This Spring, while most Boston teens enjoyed a week off from school, over 50 high school students and youth workers gathered for the 3rd Annual Youth Arts Action Retreat at Zumix in East Boston. Facilitated by MassCreative’s Tracie Konopinski, students brainstormed ways to help their local communities thrive, learned the value of storytelling skills in advocacy, and how to use their art and their voices to take action in their communities.
After a morning of theory and lectures, young people used their talents in music, dance, theatre, poetry, and art to explore what Boston would look like without art. They later performed these pieces open mic style. Teens said they looked forward to engaging deeper in advocacy with elected officials around the role of the arts and the state arts budget.
“Voice What Matters”, the banner above the stage read, and that is exactly what the youth of the Mass Department of Youth Services (DYS) did. From paintings to sculptures, to videos, songs and dance, young people showed who they are and what matters to them. This year the DYS held the 4th Annual “Share Your Art, Share Your Voice!” Statewide Youth Showcase on June 16 at the Paramount Center at Emerson College.
The motivation for the investment in the arts by DYS came about because, as Peter Forbes, Department of Youth Services Commissioner, said, “Many of the youth are not happy to be with us (DYS), so we have to try to figure out what they’re interested in and use that interest as a hook for the change process. Many of the youth have unbelievable artistic talent, but they often don’t have exposure to the arts to see that, so this is something the agency put forward.”
The showcase kicked off with a youth art exhibition, with the proceeds going directly to the artists. Walking through the exhibit, excited chatter of the attendees could be heard as they eyed the pieces they were going to purchase. “They’re going fast,” said one onlooker. “I know they always do,” said another.
A self-portrait on display that had sold within 15 minutes of the exhibit opening was entitled “Purple Stands for Loyalty.” The artist, Kevin, wrote in his description, “I feel good that I did this self-portrait. Purple is my favorite color.”
Another artist wrote this about her painting “Look Closely”: “Pretty much everyone has a different perspective, a different eye. For this, trees make me feel calmed down, like I’m in a forest alone.”
Following the exhibit, performing artists hit the stage. The performances, while entertaining, also highlighted the realities of life. A youth named Xavier gave a powerful rendition of the “Hath not a Jew Eyes?” speech from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, a performance which had the audience in thunderous applause. A story by a youth named Dion described the struggle of reality vs. perception, and what he called the “Levels to this Frontin’” meaning what the world sees on the outside is not always what it is truly like on the inside. A group of girls – Jessica, Clarisine, Cheyenne, Zorelys, and Irianis – performed a stepping routine with rhythms that resonated throughout the theater.
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.
On my way to the first day of SLAMCAMP, I had plenty of time to doubt myself. What if the kids don’t like me? What if I can’t control their behavior? I’ve never actually slammed before… how exactly am I qualified to teach it? What if nobody shows up? What will I do if someone says something problematic? How am I going to do this by myself? By the time I arrive, I am an emotional mess. I take a deep breath, set up the room, and wait.
– SLAMCAMP creator Crystal Hope Garrity from her teaching journal
Over the past two decades, a network of seasoned administrators, managers, and teaching artists has been cultivated, and it is a great privilege to work with these colleagues. But it is equally important for the field, and a joy for me personally, to come across new and emerging leaders, as well. One such rising star is Hampshire College senior Crystal Hope Garrity. In the summer of 2013, Crystal secured a Community Partnerships for Social Change grant from Hampshire to run a slam poetry camp through the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in North Adams, MA. Following is her reflection on the experience:
SLAMCAMP was simply the best thing I could have done with my summer.
Running SLAMCAMP was an intense learning process for me. I had to apply for the grant by making a budget and creating goals for the program. I wrote the curriculum and planned out the snacks and transportation and guest poet workshops. I also had to make a case that the program was designed to bring about social change. But the most terrifying part for me was the actual facilitation of the program. I’ve always been the second-in-command, the support. This time, I was the one in charge of everything and the person keeping the whole program running smoothly, and at first I was quite doubtful of my ability to do so. But I will never forget how relieved I felt when the young poets came bursting through the door that first day. Their excitement filled up the entire room.
Ten young women participated in SLAMCAMP. They all come from working class or poor families. A few had experienced life in the foster care system and homelessness. They all had beautiful tales to tell and songs to sing.
The program culminated with our participation as poets (not “youth poets” but “poets”) in Pittsfield’s WordXWord Festival poetry slam, and the night of the preliminaries was the best! We were in it together. The girls laughed and cried and shook in fear together. They slammed together and cheered louder than anyone in the audience for not only each other, but the other poets that they were competing against. Elizabeth’s poem, “Mapping Out Vaginas For Boys,” received so many laughs after every line that it put her over the three-minute time limit. Skye made it to the semi-finals with her touching poem that got a high score from even the toughest judge. I watched Jeannette’s entire face light up when her favorite poet, Jon Sands, gave her a hug and told her how much he loved her piece. It is moments like that that make the program truly worth it.
Thanks, Crystal, for sharing your experience—and welcome to the network. We are glad you are here!
Crystal Hope Garrity discovered her love of education and creative writing at the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School in Adams, MA. She is currently a senior at Hampshire College concentrating in Poetry, Photography, and Education and interns for the Youth Action Coalition in Amherst.