On the Mass Cultural Council’s podcast, Creative Minds Out Loud, we spoke with Priscilla Kane Hellweg, Executive Director of Enchanted Circle Theater.
Enchanted Circle Theater is a community-based arts organization in Holyoke, MA, that works with students, teachers, and social services – in the mental health field, in the foster care world, everywhere and anywhere – using theater arts as a dynamic teaching tool. Hellweg says they’re developing whole human beings, who can think creatively, act creatively, and solve problems creatively.
Last month, we gathered young people, educators, and leaders from creative youth development programs, and their legislators at the State House to celebrate our Amplify grant recipients.
Now in its second year, Amplify has funded 27 projects designed and executed by young people in programs currently supported by our YouthReach and SerHacer programs. The grants support the creation of work by young people in the arts, sciences, or humanities that demonstrates the capacity they have to be visible and audible participants in developing safe and thriving communities throughout the Commonwealth.
A young filmmaker from the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Xavier Harvey, described the experience of being an Amplify grantee as “innovation, inspiration, and motivation”:
Legislators were on hand to congratulate the youth leaders, including Senator Adam Hinds, Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.
“I’m so glad that you are stepping up in helping your communities, and I want you to know that in this building you’ve got a bunch of people who are going to get your back, and make sure that you can keep doing that,” he said.
Through Barrington Stage Company’s creative youth development program, Playwright Mentoring Project, theatre is used as a catalyst to help under-served youth learn skills to aid them in developing positive self-images. Boyd speaks to the cathartic nature of this work and to how their programs in education and theatre-making interweave.
Booth, one of the foremost experts in the world on teaching artists, discusses the field and craft of teaching artistry. He says while teaching artists are recognized as learning catalysts – by the education, business, and healthcare sectors (to name a few) – there continue to be insufficient growth pathways to support the expertise that’s been developed by this global workforce.
… Well, hello, everyone. Welcome to the White House for the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program awards. (Applause.) Are you guys excited? Let me start by thanking from the bottom of my heart, oh, gosh, so many people. …
And to the entire President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities — this is my team. These are my people here. I was just talking to them earlier — I mean, we have done some amazing things together. It’s been a tremendous ride. And, oh, I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been to just do great things for kids all over this country. And I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you, not just for the work that you’ve done on this event, but for everything that you’ve done for the past eight years.
From the day we started, all of us, we’ve made it a priority to open up this house to as many young people from as many backgrounds as possible, because we wanted them to understand that this is their house too. (Applause.) And that’s not always the case. There are kids all over this country, all over the world who think that places like this are not for them. So they’re intimidated by it, and it defines the limits of who they can be.
Well, we want to change that. We’ve worked to change that. We want them to know that they should always feel home within these walls and so many important institutions all over the world. At the same time, we also wanted to bring exciting arts programming to students across the country, and to get more kids engaged in the arts at their schools and also in their communities. …
And finally, I want to thank all of the teachers and administrators, all the volunteers who make these programs possible. Some of you are here today with us in this room, and many of you are watching and cheering from back home. And as someone who used to be an executive director of a nonprofit organization, I know that you all are the unsung heroes of these programs, doing the unrecognized and sometimes unpaid work of making these programs work — filling out countless forms, applying for funding, attending endless meetings, going over spreadsheets and budgets in the middle of the night.
This kind of work is hard. Too often it’s thankless. But you all do it because you see firsthand the transformative impact that the arts can have on our young people. And we’re grateful to you all for doing this kind of work.
Through your programs, students have become poets and dancers. They’ve become filmmakers and photographers. And more importantly, they become leaders in their schools and in their communities. They’ve written scripts and short stories. They’ve organized performances and exhibitions. And together, they’ve learned the power of discipline, of hard work, right? And teamwork, right?
These are the exact skills that are critical to success not just in the arts, but in everything — every academic subject that you are going to touch and in any career that you guys are going to pursue. So you don’t know how much you’re getting, but we do because we’re old. We know. (Laughter.) That’s why kids who have gotten involved in the arts have better grades. They are more likely to graduate from high school. They are more likely to then go on to college.
And to anyone who still somehow doubts the power of the arts to transform students’ lives, to anyone who still isn’t completely convinced, I just urge you to find one of these students and talk to them. They’re here today, but they’re not just here, but they’re all over the country. They’re in communities everywhere.
But we’ve got a couple. We’ve got Noemi Negron, who is here. As recently as this spring, Noemi was a promising young woman growing up in Boston who wanted to serve others but didn’t know where to start. But then she got involved with the IBA Youth Development Program, and she helped make a video project about women’s rights. And today, she is a passionate advocate for social justice in her community. That’s where you can go with programs like these.
