AFH was founded 25 years ago by Susan Rodgerson with a seemingly simple idea: Engaging urban young people in collaborative art making gives them a voice in the arts – and business – community. Rodgerson describes the evolution of AFH’s creative jobs program, which now employs 300 kids annually and earned just under $1.5 million last year. Committed to a sustainable future, Rodgerson also shares expansion plans for the EpiCenter, AFH’s building and first Platinum LEED building in Boston.
Booth, one of the foremost experts in the world on teaching artists, discusses the field and craft of teaching artistry. He says while teaching artists are recognized as learning catalysts – by the education, business, and healthcare sectors (to name a few) – there continue to be insufficient growth pathways to support the expertise that’s been developed by this global workforce.
Every young person that goes through Lowell Leaders in Stewardship has the right to say, “I am a scientist.” In fact, they are encouraged to do so. From raising snapping turtles in the classroom to monitoring water quality in local rivers, young people are learning what being a scientist means. Gwen Kozlowski, Stewardship & Education Manager of the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, speaks of a participant who surprised the team while working on a tree-planting project. Gwen said, “The young man’s mouth ran a mile a minute and we had thought anything we said went in one ear and out the other. But we were blown away when he said at the end of the 10-week session that watching our tree had made him look around and watch the leaves on his dad’s tree open. He had never realized how fast they grew! This small observation study had transcended other places in his life and opened his eyes to the amazing sights of spring.”
The Lowell Leaders in Stewardship programs offers a place for students to expand science learning in different ways than occur within the school day. They are presented with hands- on experiences. They are able to develop their own project ideas and then complete them. The impacts, however, go beyond science learning. They grow and learn how to become leaders and how to feel like they are making a difference in their community when participating in stewardship activities. This experience can expand their visions of what might be possible for them. Kris Scopinich, Education Director at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, shared a story of young girl in the program who was not planning on attending college. This young woman was working in the field one day with her group, studying water quality in a local river when she told a staff member that she thought that maybe she wanted to do this in college. She said she really enjoyed what she was doing. She was encouraged by the staff to pursue this dream. She learned that she is capable of being a scientist and her possibilities are endless. She changed her initial plan to going to school for environmental science.
According to Gwen, “The most rewarding aspect of the Lowell Leaders in Stewardship Program is the connection young people make to the Lowell community and other students. Friendships form and deepen through the meaningful work that is completed. Our group has often been called a ‘family’.” This is one of the key aspects to the success of creative youth development programs. This sort of feeling can be achieved using many mediums, so long as the program is safe, welcoming, inspiring, and provides a place of learning, growth, and connection. The Lowell Leaders in Stewardship program embodies all of these aspects through environmental studies and giving young people the skills and confidence to declare, “I am a scientist, and I am a valuable citizen of Lowell.”
Lowell Leaders in Stewardship is a program of the Mass. Audubon Society in partnership with Lowell Parks and Conversation Trust and the Lowell Public Schools. This post is an excerpt from a longer case study by Jenny Beers, a student at Mass. College of Liberal Arts.
In 2000, high school student Kacie Breault got involved with Seeds of Leadership at Seeds of Solidarity in Orange, MA. She went on to study sustainable agriculture at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, VT, and graduated in 2008. She is now working on her Masters in Education and Waldorf teacher training at Antioch University New England in Keene, NH. Here Kacie reflects on her experience at Seeds of Solidarity:
I was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school seeking a new after school routine. After school the public transit bus would pick me and other students up at the high schools. It would take 30 minutes to drive past Lake Mattawa, up the bending roads that narrowed and turned to dirt. Old stone walls bordering sugar maples stood on either side of the road, letting us know we were almost there. Seeds of Solidarity (SOS) Farm and Education Center and its SOL (Seeds of Leadership) Garden program is off the beaten path and even off the grid.
Arriving at SOL Garden, we would share healthy snacks and talk about agriculture and other environmental concerns together, then get to work. Like many out-of-school programs, SOL was based on experiential learning, mentoring, and authentic, meaningful relationships. The staff worked alongside us sharing their life stories and listening to ours. They interacted with us as young adults with something to contribute, not as dumb high school students needing to be corrected, and they gave us the opportunity to learn through doing. They allowed us to take on responsibilities and grow not only food but confidence.
