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.
On the Mass Cultural Council’s podcast, Creative Minds Out Loud, we spoke with Celina Miranda, Executive Director of Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF). She discusses the integral role of young people in the creation of Boston’s Latin Quarter Cultural District. She says that HSTF youth were compelled to speak up about the importance of having a place to call home and a place that recognizes their strengths and assets. The voices of these young people were powerful and central in the transformation of their neighborhood.
In a true show of collaboration and cross pollination, Groundwork Lawrence and the Mayor of Lawrence’ Health Task Force (MHTF) have produced Healthy on the Block/Bodegas Saludables. This healthy corner store initiative tackles the high levels of obesity and chronic diseases among city residents, assisting corner store owners in Lawrence in offering healthier options, including higher quality fruits and vegetables, at a reasonable price to their customers.
The initiative, funded by Lawrence General Hospital, has received positive response locally, and was joined by yet another creative youth development organization, Elevated Thought, to produce this short documentary.
Projects like this are a terrific example of the role youth voice and agency can play in the community, utilizing arts, sciences, and humanities to address issues in innovative ways.
We invited Elizabeth Pickard from the Missouri History Museum and Lynn Stanley, Curator of Education for the Provincetown Art Association and Museum to discuss their respective institutions as a place for connecting the story of themselves, the story of their communities, and the story of now. Listen to how their own stories brought them into the museum field and how they strive to ‘lift the veil’ between their institutions and the lived experience of young people in their communities.
Hear the recording by selecting the player above, or read the transcript.
Amplify, MCC’s grant program created to support youth led and designed projects, is starting to bear fruit, the first of which was the wonderful Pop-Up Parasol exhibit by Youth Mentor Rachel at Express Yourself (EXYO).
Originally conceived as a smaller project involving 20 hand-painted parasols to be on public display at Cumming Center, the idea took hold and blossomed due to the leadership of Rachel, an EXYO mentor, who empowered by the Amplify grant took it upon herself to fundraise and manage the entire project, recruiting peers and participants from EXYO and eventually more than tripling the original project scope. The parasols were displayed in a 70 foot long installation which opened on April 26, bringing color to a cold spring afternoon in Beverly.
Following the pop-up exhibit, the parasols took center stage at EXYO’s annual showcase “Illuminate”. The parasols were twirled and paraded before a completely packed Wang Theatre in Boston, their intricate mandala-like patterns and joyous brightness carefully choreographed into a dazzling performance by EXYO’s participants.
“The Amplify project helped us to focus on a unique opportunity to create a youth-inspired exhibition that engaged the community at-large”, said Paula Conrad, Co-Executive Director of EXYO. “The grant challenged Express Yourself mentors to define and push forth on an empowering and illuminating art idea, guided by Rachel.”
Amplify grants provide support for projects designed and executed by young people in programs that currently receive YouthReach or SerHacer funding. This year $11,440 was awarded with each grantee receiving up to $1,000.
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:
We also have our social imagination: the capacity to invent
visions of what should be and what might be in our deficient
society, on the streets where we live, in our schools.
– Maxine Greene
Today the MCC introduces Amplify Youth Voices; a new initiative to raise the voices of young people whose creative expression is driving positive change in communities across the state.
Amplify grants provide support for projects designed and executed by young people in programs that are currently receiving YouthReach or SerHacer funding. A total of $11,440 was awarded with each grantee receiving up to $1,000.
Amplify projects include:
Actors Shakespeare Project, Boston – To lead a group of youth to create an original play based on Shakespeare’s plays.
BalletRox, Boston – To create a Soca Dance for the Spontaneous Celebration’s Wake up the Earth Festival on May 7th, 2016.
Books of Hope, Somerville – To solicit work from fellow competitors at the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival to publish into an anthology.
Community Art Center, Cambridge – To curate a portion of the ‘Do It Your Damn Self’ National Youth Film Festival in Cambridge and host screenings for young people at a Cambridge public school and MIT.
Community Music School of Springfield, Springfield – To follow the musical journey of 200 students in Chestnut Middle School’s El Sistema-inspired program by creating a video diary for the fellow students, parents, and administrators at the school.
Community Music School of Springfield, Springfield – To follow the musical journey of 40 students in Duggan Middle School’s El Sistema-inspired program by creating a video diary for the fellow students, parents, and administrators at the school.
