150 to 220; increase the number of scholarships awarded from 106 to 140; and increase the number of students enrolled in Summer Design Studio (SDS) from 75 to 130. Connected to this growth is an increase in the number of program hours related to job readiness, skills workshops, and tutoring.

    To accommodate this growth, Publicolor will continue our vital partnerships with government, corporations and volunteers. We aim to grow staff capabilities, both program and administrative. We are also seeking a larger, more diverse mix of funders from government agencies, foundations, corporations and individuals.
  3. What are the organization's capabilities for doing this?
    There is a strong and growing demand for Publicolor's programs. We now average 40 NYC schools on the Paint Club waiting list, evidence that these schools recognize the immediate benefits and long-term investment Publicolor offer their students. Our continuum programs (COLOR Club, Next Steps, Summer Design Studio) are also fully subscribed. Due to limited resources, we must cap the number of students we serve, and often turn away interested students.

    Publicolor has 20 years' experience transforming young lives as well as struggling school and community environments. In 2014, we were awarded the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in recognition of our innovative model in design-based youth development.

    Publicolor's expansion to a new office in March 2016 has provided 100% more space to accommodate academic prep sessions, workshops and student computer access 5 days a week, plus individual access for homework study, computer work, and college planning. Program expansion includes our newly launched Design Team for students interested in apply their creative talents to entrepreneurial design projects. We have built a professional staff with expertise in arts education, youth development and non-profit administration, and our Board of Directors has grown to 17 members. Internal evaluation has been strengthened with the hiring of a full-time Program Evaluator who works closely with Publicolor leadership and program managers to collect key information, including activity reports, attendance, demographics, student assessments, and participant surveys. This critical information enables us to make continuing improvements in meeting the needs of our students. Added to Publicolor's paid staff are our invaluable volunteers. We currently engage 1,200 per year as site painters, academic tutors, workshop presenters and student mentors.

    Publicolor's finances are liquid and healthy. In recognition of our good governance, accountability, transparency and financial health, Charity Navigator awarded Publicolor its highest 4-star rating in both 2014 and 2015. Over the past three years, revenues have continued to grow with good retention of existing corporate, foundation, and individual donors and the acquisition of new corporate, individual and foundation donors. We have longstanding support of public agencies including the NYC Department of Education, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, and Offices of Borough Presidents and City Council members, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts. Publicolor is pleased to have been awarded our first NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) grant in FY16.

    We have established partnerships with several non-profits and community organizations. These include Pratt Institute, which hosts our 7-week Summer Design Studio; Ramapo for Children, which engages our staff in yearly training sessions; and Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center, wh
  4. How will they know if they are making progress?
    Publicolor will measure its success in FY17 according to these three goals:

    GOAL 1:
    Publicolor will engage 1,000 at-risk students (up from 800), indirectly impacting up to 10,000 students, teachers and staff, and will transform a total of 24 sites: 12 neglected schools and 12 under-resourced community facilities. 100% of students will be taught the marketable skill of commercial painting and positive, transferable work habits. Over 90% will report learning leadership, job readiness, and project management skills. Over 80% will report a greater understanding of the importance of education.

    GOAL 2:
    Students will learn the skills necessary to succeed in post-secondary education. To keep 240 COLOR Club and Next Steps students (up from 150) on track for on-time high school graduation, at least 30 career/college prep workshops will be offered to each student. At least 85% of report cards will be evaluated twice a year for intervention/guidance. 100% of students will be offered academic tutoring. At least 90% of our seniors will graduate on time. At least 90% of seniors will be accepted to and enroll in a post-secondary institution with the offer of a Publicolor scholarship. Additionally, 140 college students will receive Publicolor scholarships. 90% of college freshmen will persist to sophomore year.

    GOAL 3:
    To prevent summer learning loss, 85 COLOR Club and Next Steps students (up from 70) will participate in Summer Design Studio and be engaged in project-based learning, community service and paid work experience. 100% of rising 11th graders will be offered 42 hours of SAT prep, and 90% of students will report that they believe SDS improved their reading and math skills.
  5. What have and haven't they accomplished so far?
    Publicolor's strategic growth plan calls for a significant increase in the number of low-income, at-risk students we serve. As we grow, we also want to maintain the high level of success our students achieve in on-time high school graduation, college enrollment and college persistence.