I got to know the other students I worked with in the gardens really well, many of whom I would have never taken the time to befriend in school. We built friendships and camaraderie, connections you can only have with people with whom you have weeded, hauled compost, harvested endless amounts of beans, or constructed buildings. Together we sold produce from the SOL garden at the farmers market, where I found myself educating the public about local food, the biodiesel/grease conversion van, GMO’s, and the importance of using alternative fuel and solar energy to limit our dependence on oil.
The work ethic and confidence I gained through SOL garden spilled over into other parts of my life. The following year I got an A+ in my English class, and by senior year I had planned an independent study at the SOS farm to do some season-extending experiments in the greenhouse. I was self-educating and self-motivating. I applied to college and got in! I would be the first in my family to go to college. I chose to study sustainable agriculture. The seed was planted and it took root.
It has been 13 years since the first time I walked down the path to Seeds of Solidarity. When I visit, I am overcome with so many familiar smells and feelings of hope, inspiration, beauty, busting life forces, and love. I have always been drawn back to my hometown to stay involved with the ever-growing education center and farm. SOL Garden instilled a sense of responsibility in me that motivated me to become an educator. Seeds of Solidarity is living proof you can succeed in doing what you love especially when your passion is to live a more sustainable and beautiful life. The SOL garden seed continues to grow through me and sends out new shoots every time I find myself working in the garden, especially with children.
Kacie still considers herself to be an SOL Gardener and always will be. In her words, “an SOL Gardeners’ work is never done.”
On January 15, Boston Children’s Chorus and Art Reach at Provincetown Art Association and Museum were honored at the MA State House for winning the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. There, Cat Van Buren of Harwich, MA, spoke eloquently about the role an out-of-school arts program plays in her life.
Hi I’m Cat Van Buren. I’m a sophomore at Harwich High School on Cape Cod and I attend the Art Reach Program at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum… Going to Art Reach every Wednesday and Saturday are the highlights of my week because they allow me to take a little step back from school and other work that I have to do and focus on having fun and doing what I love. It’s a welcomed break from stressing. …
Cape Cod is just the small, flexing arm of Massachusetts and yet it holds a treasure trove of hidden talents, artists, and interests. Going to Art Reach allowed me to meet and befriend people I would not have met without this program “reaching” to us all. … It so surprising and comforting to know how many people on the Cape share my interests.
I am so happy I can go to Art Reach every week and do what I love. Drawing is my outlet for my imagination. If I could not do that I have no clue what I would do! Art Reach allows me to practice my trade and be with people that share my interests. It is an escape for young artists!
I think youth art programs are one of the most beneficial things that could be placed anywhere. Art Reach as one of them gives a creative and productive outlet to the students in it while allowing the feeling of social communion and acceptance. Art programs are a place to belong. It allows students to explore and express themselves in the world of art. With Art Reach I have definitely learned that art is what I want to do for my career. Learning about different materials and computer programs and utilizing them. I belong at Art Reach. There, I feel like nothing can get to me; everyone is just doing things they enjoy, swapping stories, and sharing techniques. It’s great. I am so glad I learned about Art Reach because without it I think I would just be bored, to put it plainly. Bored.
Without Art Reach I think my life would be black and white, but with it there is color!
Luis Sanchez, then (2008, age 14) and now (age 23). Luis danced with Ritmo en Accíon, a dance troupe sponsored by Hyde Square Task Force in Jamaica Plain, MA, for 3 years beginning in 2005. Recently, Harvard Graduate School of Education student Lisa Yolansky had an opportunity to sit with Luis as he reflected on his years with Ritmo “back in the day.”
Lisa: How did you get so involved in Ritmo en Accíon?
Luis: I used to take classes at the Brookline Community Center, and one of the people I loved taking classes with was the Ritmo en Accíon choreographer, Burju Hurturk. She asked me to join Ritmo, which was just around the corner from my house. Over time my involvement got bigger. I actually got to perform at the White House and at a Red Sox game.
How did the opportunities to dance at the White House and at Fenway impact you?
We were like, “Wow, we are actually important. We are really doing something huge.” I think that really made me feel like I could accomplish anything, and that I could accomplish something with dance even though not everyone felt like dance was that important.