Express Yourself, Beverly – To lead Express Yourself participants in creating large scale public art exhibition at the Cummings Center in Beverly.
Mass Audobon, Lowell – To create a two-day event in Lucy Larcom Park to introduce youth and families to the parks in Lowell and help young people move away from screens and into natural settings.
Performance Project, Springfield – To co-create a new physical theater piece for 10 youth participants entitled ‘Tenderness’.
Raw Art Works, Lynn – To partner with The Food Project in Lynn to bring healthy food and food education to participants in RAW’s Creative Youth Development programming.
Sociedad Latina, Boston – To lead the creation of a community art exhibit entitled ‘Quien Soy Yo’ (Who I am)
Worcester Youth Center, Worcester – To lead a visual arts program developed for other youth at the Center who have not engaged with art making, entitled YouthARTWorkz.
Through their Youth Arts Action Initiative, MASSCreative partners with 18 youth arts groups to provide advocacy training and opportunities for participants to effect change in their communities. Their youth partners represent a broad spectrum of disciplines – from music, theatre, dance, and visual art – and come from diverse backgrounds representing communities around Greater Boston and beyond.
Young artists are already drawn to advocacy. All they need are the right tools to make the political case that arts matter. At MASSCreative, we’ve seen this advocacy firsthand.
In the last few months, the Youth Arts Action Coalition has convened three times, and began to steadily build an advocacy movement in Massachusetts fueled by young artists. In February, our partners came together at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston for a day of training and collaboration that would spark future advocacy. To kick off the day, Sara Stackhouse of Actors’ Shakespeare Project led an exercise that showed us how to tell our stories through the political organizing lens of the Marshall Ganz model. In this exercise, participants took time to understand their own role in the arts and cultural community by learning to tell three stories: ‘of self,’ ‘of us,’ and ‘of now’. Through this model, youth got the chance to tell their own story, connect to the values and interests of their peers, and inspire urgency in what we must do to make change happen.
This exercise revealed to us that tomorrow’s advocacy leaders were right there in the room. For our young artists who are so deeply involved in their own communities, envisioning themselves as part of an advocacy movement was the next logical step.
Next up, it was time to make waves at the State House. Our Youth Arts Action partners – now well-equipped to make their case – joined MASSCreative and 250 other arts advocates at #ArtsMatter Advocacy Day on March 25.
Among the crowd, young people stood out. They marched with pride and conviction in our #ArtsMatter march, turning heads and rallying the troops to make a difference at the State House. When we met with our legislators to talk about arts and cultural impact, it was their stories that helped drive home the message that arts aren’t just nice, but necessary. Their active participation in legislative meetings all over the State House was proof enough of this impact.
Later on, our youth partners took their advocacy a step further by doing what they do best: sharing their art. Youth leader Nick from Zumix took the mic and shared a rap about the impact of arts and culture in their own lives.
With heads nodding along in the audience, Nick made his point clear. The arts matter. They matter in our classrooms, in our neighborhoods, in all spaces occupied by youth. And with a few bars, Nick says it all:
“World leaders are not that; Imagination rules.
So stop taking music and art out of our schools.
I don’t want to hear that it’s not important
You should forfeit that argument; we’re not standing dormant.”
Drew Esposito is a Program Associate at MASSCreative. MASSCreative is proud to collaborate with 18 Youth Arts Action partners: Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Artists for Humanity, Boston Arts Academy, Boston Children’s Chorus, Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, Hyde Square Task Force, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, Institute of Contemporary Art, Massachusetts Cultural Council, The Mayor’s Youth Council of Boston, Raw Art Works, Sociedad Latina, Teen Empowerment, The Theater Offensive, The Urbano Project, Urbanity Dance, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and ZUMIX.
Every young person that goes through Lowell Leaders in Stewardship has the right to say, “I am a scientist.” In fact, they are encouraged to do so. From raising snapping turtles in the classroom to monitoring water quality in local rivers, young people are learning what being a scientist means. Gwen Kozlowski, Stewardship & Education Manager of the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, speaks of a participant who surprised the team while working on a tree-planting project. Gwen said, “The young man’s mouth ran a mile a minute and we had thought anything we said went in one ear and out the other. But we were blown away when he said at the end of the 10-week session that watching our tree had made him look around and watch the leaves on his dad’s tree open. He had never realized how fast they grew! This small observation study had transcended other places in his life and opened his eyes to the amazing sights of spring.”
