All posts by Erik Holmgren

Teacher Voice during COVID-19

Corey DePina, Musician and Youth Development and Performance Manager at Zumix, talks with a youth musician.
Corey DePina, musician and Youth Development and Performance Manager at Zumix, talks with a youth musician.

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.

Creative Youth Development Serves Our Most Vulnerable

Theater Offensive performance. Photo by Aram Boghosian.
Theater Offensive performance. Photo by Aram Boghosian.

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.

On April 29, our Council voted to allocate $475K in federal funding received from the NEA through the Federal CARES Act to support the 74 CYD programs currently funded through YouthReach and SerHacer. In addition to that funding, Mass Cultural Council staff have been convening weekly conversations online with youth, teaching artists, and the national CYD community to identify the promising practices that are being discovered in local communities around the country. By surfacing and sharing these practices widely, we aim to ensure that all of the CYD programs in the Commonwealth are in the best position possible to continue to positively impact youth, elevate their voices, and sustain their commitment through the current crisis and beyond.

The Show Must Go On

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.

CYD Teaching Artist Fellowship Launched

Initial convening of the Creative Youth Development Teaching Artist Fellowship Pilot Program.
Initial convening of the Creative Youth Development Teaching Artist Fellowship Pilot Program.

A new program from Mass Cultural Council is stepping into a significant and systemic gap in the youth arts ecosystem. The Creative Youth Development Teaching Artist Fellowship Pilot Program supports teaching artists in Creative Youth Development (CYD) programs throughout Massachusetts through a series of group learning sessions, site visits, and grants.

Built on the model of the Music Educator and Teaching Artist (META) Fellowship, a partnership of The Klarman Family Foundation and Mass Cultural Council, this new pilot program covers all disciplines in the arts, interpretive sciences, and humanities. By balancing individual learning and artistry with the development of a tightly knit community of practice, the CYD Fellowship has immediate impacts in the classroom and long-term impacts for the field.

The new pilot program launched last week at Central Square Theater and was led by world-renowned teaching artist Eric Booth. Throughout the year, CYD Fellows will address identified areas of need in their work as teaching artists, including youth worker training and work in trauma-informed practice.

CYD Teaching Artist Fellows do an exercise with Eric Booth.
CYD Teaching Artist Fellows do an exercise with Eric Booth.

Participating teaching artists were nominated by the following organizations:

  • Actors’ Shakespeare Project
  • Artists for Humanity
  • BalletRox
  • Barrington Stage Company
  • Books of Hope
  • Cambridge Community Television
  • Central Square Theater
  • Community Art Center
  • Elevated Thought
  • Enchanted Circle Theater
  • Express Yourself
  • Hyde Square Task Force
  • Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (IBA)
  • Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston
  • Medicine Wheel Productions
  • OrigiNation Cultural Arta Center
  • Partners for Youth with Disabilities
  • The Performance Project
  • Raw Art Works

Resources Available from META Fellowship Learning

Dr Bettina Love leading a session with META Fellows in 2018.
Dr Bettina Love leading a session with META Fellows in 2018.

The META Fellowship, a partnership between Mass Cultural Council and The Klarman Family Foundation, is the first program of its kind to convene a statewide community of music educators and teaching artists.

In an effort to make the learning of the Fellowship more broadly available, we are pleased to announce that the META Fellowship web site is now live. The site contains resources that were created to meet shared needs in classrooms throughout the Commonwealth and a list of professional development opportunities that Fellows utilized during the pilot program. As the second cohort of Fellows complete their Fellowship, more resources and tools will be added.

Read More

Register for a Two-Part Trauma-Informed Practice Training

Riverside Trauma Center trainingJoin Mass Cultural Council for a two-part Trauma-Informed Practice Training with the Riverside Trauma Center.

The goal of this comprehensive two-day training is to prepare teaching artists and leaders in the cultural sector to deliver basic behavioral health disaster response skills to young people that have experienced trauma from large-scale disasters or critical events such as homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, and similarly distressing events. Participants will be presented with the evolution of efforts to assist survivors following trauma and provided with an overview of the human stress response and how it affects the choice of interventions with distressed individuals. The Post-Traumatic Stress Management (PTSM) continuum of interventions and the eight core functions of Psychological First Aid (PFA) will be taught.

The training comprises two 6.5 hour days.  Participants must commit to both days. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are available.

Friday, October 18: Boston Children’s Museum
308 Congress St, Boston, MA

Saturday, October 26: Community Art Center
119 Windsor St # 6, Cambridge, MA

9-9:30am: Registration, coffee etc.
9:30am-12pm: Session time
12-1pm: Lunch
1-5pm: Session

The training is free and limited to two representatives  per organization.

For more information, contact Erik Holmgren at 617-858-2731.

Register Now

New Spending Plan Invests $1.6M in Creative Youth Development

Performers in Barrington Stage's Playwright Mentoring Project take a bow
Performers in Barrington Stage’s Playwright Mentoring Project take a bow

Mass Cultural Council recently released a spending plan for the new fiscal year that will invest more than $1.6 million in creative youth development, increasing investments in national model programs, providing grants for youth-led projects, and expanding support for teaching artists.

This year we are funding 74 programs through YouthReach and SerHacer; and will continue to support Amplify, a groundbreaking program that provides grants to young people for youth-led projects throughout the Commonwealth; the META Fellowship; and the Johnson String Project, which is dedicated to ensuring that all students in El Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts have access to high quality string instruments.

