X Marks the Inspiration

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.

Joy Counts, But How Do We Count It?

Kathe Swaback
Kathe Swaback

Käthe Swaback, Program Director at Raw Art Works in Lynn and Project Leader of the Boston Youth Arts Evaluation Project, is about as enthusiastic about logic models and quantitative assessment as anyone I know. (She’s even more enthusiastic about measurement than I am!) Recently, Käthe shared with me here renewed passion for finding ways to measure joy and engagement in young people who participate in arts, humanities, and science learning programs afterschool. She reminded me that “nearly half of high school dropouts in the nation report quitting school due to boredom. …. Seems like a lot of research has gone into assessing sadness and anger, but joy and passion?”

Here is Käthe’s ode to finding ways to measure joy and engagement:

We Know
They seem to find it easy to take a ruler to my sadness
Aren’t afraid to confine my mental madness
And yet my joy, my joy they say is not worth measuring?
They can quantify my syntax but cannot see my passion?

We become so willing to deny our native tongue,
We are told that a fork looks enough like a paintbrush, so paint with it.
Our songs are dissected into crumbs that tumble to the ground

Those numbers cannot seem to define us, bind us, or even find us at times,
But the metaphor knows more than the poet
And can address, access, and undress in an instant.

For the arts unlock the well-worn slammed-shut doors
And, like the smell of your mamma’s pancakes
Wafting through the cracks in the walls,
Your songs, paintings, and plays
Invite us to awaken, to engage, to connect
To the then and the tomorrow,
And shouts of the NOW of today

We know we know we know
With our whole being
We know

With the same skill that tunes a C sharp
And can see the difference between turquoise and teal
We need to be able to describe the excitement in the eye of Marcus
As he reaches for that note and holds it.

Shayla, with charcoal all over her face,
Renders her hand on paper, deeply seeing every line,
And falls in love
With that pulse that beats in the in-betweenness of things.

We know we know we know
With our whole being
We know

Let us ignite, unite, and fight
With resonant songs
That sing the stories with precision greater than numbers profess
A vibrant but often silent language
Holding the heart-thumping humanness
That recognizes that grin
From ear to ear

– Käthe Swaback 2013

Harvard Medical School professor George Vaillant points out that, “negative emotions help us to survive individually; positive emotions help the community to survive. Joy, unlike happiness, is not all about me—joy is connection.” Kathe eloquently cautions us about being seduced into measuring things that are easy to measure or bullied into measuring things that others say are important. We need to continue to struggle to find ways to measure what is truly important, to our programs and more importantly, to our young people, to our communities, and to their success.

Cape & Boston Programs Win National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award

Boston Children’s Chorus Executive Director David C. Howse and singer Amber Rodriguez with First Lady Michelle Obama.

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.

Lukas from Provincetown Art Association and Museum hugs First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo by Ralph Alswang.

Art Reach and the Boston Children’s Chorus were among 50 exemplary programs across the country selected by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) as National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards Finalists. Two other Massachusetts programs – Project STEP and True Colors: Out Youth Theater at the Theater Offensive – were also selected as finalists. In the 16-year history of the awards, 37 Massachusetts organizations have been recognized, including 21 national winners. MCC is proud to support these organizations through its YouthReach Initiative and other grant programs. Read the full press release.

Urbano’s Urban Myths + The Dream Machine

Preparation for Urbano's Dec. 2013 show

Teens at Urbano are busy preparing their winter exhibition, Urban Myths + The Dream Machine, which opens December 17, 2013, 5:30-7:30 pm. This is the second exhibition of their yearlong theme, “The Emancipated City: Reimagining Boston,” and will showcase art combining video, performance, installation, and sound, all created by young artists in partnership with their teaching artist mentors. This event is free and open to the public and will take place at 284 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain.

MA Celebrates Two Decades of Public Investment in the Creative Potential of Young People

The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its YouthReach Initiative with a series of events that culminate in a national agenda to propel the field of creative youth development into the next decade. In March the agency will host a national summit, in partnership with the President’s Committee on the Arts & the Humanities and the National Guild for Community Arts Education, that brings the best and the brightest working at the intersection of the arts, culture and youth development to Boston. Leading up to the summit MCC will also hold regional celebrations throughout Massachusetts beginning this evening with a youth showcase at the Museum of Science, Boston. And today we launch a this new blog, Seen & Heard, where we will tell stories of young lives transformed through creativity and of the skilled practitioners who made those stories possible.

See the full press release.

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.

Creative Youth Development

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