The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, given by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, is the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school arts and humanities programs that celebrate the creativity of America’s young people, particularly those from underserved communities. This award recognizes and supports excellence in programs that open new pathways to learning, self-discovery, and achievement. Each year, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards recognize 12 outstanding programs in the United States, from a wide range of urban and rural settings.
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Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) and Raw Art Works, two nationally-recognized creative youth development organizations, came together in January for a project on “Raw Truth.” The “Raw Truth” theme was meant as a nod to the vocal power of the voice, as well as to Dr. King facing the raw social truths of injustice, and the need for using one’s voice to advocate for equity and justice. The concept of “Raw Truth” was also meant to give voice to those inner truths people don’t always get a safe space in which to share.
All BCC choirs participated in the activity and, like audience members’ of the BCC’s MLK concert, the singers were asked what their raw truths were. Many of the singers from age 7 to high school took this activity very seriously and answered in very personal ways. Singers wrote these on index cards and then the Raw Chiefs from Raw Art Works created an art piece that they painted and brought to Jordan Hall on MLK day.
A few responses from BCC’s youngest singers’ cards:
“My family can never afford camps or schools without a scholarship.”
“I didn’t help someone in need when I should have.”
“My friend got shot two months ago.”
“I don’t feel like I have any true friends.”
“My dad went to jail.”
“My great grandparents died in the Holocaust.”
“I have always been scared of the dark.”
“I am afraid of being judged by people at school, and I think it’s because I judge myself.”
A video excerpt of Chorus members being led through a “Raw Truth” conversation:
Through their Youth Arts Action Initiative, MASSCreative partners with 18 youth arts groups to provide advocacy training and opportunities for participants to effect change in their communities. Their youth partners represent a broad spectrum of disciplines – from music, theatre, dance, and visual art – and come from diverse backgrounds representing communities around Greater Boston and beyond.
Young artists are already drawn to advocacy. All they need are the right tools to make the political case that arts matter. At MASSCreative, we’ve seen this advocacy firsthand.
In the last few months, the Youth Arts Action Coalition has convened three times, and began to steadily build an advocacy movement in Massachusetts fueled by young artists. In February, our partners came together at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston for a day of training and collaboration that would spark future advocacy. To kick off the day, Sara Stackhouse of Actors’ Shakespeare Project led an exercise that showed us how to tell our stories through the political organizing lens of the Marshall Ganz model. In this exercise, participants took time to understand their own role in the arts and cultural community by learning to tell three stories: ‘of self,’ ‘of us,’ and ‘of now’. Through this model, youth got the chance to tell their own story, connect to the values and interests of their peers, and inspire urgency in what we must do to make change happen.
This exercise revealed to us that tomorrow’s advocacy leaders were right there in the room. For our young artists who are so deeply involved in their own communities, envisioning themselves as part of an advocacy movement was the next logical step.
Next up, it was time to make waves at the State House. Our Youth Arts Action partners – now well-equipped to make their case – joined MASSCreative and 250 other arts advocates at #ArtsMatter Advocacy Day on March 25.
Among the crowd, young people stood out. They marched with pride and conviction in our #ArtsMatter march, turning heads and rallying the troops to make a difference at the State House. When we met with our legislators to talk about arts and cultural impact, it was their stories that helped drive home the message that arts aren’t just nice, but necessary. Their active participation in legislative meetings all over the State House was proof enough of this impact.
Later on, our youth partners took their advocacy a step further by doing what they do best: sharing their art. Youth leader Nick from Zumix took the mic and shared a rap about the impact of arts and culture in their own lives.
With heads nodding along in the audience, Nick made his point clear. The arts matter. They matter in our classrooms, in our neighborhoods, in all spaces occupied by youth. And with a few bars, Nick says it all:
“World leaders are not that; Imagination rules.
So stop taking music and art out of our schools.
I don’t want to hear that it’s not important
You should forfeit that argument; we’re not standing dormant.”