We will also be launching a new Teaching Artist Pilot Program, based on an internationally recognized professional development model created here in Massachusetts.

Creative youth development unleashes the potential of young people as creators, leaders, and architects of a better world. Creative youth development programs empower youth to explore their identities in a safe place, find their voice, and map their future.

Together our support of young people, teaching artists, and organizations empowers new voices to be heard in the cultural and civic conversations of the Commonwealth.

“When we support creative youth development, we are supporting the generation who will shape our world,” said Anita Walker, Mass Cultural Council Executive Director.

What does this support look like? Here are just a couple of examples:

  • The Community Music School of Springfield has successfully engaged with the public schools to bring music and the arts to every Springfield school for the first time in a generation.
  • In Lawrence, Elevated Thought actively serves and develops communities through youth empowerment curriculum, beautification projects, youth organizing, and public outreach.
  • The Playwright Mentoring Project at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield is giving voice and opportunity to young people to tell their stories and create theater experiences.
  • GreenRoots is empowering and engaging youth voices on environmental justice issues in Chelsea.
  • At Enchanted Circle Theater in Holyoke, DCF involved youth are telling their stories through original plays and productions.

Read about the development of our Creative Youth work.

Welcome Käthe Swaback!

Käthe SwabackWe are please to announce that Käthe Swaback has joined Mass Cultural Council as a Creative Youth Development Program Officer. Käthe comes to us after more than 20 years as the Program Director of the nationally-recognized CYD organization, Raw Art Works. Her work at Mass Cultural Council will be focused on a new initiative connecting the arts and health, in addition to supporting the Creative Youth Development portfolio.

The NEA Continues to Support Creative Youth Development

Mary Anne Carter, Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Joe Spaulding, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Boch Center, listen to youth leaders from Boch Center’s City Spotlights Teen Leadership Program.

Last week, Mary Anne Carter, Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, visited the Boch Center’s City Spotlights Teen Leadership Program, which empowers young people to become leaders in their schools, homes and communities using their creative voice. The program provides leadership training and employment opportunities and represents excellence in Creative Youth Development programming. As part of a full day in Massachusetts, Chairman Carter spoke with teens in the program about their creative experiences and the role the arts are playing in their development as artists and leaders in Boston.

City Spotlights Teen Leadership Program participants

The National Endowment for the Arts has played a key role in the national growth of the field of Creative Youth Development.  They were in Boston for the National Summit on Creative Youth Development in 2014 that launched the national conversation around this work and again at the National Stakeholders meeting in 2017 that clarified a way forward for the field.  Then Chairwoman Jane Chu visited Project STEP and co-hosted a convening focused on Creative Youth Development in 2016 and later became the first national funder of the National Partnership for Creative Youth Development through a grant accepted by the National Guild for Community Arts Education on behalf of the partnership. The NEA was also a long-time partner in the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award (NAHYP), which was the nation’s highest honor in Creative Youth Development.

(Left to right) Boch Center Staff Member, Mary Anne Carter, Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Joe Spaulding, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Boch Center, and Anita Walker, Executive Director of Mass Cultural Council.

Findings from META Fellowship’s First Cycle

META Showcase

META Fellows share their projects at the 2018 META Showcase

From September 2016 to August 2018, The Mass Cultural Council (MCC) and The Klarman Family Foundation (KFF) piloted a two-year program focused on music educators and teaching artists from across Massachusetts. Both funders are committed to supporting music programs that provide low-income youth with access to high-quality sequential music training. The majority of Fellows worked at organizations funded by MCC and/or KFF. The goal of the META Fellowship Pilot Program was to strengthen the youth music training pathway by:

  • Enhancing the practice of music educators/teaching artists and their impact on youth, and
  • Developing stronger connections between music educators/teaching artists and greater awareness of the resources available to benefit the youth they serve

Core components of the META Fellowship Pilot Program included:

  • Four learning sessions per year for entire cohort of Fellows
  • Two site visits by Fellows to the programs of other Fellows
  • Professional/Artistic development grants of up to $3,000 per Fellow
  • Group projects presented at a final showcase event
  • Annual stipends of $800 per Fellow for participation in the Pilot

 META Fellows

52 individuals participated over the course of the two-year fellowship and 43 completed the full two years. The composite of the cohort included the following characteristics:

  • The vast majority of Fellows had formal music education, either holding a Bachelor’s of Music or Master’s degree, most often in performance with a small number in music education. Only two Fellows had no formal post-secondary education and two had non-music degrees.
  • The Fellows were employed by 25 non-profit organizations and five schools (public, parochial, and charter). The Fellows offered a broad range of music instruction (e.g. classical, jazz, pop, vocal) at a range of levels from introductory to mastery.
  • The cohort was diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, age, and level of experience.

Evaluation of the META Fellowship Pilot Program

According to an external evaluation of the META Fellowship Pilot, the most significant areas of impact for the Fellows as a result of participating in META were:

  • Increased connections to peers and the music educator community
  • Improved skills related to student voice and engagement, classroom management, and lesson and curriculum planning
  • Stronger sense of, and appreciation for, themselves as music educators and as artists
  • Greater motivation and engagement with their teaching

Read more about the META Fellows and Program