New Narratives: Reclaiming Asian Identity Through Story
Call for Artists: Unbound Visual Arts invites Boston-area Asian and Asian American creatives to submit work that explores notions of Asian identity within the U.S. Deadline: June 22, 2020.
Teaching for Equity and Justice: An Online Equity Summit
Facing History and Ourselves hosts the online seminar from July 20-23, 2020. Learn more.
Weekly Call with the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture
Each Friday from 3-4pm, the Mayor’s Office connects weekly (via video conference call) with local arts organizations to share a briefing on the coronavirus from the City, what resources are available to you, followed by time for you to voice your questions, concerns, and suggestions. Learn more.
Radical Imagination for Racial Justice
MassArt and the City of Boston announced a $1.2 million award from the Surdna Foundation to support artists of color who live or work in Boston (artists of all ages 14+) who are excited to bring to life their visions of a racially just society. This three-year regranting program titled Radical Imagination for Racial Justice (RIRJ) is in partnership with MassArt and the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, who will distribute funds to artists seeking to advance racial justice through 260 collaborative projects in their communities. Application deadline extended to July 8, 2020.
Nominations Open for2020 ATA Awards
The Association of Teaching Artists Awards aim to increase the visibility of teaching artists working within the arts in education and community arts fields, and celebrate the organizations and institutions where they work as well as honor innovation in teaching artistry. Nominations will be accepted for: Innovation in Teaching Artistry Award, Teaching Artist Ally Award, Distinguished Service to the Field Award. Teaching artists of any artistic discipline are eligible for consideration. Nominations will be accepted until June 5, 2020. Submit a nomination.
Books of Hope
Young people ages 13-19 are encouraged to submit to the Massachusetts Youth Writers Anthology 2020. This will be a published collection of poems and other pieces of writing from young people. Submission deadline: May 30.
The 826 Boston Youth Literary Advisory Board is now accepting poems, narratives, essays, and original artwork about self-identity to be featured in a professionally bound book. Students who are residents of Boston in grades 7-12 are welcome to submit their writing or artwork. Submission deadline: June 7 by midnight.Submit your work.
CYD National Youth Network Meeting
Every Friday from 7-8:30pm (ET) the National Youth Network offers a space for and by young artists ages 13-24 from all across the United States, to check in with each other, and to share challenges and opportunities to thrive together. Meetings explore different ways to combine art forms and artistically express, share, and create. Register to join.
Adapting Culminating Events for Right Now in Creative Youth Development
Respond to this short surveyto share your strategies, ideas, and challenges. CultureThriveand The Clare Rose Foundation will share the creative ways that young people and the programs they are part of are being nimble. Everyone who responds to the survey will receive the survey findings.
An amazing thing happened in March of 2020 – with no preparation, no warning, and no training, teachers around the world had to pivot toward creating learning experiences with empty classrooms and studios. There was no policy. Guidelines were late in coming. But the change happened. Teachers at the Community Music Center of Boston moved most of their lessons online, teachers at the Community Music School of Springfield began making YouTube videos of lessons for students to access asynchronously, and education staff at Barrington Stage Company facilitated four hours of youth-developed theater on Zoom.
Other teachers recognized that their role might be different as youth were inside of homes that may have contributed to trauma in their lives. So they started connecting with young people as exactly that – young people. To ask how someone is, rather than ask them to create art or music, was needed and teachers were quick to recognize this. From simple questions to directing youth to food shelters, teachers were – and continue to be – that essential connection between cultural organization and youth.
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists we have seen cultural organizations go to great lengths to retain their teachers for many reasons. Chief among them is the fact that these people cannot be replaced. There is a significant and systemic gap between higher education and the realities of community-based work, particularly in creative youth development. There are great musicians, artists, and poets in the world but few have experience and a deep understanding of youth development. There are tremendously talented youth workers in the world, but few have the skills to create high-quality cultural experiences.