Drew Esposito is a Program Associate at MASSCreative. MASSCreative is proud to collaborate with 18 Youth Arts Action partners: Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Artists for Humanity, Boston Arts Academy, Boston Children’s Chorus, Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, Hyde Square Task Force, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, Institute of Contemporary Art, Massachusetts Cultural Council, The Mayor’s Youth Council of Boston, Raw Art Works, Sociedad Latina, Teen Empowerment, The Theater Offensive, The Urbano Project, Urbanity Dance, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and ZUMIX.
Last week, a crowd of nearly three hundred joined us at Artist for Humanity’s EpiCenter as we announced the launch of SerHacer, MCC’s newest grant program supporting creative youth development. SerHacer (To Make, To Be) will provide pilot grants, instruments, and technical support to the following youth music programs across Massachusetts:
Berkshire Children and Families, a social service agency based in Pittsfield. Its Kids 4 Harmony program meets after school each day at Morningside Community School.
MusiConnects in Mattapan, home of the Boston Public Quartet, which works afterschool with students who would not otherwise have access to music education.
El Sistema Somerville, an afterschool program at the East Somerville Community School that is also supported by city government.
Also three organizations will receive planning grants to explore new programming: Cape Conservatory in Hyannis; Boston Conservatory, which is working to develop a choral program for young people on the autistic spectrum; and Berkshire Children and Families, which will expand its work to North Adams next year.
State Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg congratulated our grantees, and called SerHacer “another innovation for Massachusetts that will help our young people lead more active civic lives and discover their own potential.” Picking up on this thread, Robert Lynch, CEO at Americans for the Arts underscored the value of the arts, saying that, “kids today need the arts. They need the arts for better living, better academics and test scores, and for better coping with all of life’s challenges.”
To better understand the connections between musical studies and essential learning skills, SerHacer will also fund new research led by Ellen Winner and Sara Cordes at Boston College. Building upon a base of similar studies that have enhanced our understanding of the role of arts in youth development, this study will examine the strengthening of skills such as focus, planning, and problem-solving—skills that are crucial to success in and out of school.
Earlier this month, First Lady Michelle Obama presented Project STEP (String Training and Education Program) student Ajani Boyd and Executive Director Mary Jaffee the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program (NAHYP ) Award on behalf of the entire Project STEP community.
Project STEP received the award for its rigorous, comprehensive, year-round classical string training program for underrepresented minorities. The NAHYP Award recognizes the country’s 12 best creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. The awardees—chosen from a national pool of more than 350 nominations and 50 finalists—are also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.
Project STEP seeks to increase diversity in professional classical music by tooling students, primarily from underrepresented groups, to compete and excel in that realm. So, nearly every Saturday during the school year, Project STEP brings several dozen students, mostly Black and Latino, to Boston’s august Symphony Hall. Toting violins, violas, cellos, and double basses, these students have arrived for lessons with some of the best classical musicians in the Boston area. Throughout this extraordinary 12-year-long program, these young musicians will receive what has been called a “world-class arts learning opportunity,” one designed to change the course of these young people’s lives, while changing the classical music industry.
The ZUMIX Jazz Allstars are headed to Panama to perform in the 2014 Panama Jazz Festival, one of the preeminent Jazz festivals in the world, January 14-19, 2014. Enjoy this clip, “The Chicken,” from their newly released album:
Charge up for the new year. On January 16, 2014 Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion hosts La Lengua del Poder (The Language of Power), a showcase of young people freeing their voices through visual art, theater, music, movement, and poetry. Free. 6-9pm. Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, 85 West Newton St., Boston. Part of the YouthReach 20th anniversary celebration.
Art Reach at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and the Boston Children’s Chorus were each presented with a 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by First Lady Michelle Obama during a ceremony in the in the White House’s East Room on November 22. The award is the nation’s highest honor for outstanding after-school and out-of-school programs.
Art Reach at Provincetown Art Association and Museum is a free, multidisciplinary afternoon immersion program providing substantive arts and humanities education for youth aged 13 years and up.
Boston Children’s Chorus provides intense choral training and performance opportunities in order to harness the power and joy of music to unite Greater Boston’s diverse communities and inspire social change.