Last month, we gathered young people, educators, and leaders from creative youth development programs, and their legislators at the State House to celebrate our Amplify grant recipients.
Now in its second year, Amplify has funded 27 projects designed and executed by young people in programs currently supported by our YouthReach and SerHacer programs. The grants support the creation of work by young people in the arts, sciences, or humanities that demonstrates the capacity they have to be visible and audible participants in developing safe and thriving communities throughout the Commonwealth.
A young filmmaker from the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Xavier Harvey, described the experience of being an Amplify grantee as “innovation, inspiration, and motivation”:
Legislators were on hand to congratulate the youth leaders, including Senator Adam Hinds, Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.
“I’m so glad that you are stepping up in helping your communities, and I want you to know that in this building you’ve got a bunch of people who are going to get your back, and make sure that you can keep doing that,” he said.
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.
… Well, hello, everyone. Welcome to the White House for the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program awards. (Applause.) Are you guys excited? Let me start by thanking from the bottom of my heart, oh, gosh, so many people. …
And to the entire President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities — this is my team. These are my people here. I was just talking to them earlier — I mean, we have done some amazing things together. It’s been a tremendous ride. And, oh, I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been to just do great things for kids all over this country. And I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you, not just for the work that you’ve done on this event, but for everything that you’ve done for the past eight years.
From the day we started, all of us, we’ve made it a priority to open up this house to as many young people from as many backgrounds as possible, because we wanted them to understand that this is their house too. (Applause.) And that’s not always the case. There are kids all over this country, all over the world who think that places like this are not for them. So they’re intimidated by it, and it defines the limits of who they can be.
Well, we want to change that. We’ve worked to change that. We want them to know that they should always feel home within these walls and so many important institutions all over the world. At the same time, we also wanted to bring exciting arts programming to students across the country, and to get more kids engaged in the arts at their schools and also in their communities. …
And finally, I want to thank all of the teachers and administrators, all the volunteers who make these programs possible. Some of you are here today with us in this room, and many of you are watching and cheering from back home. And as someone who used to be an executive director of a nonprofit organization, I know that you all are the unsung heroes of these programs, doing the unrecognized and sometimes unpaid work of making these programs work — filling out countless forms, applying for funding, attending endless meetings, going over spreadsheets and budgets in the middle of the night.
This kind of work is hard. Too often it’s thankless. But you all do it because you see firsthand the transformative impact that the arts can have on our young people. And we’re grateful to you all for doing this kind of work.
Through your programs, students have become poets and dancers. They’ve become filmmakers and photographers. And more importantly, they become leaders in their schools and in their communities. They’ve written scripts and short stories. They’ve organized performances and exhibitions. And together, they’ve learned the power of discipline, of hard work, right? And teamwork, right?
These are the exact skills that are critical to success not just in the arts, but in everything — every academic subject that you are going to touch and in any career that you guys are going to pursue. So you don’t know how much you’re getting, but we do because we’re old. We know. (Laughter.) That’s why kids who have gotten involved in the arts have better grades. They are more likely to graduate from high school. They are more likely to then go on to college.
And to anyone who still somehow doubts the power of the arts to transform students’ lives, to anyone who still isn’t completely convinced, I just urge you to find one of these students and talk to them. They’re here today, but they’re not just here, but they’re all over the country. They’re in communities everywhere.
But we’ve got a couple. We’ve got Noemi Negron, who is here. As recently as this spring, Noemi was a promising young woman growing up in Boston who wanted to serve others but didn’t know where to start. But then she got involved with the IBA Youth Development Program, and she helped make a video project about women’s rights. And today, she is a passionate advocate for social justice in her community. That’s where you can go with programs like these.
We have a young man, Rafael Bitanga, who is here all the way from Kodiak, Alaska. How was that trip? (Laughter.) A few years ago, Rafael and his family came to the United States from the Philippines. And like so many young people who’ve immigrated to this country, Rafael worked hard in school and quickly established himself as a leader and a role model. And through the Baranov Museum and Film Intensive, he became both a filmmaker and a photographer, and he even started his own photography business to help support his family.
So Noemi and Rafael, and — I could you about every single student or young person who is here today, but those are some of the stories that you’ll hear from them. And I want them all to know how proud I am of them. I’m proud of you guys, always proud of you guys. You make this job worth doing, just having the honor of getting to meet so many amazing young people.
These kids represent the very best of America, and they remind us all of who we really are. (Applause.) That’s for you. You can’t even believe it, right? (Laughter.) It’s all for you.