    Publicolor is on track to accomplish these goals in the coming fiscal year. We have moved to a new office with space to accommodate 5 days of student workshops and academic prep, plus a computer lab and quiet study area. Staff development has brought new energy and expertise to the organization, and Board growth has added to our fundraising and organizational capabilities. Publicolor continues to garner significant recognition for our work, capped in recent years with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

    Achieving the goals of our 5-year strategic plan will take focused effort and funding. We are working to diversify our list of corporate, foundation, government and individual donors and leverage existing relationships. We are also looking to launch collaborations with private, government and non-profit partners in ways that support new projects or address specific community needs.
Service Areas


New York

New York City, 4 boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens)

Social Media

Funding Needs

In response to overwhelming demand, our top strategic priority is to increase the number of low-income, high-risk students in struggling middle and high schools citywide, engage them in their education, and help them graduate on time from high school and successfully complete a post-secondary degree. In FY17, Publicolor will be entering the third year of a 5-year strategic plan approved by our Board of Directors in 2014. With our record of solid staff development, growing revenues with good retention of existing corporate, foundation and individual donors, and finances that remain liquid and healthy, Publicolor is in a good position to meet these goals. New and increased funding will improve our ability to expand our outreach, leverage other sources of support, and empower our students to achieve bright and rewarding futures.


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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

Publicolor, Inc.



Free: Gain immediate access to the following:
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  • Forms 990 for 2015, 2014 and 2013
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Founder + President

Ms. Ruth Lande Shuman


Ruth Lande Shuman, Founder and President of Publicolor, is an industrial designer who uses color to transform public spaces. She is deeply committed to engaging at-risk students in their education, pushing back hard at our country's alarming dropout rate.

Ms. Lande Shuman received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and completed her MSID at Pratt Institute, where she also did a six-month independent study on the psychological effects of color. Ruth firmly believes that color, thoughtfully chosen, can have a profound and lasting impact on our quality of life.

In 2000, on behalf of Publicolor, Ms. Lande Shuman received the President's Service Award, the nation's highest honor for volunteer service. Prior to founding Publicolor she was a founding trustee of the Big Apple Circus and today is one of its few emeritus board members. She was also a member of the Union Free School Board of the Wiltwyck School in Ossining, NY. She has served on the boards of The Kitchen, a preeminent presenter of contemporary performing arts, the Museum of Arts + Design as the Mayor's representative, and the Mayor's Voluntary Action Center.

Prior to Publicolor, Ms. Lande Shuman assisted Gaetano Pesce on projects in Japan and France, and coordinated a large design exhibition and the accompanying award-winning Abrams book, Mondo Materialis, for Steelcase Design Partnership.

STATEMENT FROM THE Founder + President

"Alarmed by the ramifications of the nation's rising high school dropout rate, I founded Publicolor as a creative way to engage youth in their education and prepare for success in college and career. The implications of our country's disturbingly low levels of academic achievement are staggering. American students rank 17th in reading, 20th in science and 27th in math amongst 34 developed countries. Nationally, more than 5.5 million youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are disconnected from employment and school with devastating consequences to them, our society, our economy, and civic life. Today, 2.2 million Americans are in prison at an annual cost of $74 billion for
incarceration alone; over 80% of them are high school dropouts.

Our objective is to engage students in their education and, through the scaffolding of design, and teach strong, transferable work habits to help them realize their own potential.

Publicolor targets NYC's most underserved communities throughout the five boroughs and works only with the most under-performing schools and their most seriously at-risk students. Over 90% of participants in all Publicolor programs come from families receiving public assistance, nearly all are eligible for free lunch and many are first-generation Americans. The breakdown of our program demographic is 12-24 years old; 64% Black, 22% Hispanic, 8% Multi-racial, and 5% Asian; and an even mix of male-female.

The students we work with face wrenching challenges, ranging from special education needs and functional illiteracy to domestic violence and abuse, homelessness, and difficulties with anger management. Publicolor provides these students a safe haven and, in many cases, their only source of goal-setting and positive encouragement.

Ruth Lande Shuman
Founder + President"



Mr. Gordon Caplan

Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP


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Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations?



Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year?



Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year?



Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership?



Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years?