As we emerge from the current environment and reconstruct our communities and institutions, it is essential that we include and value the voices of these educators. They are the people who connect institutions to communities and to people. They are finding ways to sustain programs, young people, and themselves during the pandemic. They are the people at institutions everywhere who have a unique experience of this work at a community level. Historically, these are the people who are cut first and the people who are not always represented at decision-making levels of organizations. They are the keepers of institutional knowledge. Their voice in planning, sustaining, and leading organizations out of this crisis is imperative. Just as we found ourselves in a reality we could never have expected just two months ago, as we collectively rebuild, educators should find themselves at tables they never expected as key voices for connectivity and change.
On the Mass Cultural Council’s podcast, Creative Minds Out Loud, we spoke with Marquis Victor, Founding Executive Director of Elevated Thought. He believes that art is a form of liberation, and that young people – once they have access and exposure to art – are able to build a foundation of self, expand their minds and eyes to identify issues in their communities, and use art to surface creative solutions for those issues.
Creative Youth Development (CYD) programs serve some of the most vulnerable youth in Massachusetts. Often these are young people for whom home and school have not been places of support but, instead, the source of trauma in their lives. During the current pandemic, however, many of these youth are sheltered, or trapped, in place in these homes. Early on, when CYD organizations were striving to stay connected to young people, it became very clear that they many were not engaging with arts, humanities, or interpretive science programs that had been such a vibrant part of their lives. They were receding into themselves as a self-preservation mechanism while we as a field were trying to draw them out. This was a simple reminder of something we all know: Young people, all people, need to have their basic needs met – food security, housing, and health – before they can engage fully and creatively.
In response to their community’s dire needs, many CYD organizations – in addition to providing high-quality cultural experiences – became a connector to vital resources in the community including shelters, food pantries, and community health offerings. In East Boston, Zumix received nearly 50 requests for basic resources in the first weeks of the crisis, with the majority in search of food and rent money. Further still, CYD organizations took an active role in providing these necessities. The New Bedford Whaling Museum actively sought out and supported housing for CYD alumni and families when colleges closed and families lost housing. In Worcester, the Neighborhood Strings program is working with several immigrant families who have lost employment, or have parents in the medical field, to find adequate food and child care to cope with their current situations.
The COVID-19 crisis has revealed more fully what Creative Youth Development organizations are – vital components of the health and healing of people and communities. In places disproportionately affected by this disease and by systemic inequity, these organizations are trusted sources of balance. They are vital to the health and wellness of young people, families, and communities throughout the Massachusetts. They also work with some of the finest artists in the Commonwealth, many of whom just happened to be under 20 years of age.
We recognize these challenges facing our communities along with the contributions that these young people make to the cultural landscape of Massachusetts.
One of the key challenges for Creative Youth Development programs during COVID-19 has been the cancellations of culminating events showcasing the work and growth of young people in these programs. Theater performances, concerts, art shows, and open houses all of have been called off, diminishing the feeling of accomplishment for young people and losing a vital opportunity for the organizations to do fundraising.
The Playwright Mentoring Project at Barrington Stage decided to take action. In a matter of weeks they were able to perform and record nearly four hours worth of youth-written and youth-directed plays online through Zoom. Utilizing character ‘entrances’ and ‘exits’ the education staff, including Jane O’Leary and Allison Lerman-Gluck, supported the youth in completing the work of their year. The performance was livecast from Zoom to YouTube.
Today our governing Council voted to distribute federal CARES Act funds received by Mass Cultural Council to 74 Creative Youth Development (CYD) organizations statewide. Creative Youth Development programs foster creative expression while supporting core social and emotional skills, engaging young people of all ages as empowered agents in their own lives. As a practice, Creative Youth Development draws from the belief that culture plays a major role in the growth of creative, productive, and independent-minded individuals and thriving communities. After the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, these programs will be more vital than ever to the vulnerable youth and families they serve.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President on March 27. This Act provides more than $2 trillion in economic assistance to protect Americans from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
The National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) received $75 million from the CARES Act to support arts and culture jobs and organizations nationwide. To meet this intent, the NEA awarded 40 percent of these funds directly to state and regional arts agencies, like Mass Cultural Council, to distribute through existing funding programs, and will award sixty percent of these funds as direct grants to nonprofit arts organizations across the United States.
