The Alpha Workshops

“Our program is open to people with all kinds of disabilities, vulnerabilities, or conditions.”

Ed FarrellExecutive Director

The Alpha Workshops is the nation’s first nonprofit organization to provide decorative arts education and employment for adults with disabilities, including HIV/AIDS.

It was founded in 1995 by Kenneth Wampler, a NYC-based social worker and painter who had worked in AIDS housing and witnessed individuals grappling with the illness but still yearning for purpose and income. Wampler’s vision was to create a haven where anyone facing the challenges of AIDS could receive training in the decorative arts and continue living life as fully as possible.

The organization began modestly, initially operating as a casual space where individuals navigating health concerns could learn these skills. Over time, the casual initiative transformed as The Alpha Workshops started receiving requests for paying jobs. New York State recognized the organization’s impact and urged it to become a licensed career school. This pivotal moment allowed trainees to secure funding from the state and marked a significant turning point in The Alpha Workshops’ journey from a casual space to a structured, purpose-driven entity.

We’re focusing on wallpaper production and improving our educational program, so that it’s as convenient and accessible as possible.”

Edward Farrell was working in a local restoration shop when he stumbled on an article featuring The Alpha Workshops. Impressed with the organization’s mission, he reached out to seek employment. “I mailed them a postcard to say I was interested in joining, and they actually called me back”, he shares with a laugh. He was brought on as a teacher and artisan, eventually became the Studio Manager, and in 2019, assumed the role of Executive Director after twenty years of dedicated work.

Under the close eye of Farrell, The Alpha Workshops specializes in luxury home décor. The organization’s wallpapers are hand painted, with some even available in handmade textures, created by folding, creasing, and manipulating the papers. These pieces of art have been featured in numerous magazines, including Architectural Digest and New York Magazine. From participating in the restoration of Gracie Mansion, the residence of NYC’s Mayor, to completing many corporate commissions for high-profile clients such as Benjamin Moore and New York School of Interior Design, The Alpha Workshops has remained extremely busy throughout the years, receiving several awards and recognitions. In fact, Kenneth Wampler was inducted into the Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame.

Alpha Workshops is not just a decorative arts training center; it’s a beacon of inclusivity and transformation.

Participants in The Alpha Workshops’ vocational program can come with no artistic background or experience and receive all the necessary training to succeed. They learn technical skills and receive training in decorative painting, but also receive training on overall job readiness. Upon graduation, some students begin working in the studios, creating this luxury art.

The organization’s mission has expanded beyond its initial focus on AIDS-related support to encompass individuals with various disabilities and conditions. Its commitment to inclusivity extends to visible and invisible challenges, embracing those facing homelessness, addiction, and depression.

From a small initiative born out of compassion, The Alpha Workshops has blossomed into a transformative force, impacting not only the lives of the individuals it serves but also the broader artistic landscape of New York City and beyond. The organization continues to evolve and grow, and its legacy of inclusivity and creativity is a testament to the enduring power of compassion in fostering positive, measurable change within vulnerable communities.

Q&A with Ed Farrell

What work have you most enjoyed?

I love the one-of-a-kind pieces. Our clients have an idea, we create something for them, and suddenly there’s a giant sculpture growing out of a department store!

What keeps you motivated?

The people I work with. It’s rewarding to offer training and see where people go with it.

What's your advice to someone starting out in this business?

Be amenable, be a good team player, and consider the needs of the clients while making sure your team is happy.