Self Portrait by “Tommy”

Self Portrait by Doug

I bought this piece last June at an amazing art show at The State House sponsored by the Mass. Department of Youth Services. (“Tommy” is an assumed name, to protect the artist’s anonymity.)

The piece drew me from across the room because it was familiar—it reminded me of so many young men I see on the T and around my neighborhood.  I was also drawn by the drama of the color choices, and I was moved by the emotions revealed in those eyes.  I knew I had to purchase the piece, though, when I read Tommy’s simple artist’s statement:

“I was really intimidated by this project, but I finally finished it.”

I love that I live in a state where there are art teachers within the Department of Youth Services.  And I love that Tommy’s art teacher pushed him to do something really hard, and that the art teacher knew he could accomplish it, even if Tommy didn’t.  And I love that Tommy stuck with it.  But most of all, I love that Tommy had the courage to admit he had been intimidated.

Giving young people the opportunities and supports to succeed at things they couldn’t imagine they could accomplish—isn’t this what powerful youth development programs accomplish?  And in the arts, the added benefit is that young people produce a powerful connection with others, whether they know it or not.

Tommy was able to work through his fears to create something very strong and beautiful.  Now, hanging on my wall, I can look at Tommy’s work to encourage me to push through my own fears and get a difficult job done.

Thanks, Tommy, wherever you are.

Impact: A Two-Way Street

Kate McGuire and Daryl backstage at the Colonial
Kate McGuire and Daryl backstage at the Colonial

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!

Kate McGuire
Artistic Director and CEO
Berkshire Theatre Group

Wallace Releases Something to Say

Cover image from "Something to Say" reportEarlier this week, the Wallace Foundation and Next Level Strategic Marketing Group released a much anticipated and highly useful report, along with a series of videos, Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs from Urban Youth and Other Experts. (There’s even an infographic.)

I suspect I will be referring to this report and its findings for a long time as I help people build new programs and reflect on current work.

Among the highlights:

  •  Understanding that in choosing afterschool opportunities, teens and ‘tweens are consumers (whether programs are paid-for or free, young people are shopping with their time) and programs need to meet the young people where they are.
  • The market research offers some highly actionable insights on what the consumers are looking for (and NOT looking for).
  • The success principles for quality programming stress the importance of addressing artistic excellence AND youth development principles — the either/or is a false dichotomy.
  • There is strong alignment between what the consumers (young people) say they want in a program and what providers (practitioners, program people) say are the elements of success (safe spaces, opportunities for mastery, sense of belonging, presenting to larger world…).

The title of the report is also pretty great.

I think this is a really terrific contribution to the field. What do you think?

Creative Youth Development

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