Mass Cultural Council received $475,300 from the NEA’s CARES Act allocation. The Agency is expected to distribute this funding within Massachusetts’ cultural sector. NEA rules stipulate that the funding must go to organizations, not individual artists, and in a conference call with state agency heads the NEA Chair encouraged each agency to put the money to work in the field as quickly as possible.
As determined by the governing Council today, Mass Cultural Council will immediately begin to distribute its CARES Act allocation by making $7,000 awards to 74 CYD programs (YouthReach and SerHacer grantees). However, $7,000 is the maximum COVID-19-related financial supplement authorized at this time: the 36 CYD programs also eligible to receive a $2,250 financial supplement to their CIP operating grant through our Safe Harbors Initiative will receive a proportionally reduced CARES Act supplement of $4,750. No application is necessary; the CARES Act financial supplement will be automatically distributed to existing YouthReach and SerHacer grantees.
The Council believes distributing CARES Act funds to these recipients meets three key criteria: need, speed, and diversity.
Ethnic Diversity: 80% of the constituents served in these programs are people of color. Public health experts note that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting people of color.
Geographic Diversity: Mass Cultural Councils funds CYD programs in the same six geographic regions, we used to determine regional equity with our COVID-19 Relief Fund for Individuals.
More than half of the 9,400 young people served by our currently-funded CYD programs live in economically depressed rural and urban areas.
19% of these youth live in public housing.
23% live in homes where English is not spoken and 11% of the youth are foreign-born.
19% of these youth have disabilities.
CYD programs provide safe spaces for youth with trauma coming from hostile homes and neighborhoods.
The stipends earned by youth in these programs help pay for food and rent for their families.
The Mass Cultural Council is the major funder for these programs in Massachusetts. Most private funders are no longer investing in Creative Youth Development.
Mass Cultural Council has existing contractual relationships with these programs which will allow us to efficiently process and distribute these funds.
Creative Youth Development is an intentional process that helps young people build attributes and skills needed to participate successfully in adolescence and adult life. Creative Youth Development programs approach young people as active agents of their own change, with inherent strengths and skills to be developed and nurtured. Whether using the arts, humanities, or sciences in such programs, certain characteristics are essential in any Creative Youth Development program:
Provide safe and healthy youth spaces.
Foster the development of positive relationships and social skills.
Set high expectations for growth and learning; and
Address the broader context in which creative youth development operates.
Since social distancing was enforced in Massachusetts eight weeks ago, Mass Cultural Council has been inundated with stories from our CYD programs that underscore the urgent need for help now, and the critical role these programs will play in recovery when we begin to “reopen for business” after this crisis subsides. In recent online CYD community conversations, the following insights were shared by youth participants:
“A lot of young artists are affected by COVID. Resources are available for older artists but not younger artists.”
“I miss my art education and the initiative it plants in me.” …“I miss joyfully expressing myself.”
“My mental health is suffering when so much of my energy is going towards self-preservation.”
“The hardest part is just not having social connection. It’s not easy to be in a household where mental health is not recognized.”
“The house is very crowded and it’s hard to find alone-space.”
Further, we have heard updates from staff at the New Bedford Whaling Museum describing the impact of the pandemic on students missing consistency and normalcy, and stories of foster care youth in Enchanted Circle Theater‘s program who are trying desperately to stay connected with the Theater, “because we are family.”