Wasn’t the work at Ritmo viewed as important?
Yes and no. A lot of people undervalue the arts and the aid the arts give. Specifically to teenagers, you know? During my teenage years, everything was awkward, and I don’t think people realized how much stability the dancing gave me.
What have you been doing since graduating high school and leaving Ritmo?
I have a lot of projects going on, but my work at Charlestown Community Center is what I am most excited about. It brings back memories of what I got as a high school student out of Ritmo en Accíon and what I can have the teenagers I’m working with get out of my program. I am one of the dance coordinators and I’m working with other young people to establish a range of arts programs. That way we can build the students’ skills and tell the community, “This is what your young people can do.”
You said you want your students to get similar things out of your program as you got out of Ritmo en Accíon. What things did you get from your work in the arts?
The thing that Ritmo en Accíon did very well was providing us with an art that we loved, but also showing us that we had to work hard, have discipline and be responsible—that we can get good results for the effort that we’re putting in. And that carries over to school because if you put in that same kind of effort you’ll get good grades, get scholarships, etc. It was also really great to be a youth member of Hyde Square Task Force and to go out and do something for the community—teach classes, paint peace signs, and just being able to use my passion to help other people.
Do you have any advice for people working with youth in the arts?
Always take the opinions of the youth members seriously. Even though [the program leaders] have the broader prospective, the youth have the inside scoop on how to make it better and on what they want to get out of it.
What do you want policy makers and funders in the arts to know?
I want them to know that in arts programs in general, there are so many benefits. The United States in particular is really missing out on using the arts. All these other countries are using the arts to prevent crime, increase motivation, and so on. We are missing out because in the U.S. people say, “oh, it’s just an arts program” instead of looking at the powerful good the arts do.
TEDxBoston’s 2013 website posed a single, provocative question: “Where do you go for inspiration in Boston?” The organizers answered their own question by turning to Artists For Humanity (AFH), commissioning the youth-driven studio to develop an innovative take on the TEDx “X”. From initial concept meetings with the client through design and final execution, the process at AFH was characteristically youth-led and professional.
Pittsfield’s Juvenile Resource Center (JRC), a collaboration between the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office and the Pittsfield Public Schools, provides education, casework, counseling, and employment services to young people at high risk of dropping out of school. With the help of YouthReach funding, Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) launched a partnership in 2012 with the JRC, using theatre tools to build confidence and communication skills while placing the young people in jobs throughout Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre. Kate McGuire, Artistic Director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group, reflects on the partnership’s first year:
In the theatre, we learn to listen. For me, I was able to hear and understand the nature of these kids’ lives and learn about the challenges they face minute to minute.
At the beginning, there was so much noise. They were loud, and so aggressive towards each other in their language and sometimes, physically. By the end of the semester, we all learned to attend to each other, to listen more carefully. Order and calm and a real sense of joy set in.
The first week of the program, we went to see a movie. It was a disaster. I was amazed they didn’t get thrown out as they could not keep quiet, keep still, or keep their hands off each other.
Over the course of six months, we used actor-training exercises to encourage each young person to find new tools of expression and at the same time, sharpen our awareness of ourselves as part of an ensemble, a community. Meanwhile, BTG staff worked with each participant’s interests and ambitions to build custom internship experiences for each.
In the final week of this first year, we all went out to dinner. The youth were polite, well spoken, and we might as well have been celebrating Christmas. There was such a warmth and genuine care among us all.
We had accomplished something remarkable, and we were all aware that each one of us had changed, grown, and learned to care about each other and each others’ lives in profound ways.
The Colonial Theatre must be comfortable for everyone to walk through. We have succeeded with these young people. By the end, the kids were not a part of the BTG. They were integrated into the entire organization. Three of them continued through the summer: one in the box office, one onstage for Peter Pan, and one providing technical support. JRC staff noted the value in the relationship, and the region’s Sheriff lauded our work to one of our trustees.
Years ago I entered the theatre with the belief that we could transform lives profoundly. This work is serving that belief. What I did not know was how deeply I could still be impacted by the power of the theatre to help and change lives. I am grateful to the young people I have worked with through the JRC, and I can’t wait to meet a new class later this fall!
Artistic Director and CEO
Berkshire Theatre Group