The Lowell Leaders in Stewardship programs offers a place for students to expand science learning in different ways than occur within the school day. They are presented with hands- on experiences. They are able to develop their own project ideas and then complete them. The impacts, however, go beyond science learning. They grow and learn how to become leaders and how to feel like they are making a difference in their community when participating in stewardship activities. This experience can expand their visions of what might be possible for them. Kris Scopinich, Education Director at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, shared a story of young girl in the program who was not planning on attending college. This young woman was working in the field one day with her group, studying water quality in a local river when she told a staff member that she thought that maybe she wanted to do this in college. She said she really enjoyed what she was doing. She was encouraged by the staff to pursue this dream. She learned that she is capable of being a scientist and her possibilities are endless. She changed her initial plan to going to school for environmental science.
According to Gwen, “The most rewarding aspect of the Lowell Leaders in Stewardship Program is the connection young people make to the Lowell community and other students. Friendships form and deepen through the meaningful work that is completed. Our group has often been called a ‘family’.” This is one of the key aspects to the success of creative youth development programs. This sort of feeling can be achieved using many mediums, so long as the program is safe, welcoming, inspiring, and provides a place of learning, growth, and connection. The Lowell Leaders in Stewardship program embodies all of these aspects through environmental studies and giving young people the skills and confidence to declare, “I am a scientist, and I am a valuable citizen of Lowell.”
Lowell Leaders in Stewardship is a program of the Mass. Audubon Society in partnership with Lowell Parks and Conversation Trust and the Lowell Public Schools. This post is an excerpt from a longer case study by Jenny Beers, a student at Mass. College of Liberal Arts.
In 2000, high school student Kacie Breault got involved with Seeds of Leadership at Seeds of Solidarity in Orange, MA. She went on to study sustainable agriculture at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, VT, and graduated in 2008. She is now working on her Masters in Education and Waldorf teacher training at Antioch University New England in Keene, NH. Here Kacie reflects on her experience at Seeds of Solidarity:
I was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school seeking a new after school routine. After school the public transit bus would pick me and other students up at the high schools. It would take 30 minutes to drive past Lake Mattawa, up the bending roads that narrowed and turned to dirt. Old stone walls bordering sugar maples stood on either side of the road, letting us know we were almost there. Seeds of Solidarity (SOS) Farm and Education Center and its SOL (Seeds of Leadership) Garden program is off the beaten path and even off the grid.
Arriving at SOL Garden, we would share healthy snacks and talk about agriculture and other environmental concerns together, then get to work. Like many out-of-school programs, SOL was based on experiential learning, mentoring, and authentic, meaningful relationships. The staff worked alongside us sharing their life stories and listening to ours. They interacted with us as young adults with something to contribute, not as dumb high school students needing to be corrected, and they gave us the opportunity to learn through doing. They allowed us to take on responsibilities and grow not only food but confidence.
I got to know the other students I worked with in the gardens really well, many of whom I would have never taken the time to befriend in school. We built friendships and camaraderie, connections you can only have with people with whom you have weeded, hauled compost, harvested endless amounts of beans, or constructed buildings. Together we sold produce from the SOL garden at the farmers market, where I found myself educating the public about local food, the biodiesel/grease conversion van, GMO’s, and the importance of using alternative fuel and solar energy to limit our dependence on oil.
The work ethic and confidence I gained through SOL garden spilled over into other parts of my life. The following year I got an A+ in my English class, and by senior year I had planned an independent study at the SOS farm to do some season-extending experiments in the greenhouse. I was self-educating and self-motivating. I applied to college and got in! I would be the first in my family to go to college. I chose to study sustainable agriculture. The seed was planted and it took root.
It has been 13 years since the first time I walked down the path to Seeds of Solidarity. When I visit, I am overcome with so many familiar smells and feelings of hope, inspiration, beauty, busting life forces, and love. I have always been drawn back to my hometown to stay involved with the ever-growing education center and farm. SOL Garden instilled a sense of responsibility in me that motivated me to become an educator. Seeds of Solidarity is living proof you can succeed in doing what you love especially when your passion is to live a more sustainable and beautiful life. The SOL garden seed continues to grow through me and sends out new shoots every time I find myself working in the garden, especially with children.
Kacie still considers herself to be an SOL Gardener and always will be. In her words, “an SOL Gardeners’ work is never done.”