Today, 9,400 at-risk youth are engaged in Creative Youth Development by Mass Cultural Council grantees. The majority of CYD youth entered our programs having experienced trauma. They will need these programs more than ever on the other side of this crisis. With today’s vote, our governing Council is taking steps to help these programs stay afloat so they will be there for our youth when this public health crisis ends.
Mass Cultural Council appreciates the passionate advocacy of many in the cultural sector who contacted their Congressional Representative and U.S. Senators to ensure arts and culture were included in the CARES Act. The Agency recognizes that limited resources require difficult decisions. Since March, Mass Cultural Council has redeployed existing Agency funding to provide supplemental financial assistance to our CIP Gateway and Portfolio organizations through the Safe Harbors Initiative and creative professionals with our COVID-19 Relief Fund for Individuals. We know through our data collection efforts that Massachusetts cultural organizations and individual artists, teaching artists, humanists, and scientists are dealing with unprecedented economic impacts related to COVID-19. Millions in revenue and personal income have been lost. Thousands of cultural sector jobs and creative gigs have been eliminated or cancelled.
Our Executive Director Anita Walker believes that it will take collective action: social distancing, wearing of masks, and other sanitation practices, to defeat the coronavirus. She also knows that it is our collective action and support that are necessary to revive our creative economy. Mass Cultural Council remains committed to providing guidance, assistance, and financial support to the cultural sector as resources are identified, and will continue to join our partners, including MASSCreative and Mass Humanities, as vocal advocates for Massachusetts’ nonprofit cultural organizations and creative individuals as mitigation packages are developed by our policymakers.
The Lewis Prize for Music has launched a $1 million COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Creative Youth Development leaders and youth music programs to support their responsive and adaptive efforts during COVID-19. This fund will distribute over 20 grants of $25,000 to $50,000 to youth-serving music programs. The application closes on May 8 with grants distributed on June 16. Visit The Lewis Prize for Music for more information.
The following piece originally appeared in Mass Cultural Council’s Power of Culture blog, and was written by Mina Kim, Käthe Swaback, and Timothea Pham.
Inside an unassuming Victorian-era building, just west of downtown Holyoke, is one of the nation’s most distinctive creative community development initiatives: The Care Center. It is an example of what can happen when culture and creativity form the foundation to dismantle systemic barriers for individuals, as well as communities.
Enter The Care Center, and on every wall, there is art by the students. Poems that probe the multiplicity of humanity’s realities fill the hallways. Drawings, photographs, and paintings are thoughtfully arranged and reflect various facets of each individual’s personality, journey, or a moment in time. Reminders of upcoming deadlines with the Department of Transitional Services, illustrated alphabet posters for toddlers, and notices of upcoming events hang all around. Young women’s voices, sighs, exclamations, and laughter float through the building, as each is a part of a transformative effort that seeks to break the cycle of poverty.
The Care Center opened in 1986 with the mission to provide resources for teen mothers and their families. 100% of the women are from low-income households, and 94% are women of color. In a culture that stigmatizes teen pregnancy and condemns young mothers, in particular, young mothers of color, The Care Center offers a different model of working with these youth. “20 years ago, we made an intentional shift,” said Anne Teschner, Director of The Care Center, while describing the evolution of the Center’s program development. Over time it moved from a more traditional social service organization, toward one that embraces the power of arts, education, and culture to build a different support system that offers greater socioeconomic mobility.
“We meet the young woman where they’re at,” explained Jenna Sellers, Director of Support Services. Rather than merely trying to level the playing field, The Care Center understands each individual requires specialized care respective of varying personalities and experiences. Being aware of the multi-layered context young mothers face is important as well, as the labyrinth of obtaining public resources for teen mothers can be long and arduous. Teschner described the many conversations over the years she had with the Department of Transitional Assistance as she lobbied to allow young mothers on assistance to have access to higher education through the completion of the Associate Degree.