But we’re a country that believes in our young people — all of them. We believe that every single child has boundless promise, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money their parents have. We’ve got to remember that. We believe that each of these young people is a vital part of the great American story. I can’t say that enough. (Applause.)
And it is important to our continued greatness to see these kids as ours — not as “them,” not as “other,” but as ours. Because we want them to know that if they’re willing to work for it — and so many are — that they can be anything they want. That’s what this country is about. And we can never forget that. Anywhere in the country, these kids are ours. And that’s really the power of programs like these. That’s the message that they send to our young people every single day.
So I want to end by once again thanking all of you — all the adults here too — (laughter) — for making these programs possible. And I want to thank all of the young people for working so hard. And don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever feel fear. You belong here, you got that? (Applause.) Those people are clapping for you. So don’t forget that — for all of you. Remember that. Remember that part of this day. And keep working hard, because it’s going to be so important now to be educated and focused. Because no one can ever take your education from you. You got that? Spread the word, you got it? I’m looking at all of you all. (Laughter.)
Take a journey through the eyes of teen artists from the ICA’s nationally recognized Teen Programs. The exhibit ICA Teen Photography (through October 30, 2016 at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art) features new works made by 16 Boston-area ICA teen participants. Throughout the school year, participants in the museum’s rigorous digital photography courses learned to use museum-issued cameras, and established positive relationships with peers and the professional artists and educators who led the classes.
When asked what he looks for in a photography subject, Edward Tapia, a teen whose work is featured in the exhibit said, “There are certain things that seem attractive to the eye as it is, but honestly, anything can become attractive and interesting if someone looks at it with a different view. I try to turn things into outstanding compositions with photography, so I look at things in a different way than usual and capture what seems interesting about it to create even more.”
“One of my biggest take-aways from participating in the Teen Programs at the ICA is to learn to appreciate art and discover the meaning behind it, and then apply them to my personal life.”
Krystal Cai, another teen whose work is featured in the exhibit said, “One of the biggest take-aways I have from participating in the teen programs at the ICA is a clear understanding of the basic technical features of the camera, which I think was a valuable lesson for me as a beginner. Also, this program taught me do not ever delete pictures, because you can always look back at your previous work to see how you progress and learn areas for improvement.”
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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:
I arrived in Boston from the Dominican Republic when I was 13. No one told me I was going to a new country until the day before I left. When I got to Boston, I lived with my grandmother in a housing project in South Boston. I remember it was the end of November, and I didn’t have any warm clothes. I didn’t speak a word of English.
Right away I got expelled from school for my involvement in a fight. Fighting was a common activity for me. I had a lot of anger and the streets gave me a place to express it. I was the type of kid who, if I didn’t like the way you looked at me, there would probably be a fight.
Once there I learned Latin dance and began to feel more and more comfortable. I started to learn English. I still had anger, but people accepted me, and if I was in a bad mood, they took the time to talk to me. Soon, I was performing dance all over Boston, and I was surrounded with positive people – teens and adults.
HSTF staff pushed me on my academics, but I still couldn’t graduate on time. The summer after 12th grade, my HSTF mentor worked with me and helped me complete high school. I started taking classes at Bunker Hill Community College, and a week into the semester, I had another incident on the streets. I was going to a party in the Lenox Street projects, and I got shot. I hit the ground to avoid a hail of bullets, but one of them caught my leg. Even though I lost a lot of blood, I was able to recover.
I realized I had to set my priorities straight, once and for all. I had to change my focus, so I threw myself into work, school, and dance.
At Bunker Hill, HSTF continued to support me through their college success program. They checked in with me every week. They even came to Bunker Hill and went to the financial aid office with me in order to get me the help I needed. I am in my final year at Bunker Hill. Next year I will attend Mass College of Art and Design to major in graphic design. Someday, my dream is to own my own graphic design company. Meanwhile, I dance. I am a member of the professional Mambo Revelation dance company. I also teach dance to middle school kids.
Published with permission from the Hyde Square Task Force.
The following is a letter to the editor that appeared in The Recorder. It is a fantastic reminder of how Creative Youth Development transcends discipline and allows us to honor creativity in unexpected places:
Thursday, August 6, 2015
In regards to the article “Statewide arts funding increases” (Aug. 1), in addition to wonderful arts-related programs, it is lesser known that the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) also supports several science and environmental initiatives.