“There’s an assumption that if you live in poverty, you don’t need intellectual stimulation or cultural access and, at the worst, don’t deserve it,” Teschner said as she and Ana Rodriguez, Director of Education, discussed the stereotypes society holds with regard to who is worthy, and who is not. “It’s important that these girls are celebrated…that they feel they’re as good as anyone else,” Rodriguez added.
Teschner is not afraid to blaze trails and carries the advice of, “allow yourself as an organization to be bold and on the edge of discovery. This is what really brings in the oxygen.” Back in 1993, Teschner took a deep breath and launched the YouthReach Initiative at the Mass Cultural Council, a first of its kind state grant program that supported creative youth development through a social justice lens. YouthReach recognizes youth as agents of change, understanding them as a resource and partner in creating healthy communities. This acknowledgment of youth as assets within their communities has carried on in Teschner’s work, as she has consistently pushed the boundaries of perceptions around underserved youth.
In 2016, the Center, together with Bard College, launched the first college for women whose studies have been cut short due to pregnancy or parenthood. Known as the Bard Microcollege Holyoke, women who graduate from this program receive an Associate of Arts degree. Students often enter the Microcollege after completing The Clemente Course in the Humanities, an award-winning program, developed by Bard College and supported by Mass Humanities, that enables underserved and marginalized individuals to receive college credits while being introduced to works of literature, moral philosophy, art history, and critical thinking and writing. Both programs act as a gateway toward the pursuit of higher education, as is evident in The Care Center’s statistics.
On average, 95% of Care Center graduates are first in their families to attend college. 75% of Care Center graduates enroll in college, which is more than the 43% of students who graduate from high school nationally. The Microcollege, which during its 2016 inaugural session enrolled 10 students, now has 45. 100% of the College’s first cohort have graduated with an Associate’s Degree and have also gone on to pursue further studies at 4-year colleges including Smith, Mount Holyoke, Trinity, and The Elms College.
“We had a culture where young moms were being pushed out of public education…The Care Center filled a real void in the community in terms of making sure all of Holyoke’s young people have access to a good quality education,” said Mayor of Holyoke Alex Morse while speaking of The Care Center’s unique model.
At the Care Center, high expectations around academic excellence go together with providing systems of support tailored for young mothers. Day care is offered for newborns and toddlers, along with early childhood education that promotes early literacy from a young age. Door-to-door transportation is provided to teen mothers to ensure every student has a ride to classes, medical appointments, and area services. An on-site nurse practitioner provides care five mornings a week, in addition to the support and transition counselors that guide the young women through personal and academic hurdles, including challenges endured by first-generation college students.
Creativity as a Gateway to Connection
Arts, culture, and creativity play an integral role in the development of these young women, as art teacher Julie Lichtenberg noted, “The arts allow you to think inward and reflect…to be bigger than this moment.” Exploring archetypes in art studio, youth explore concepts of universal humanity and identity by creating masks that incorporate various patterns and materials reflective of select archetypes. Poetry has a deep and expansive presence at The Care Center, too. Students comprise the Editorial Board of Nautilus, an anthology of poems published by Care Center young women who draw inspiration from themselves, as well as renowned writers and poets who hold workshops and readings at The Care Center, such as Nikky Finney, Lesléa Newman, Junot Díaz, and Robert Pinsky. Remarking on the accessibility of poetry as an art form with the capacity to shift perspectives, Teschner said, “Poetry allows students access into the power of words and their own untapped capacity as writers. They’re able to take on a new role and become a part of the long public dialogue on the human experience.”
Being able to be a part of the “long public dialogue” is perhaps one of the most important takeaways of The Care Center and is key to the mothers being able to connect to oneself, each other, and to their broader community. Rodriguez shared, “The students serve as translators for each other while they’re at The Care Center.” AJ, Crystal, and fellow Care Center classmate, Tessa, emphasized the familial bonds shared among the young women, where youth feel safe to be themselves and are supported by staff who genuinely care. The girls belong to text groups with other Care Center women who offer each other words of encouragement and advice through various stages of their Care Center experience, whether they just started taking a computer class, or have graduated from the Microcollege. Care Center alumni who are at nearby colleges return to offer guidance or tutoring assistance, or to receive support and help themselves, both of which they know are always available to them.