Seeds of Solidarity’s SOL Garden program for North Quabbin youth relies on funding from the MCC YouthReach program (and the generosity of individuals locally and beyond) to provide low-income teenagers with a high-quality, garden-based program after school and throughout the summer. Each year, we provide hundreds of North Quabbin high school students with ecology, sustainable-agriculture and renewable-energy presentations in their school science classes. Then, throughout each spring, summer and fall, a diverse group of 25 North Quabbin teens engage in authentic learning and critical conversations on topics such as food and climate change, soil ecology and food justice plus gain real skills for resiliency through growing and cooking healthy food, and design/building projects. They learn civic engagement as they prepare community meals for those in need, help create gardens for local day cares, and educate thousands about composting at the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival, among a host of other activities.
Importantly, and amidst a social backdrop of increased opiate use, the program provides a safe setting that is a beacon of hope and lifeline to a positive future. For many of the 400 local youth who have participated in our program since 1999, SOL Garden is a focus of their college essay (often first in their family to go) and a significant volunteer and work experience helping qualify them for jobs and careers. We offer our curricula, resources and videos on our website (seedsofsolidarity.org) to help launch similar programs regionally and nationally.
We do our best to keep our local legislators informed about SOL Garden and our other programs, and are very grateful for their efforts on the recent budget and override. This “arts” funding has the added benefit of supporting innovative science and environmental education, and creatively transforming the lives of many North Quabbin youth.
Deborah Habib, is director of the Seeds of Solidarity Education Center. Seeds of Solidarity re-imagines a self sustaining farm as a space for Creative Youth Development in Orange, MA and represents a strong cohort of programs in the sciences and humanities that are supported by YouthReach, STARS, and other MCC programs.
“I’m working with a student whose drawings always depict someone getting shot or stabbed. What should I do?”
“The other day, a student told me that he’s thinking about coming out to his parents and he’s scared about how they’ll respond. I’m not sure what to tell him.”
“I think that one of my students may be homeless right now. Should I ask her about it?”
“One of the students in my class gets really angry and tearful any time that someone critiques his work. How can I help him and the other students handle critiques?”
In our work with youth, we encounter difficult issues on a weekly, if not daily (or hourly), basis. Working with students means dealing with situations that we may never have previously encountered. It means asking the question: “What should I do?” on a regular basis. Sometimes, the issues that students bring to us don’t seem to have an answer. In these situations, two heads are most always better than one. Consulting with colleagues can help guide your next steps and allow you to talk through an issue to gain a better understanding of it.
To help support students and staff, many schools have brought in behavioral health specialists, such as social workers, psychologists, and counselors. Depending on their areas of expertise, these specialists may be able to provide support in a number of areas, including:
Student behavioral health concerns (ex. depression and suicidal ideation, anxiety, trauma exposure, etc.)
Accessing local resources (ex. immigration services, family and child services, education advocates, etc.)
Crisis management (ex. addressing abuse/neglect concerns, providing support after trauma exposure, etc.)
Building social-emotional support systems (ex. helping develop structures and policies for helping staff address student’s behavioral health needs.)
How can after-school programs access support in addressing students’ behavioral health needs?
Last year, I began thinking about this question with the staff of Fast Forward, a teen program at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (ICA). They have developed an education team that is passionate and knowledgeable about what they do, as well as highly engaged with and supportive of their students. As their programming has expanded and students have developed deeper relationships with staff, more issues that students are facing have come to the surface. To address these complex issues, the ICA reached out for a behavioral-health perspective.
Now, once every few weeks, the ICA education staff and I sit down together to discuss current concerns that they are facing in their work with students. Our conversations range from the staff’s work with individual students to issues around systems and policies. To give an example, three issues that we discussed in a recent meeting include:
A number of students were exposed to a violent incident in the community. How might the students respond to this event? What are typical responses to trauma exposure? When should staff be concerned about a student’s response and what should they do if they are concerned?
A student told a staff member that she was having suicidal thoughts. What next steps should the staff member take? What could the staff member have said when the student brought this up to her? What are signs of depression and suicidal ideation that staff can look out for?
One student has missed class for two weeks in a row. What is the ICA’s official policy around absences? Is it better to contact the student directly or to contact the student’s parents?
For each issue, we discuss the concern, think about the context of the issue, and consider possible ways to address it. We develop concrete next-steps for each problem and make sure to check in during the following weeks to determine whether any further steps are needed.
Our goal, in the partnership, is to support the education staff in their immediate work, as well as to build the team’s capacity for supporting their students’ social-emotional needs in the future. We supplement the meetings with phone calls and emails to address crisis situations, occasional trainings to develop skills that the staff would like to strengthen, and collaboration to build policies around supporting students. This work allows the education staff to focus on the mission of the ICA’s programming while also ensuring that they are meeting the needs of their students.