The Roots of a Community
“Art and creativity is at the center of a lot of what we do, and that means not just thinking about visual arts, photography, or things that people can see…It starts with a focus on public education, and integrating arts into public education so that the extent of our success isn’t defined by our ability to attract artists from out of town [but developing] a pipeline of artists of local people that are representative of our constituencies of people, and making sure our current students are our future artists, creatives, and makers in the community.”
— Alex Morse, Mayor of Holyoke
The reach of The Care Center extends to spaces and people beyond the immediate building, as the Center is an active, creative hub in Holyoke and part of a larger network of teachers and artists from all over the Northeast, but especially those from Western Massachusetts. Instructors and faculty from area colleges run math and science programs through the Hypatia Institute. Students attend Humanities 108 sponsored by Greenfield Community College in a program developed to introduce a college-level course for youth preparing for the High School Equivalency exam. The Smith College Poetry Center works with The Care Center to build its robust visiting poets program, while Hampshire College offers access to its photography and film facility. And even though it may seem the bulk of The Care Center’s attention is focused on expecting and teen mothers, the organization shares its education, health, and cultural resources with other underserved women in Holyoke, as well as with area youth. For example, The Care Center (now in partnership with the Performance Project) has run the Teen Resource Project, an after-school creative youth development program for at-risk teens in partnership with the Holyoke Public Schools for over 30 years.
More recently, Way Finders, an affordable housing developer based in Springfield, broke ground on a new project, the Library Commons, a mixed-use development featuring 38 residential units for households at 60% or higher of the area median income, along with retail and cultural spaces. The Library Commons sits a few blocks south of The Care Center, near the Holyoke Public Library, and will include space dedicated to arts and culture programs at Roqué House. Named after Puerto Rican educator and suffragist Ana Roqué de Duprey, Roqué House hopes to further change ideas around who has a right to affordable and safe housing, as well as the pursuit of education, creativity, and self-fulfillment. Ten of the two- to three-bedroom units within the Library Commons will house teen parents who are enrolled in post-secondary education programs, while The Care Center will manage educational and cultural offerings, counseling, an artist-in-residence program, and additional ancillary support services to residents of the Commons.
“We joke that we cracked the code. A combination of high expectations, a matter-of-fact attitude toward success, and support works. We see the shift in the young women who come to The Care Center. It’s a posture change, a look in the eyes, an honest change in the way they look at the world,” Teschner said. Indeed, this ethos around high expectations and thinking beyond what exists is palpable within The Care Center, as well as city government, both entities which have examined what it means to integrate creativity and community.
This through-line between The Care Center and the city is evident in the close relationship shared between Care Center staff and numerous city departments, as well as in the sentiments expressed by youth.
“Holyoke is a city that cares about its people,” Tessa shared as she spoke of the rarity in finding a place like The Care Center that helps “make everything possible.” It’s also reflective of what can happen when organizations listen deeply, identify obstacles, and both courageously and creatively find solutions in partnership with other entities that share a common goal: a goal of developing a supportive city that truly invests in its community.
When asked to try and sum up all they had gained from being at The Care Center, Tessa (age 16), AJ (age 22), and Crystal (age 19) responded, with the following three statements:
“I have understanding.”
“I know I am capable.”
“I am successful.”
These outcomes reflect Teschner’s vision that includes the advice of, “Don’t be afraid to articulate your needs and vision. Be bold.” Following this advice has allowed so many young women to bring their dreams to fruition. These strengthened lives have also resulted in collective changes in our communities and inspire us all to take those next steps forward with passion and purpose in building brave futures together.