Have your staff faced issues that they are unsure how to address? Would a behavioral-health perspective be helpful in addressing your participants’ needs? If so, consulting with a social worker, counselor, or psychologist might be something to explore.
Melissa Rocklen is a clinical social worker and an artist. As a social worker, she has focused on working with students, families, and staff within the Boston Public School system. She has conducted individual and group therapy, taught lessons on social-emotional skill building, assisted people in accessing local resources, provided trainings for teachers, and built protocols for addressing student needs.
For those of us who have committed our lives to creative youth development work, we know that in practice, it is never simple or neat. Each individual’s story offers insight into a part of their journey – and ours. Each individual’s story emphasizes different aspects of ‘the work’. Here are three such stories:
Luis started at the Community Art Center when he was five. He is hard of hearing and had difficulty reading and writing at school. He was a naturally exuberant child who was often at odds with his very traditional Haitian grandmother. When Luis came to the Art Center, he discovered a love of theater and dance and a group of adults and kids who celebrate who he is. In the spring of 2012, Luis was voted onto our Youth Advisory Board and worked with his peers to complete a 100 foot mural along Massachusetts Avenue. Because of his flair for expressive speaking he was selected to address the audience about the mural making experience. One of his classroom teachers happened to walk by when Luis was reading the speech he wrote himself. She emailed the school principal the next day saying she had no idea what Luis was capable of. When I was forwarded a copy of that email I was proud of Luis, but that idea, that she “didn’t know what Luis was capable of” felt like a small tragedy. At the Community Art Center, Luis found a way to take in information and a way to express himself. He learned how he learns. Luis is now 14 and in his second year in our Teen Media Program. He still struggles in school, struggles to live up to his grandmother’s expectations, but in our program, he continues to succeed and has just started to direct his first film.
Tanisha’s mother died suddenly when she was just seven years old. She started at the Community Art Center a few months later. During program, Tanisha kept to herself. When she was nine, she was given a journal in class at the Art Center and instead of leaving hers behind in the classroom like the other girls, she carried it around with her and wrote often. Although her father and our staff were convinced she was grieving deeply, she never spoke about her mother – out loud or in her journal, which she eventually started sharing with one of our teachers. The year Tanisha turned 12, she wrote her first poem about her mother in one of our programs, which she turned into a song. When Tanisha took the stage to sing her song at our end of year celebration, she got through the first line and began to cry. Her father walked her off the stage but the audience kept cheering and eventually she walked back out and bowed. We don’t see Tanisha around the Art Center very often these days. She’s 15 now and her first years as a teen were full of difficulty. She comes by to visit every few weeks but isn’t officially signed up for a program. I see her all the time, though, around the neighborhood, walking alone or sitting on a bench, always carrying or writing in her journal.
When Raymond started our teen program, he was one of those kids who sat in the corner and watched the world go by. He was so quiet and seemingly disengaged, that we sometimes wondered why he kept coming. He seemed to like film making, but only really focused on the process when he was assigned the meticulous task of editing. During his second year with us, he was invited by staff to join our leadership group, DIYDS!! Crew – the group that curates and plans our Do It Your Damn Self!! National Youth Film Festival (DIYDS!!). It was in the quiet of the curation room that Raymond started talking. He had opinions about film. It turned out he spent much of his time outside of the Art Center watching movies. Raymond served on our Crew for the next two years and his senior year was asked to emcee the premiere screening of the film festival. Raymond got into college nearby but stayed in touch, coming back to help lead the DIYDS!! curation process. Raymond is 23 now, lives at home with his mom, and works hard to support his daughter, who just turned 2. I just got a call from him to be a reference for an entry level job at a small local museum. I gushed about him, of course, and am keeping my fingers crossed.
“I guess I keep coming back to the Art Center because it’s like coming home again. You know, like how a kid lets go of his mother’s hand but always comes back to hold it again when they need to.” When Ashley, who just aged up into our teen program made this statement recently, I thought now THAT is the real definition of creative youth development.
They keep coming back to it, and we keep coming back to it because somewhere in the process, we will find that mural event, that journal, that film critique that will make enough of a difference – help young people get their needs met and through that process find meaning for themselves, and give meaning to all of us.
Eryn Johnson is the Executive Director of Community Art Center whose mission is to cultivate an engaged community of youth whose powerful artistic voices transform their lives, their neighborhoods and their worlds. For over 80 years and for all but 10 weekdays of the year, the Art Center provides a second home to over 100 youth in Cambridge, MA.