We have a young man, Rafael Bitanga, who is here all the way from Kodiak, Alaska. How was that trip? (Laughter.) A few years ago, Rafael and his family came to the United States from the Philippines. And like so many young people who’ve immigrated to this country, Rafael worked hard in school and quickly established himself as a leader and a role model. And through the Baranov Museum and Film Intensive, he became both a filmmaker and a photographer, and he even started his own photography business to help support his family.
So Noemi and Rafael, and — I could you about every single student or young person who is here today, but those are some of the stories that you’ll hear from them. And I want them all to know how proud I am of them. I’m proud of you guys, always proud of you guys. You make this job worth doing, just having the honor of getting to meet so many amazing young people.
These kids represent the very best of America, and they remind us all of who we really are. (Applause.) That’s for you. You can’t even believe it, right? (Laughter.) It’s all for you.
But we’re a country that believes in our young people — all of them. We believe that every single child has boundless promise, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money their parents have. We’ve got to remember that. We believe that each of these young people is a vital part of the great American story. I can’t say that enough. (Applause.)
And it is important to our continued greatness to see these kids as ours — not as “them,” not as “other,” but as ours. Because we want them to know that if they’re willing to work for it — and so many are — that they can be anything they want. That’s what this country is about. And we can never forget that. Anywhere in the country, these kids are ours. And that’s really the power of programs like these. That’s the message that they send to our young people every single day.
So I want to end by once again thanking all of you — all the adults here too — (laughter) — for making these programs possible. And I want to thank all of the young people for working so hard. And don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever feel fear. You belong here, you got that? (Applause.) Those people are clapping for you. So don’t forget that — for all of you. Remember that. Remember that part of this day. And keep working hard, because it’s going to be so important now to be educated and focused. Because no one can ever take your education from you. You got that? Spread the word, you got it? I’m looking at all of you all. (Laughter.)
Take a journey through the eyes of teen artists from the ICA’s nationally recognized Teen Programs. The exhibit ICA Teen Photography (through October 30, 2016 at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art) features new works made by 16 Boston-area ICA teen participants. Throughout the school year, participants in the museum’s rigorous digital photography courses learned to use museum-issued cameras, and established positive relationships with peers and the professional artists and educators who led the classes.
When asked what he looks for in a photography subject, Edward Tapia, a teen whose work is featured in the exhibit said, “There are certain things that seem attractive to the eye as it is, but honestly, anything can become attractive and interesting if someone looks at it with a different view. I try to turn things into outstanding compositions with photography, so I look at things in a different way than usual and capture what seems interesting about it to create even more.”
“One of my biggest take-aways from participating in the Teen Programs at the ICA is to learn to appreciate art and discover the meaning behind it, and then apply them to my personal life.”
Krystal Cai, another teen whose work is featured in the exhibit said, “One of the biggest take-aways I have from participating in the teen programs at the ICA is a clear understanding of the basic technical features of the camera, which I think was a valuable lesson for me as a beginner. Also, this program taught me do not ever delete pictures, because you can always look back at your previous work to see how you progress and learn areas for improvement.”
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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:
I arrived in Boston from the Dominican Republic when I was 13. No one told me I was going to a new country until the day before I left. When I got to Boston, I lived with my grandmother in a housing project in South Boston. I remember it was the end of November, and I didn’t have any warm clothes. I didn’t speak a word of English.
Right away I got expelled from school for my involvement in a fight. Fighting was a common activity for me. I had a lot of anger and the streets gave me a place to express it. I was the type of kid who, if I didn’t like the way you looked at me, there would probably be a fight.
Once there I learned Latin dance and began to feel more and more comfortable. I started to learn English. I still had anger, but people accepted me, and if I was in a bad mood, they took the time to talk to me. Soon, I was performing dance all over Boston, and I was surrounded with positive people – teens and adults.
HSTF staff pushed me on my academics, but I still couldn’t graduate on time. The summer after 12th grade, my HSTF mentor worked with me and helped me complete high school. I started taking classes at Bunker Hill Community College, and a week into the semester, I had another incident on the streets. I was going to a party in the Lenox Street projects, and I got shot. I hit the ground to avoid a hail of bullets, but one of them caught my leg. Even though I lost a lot of blood, I was able to recover.
I realized I had to set my priorities straight, once and for all. I had to change my focus, so I threw myself into work, school, and dance.
At Bunker Hill, HSTF continued to support me through their college success program. They checked in with me every week. They even came to Bunker Hill and went to the financial aid office with me in order to get me the help I needed. I am in my final year at Bunker Hill. Next year I will attend Mass College of Art and Design to major in graphic design. Someday, my dream is to own my own graphic design company. Meanwhile, I dance. I am a member of the professional Mambo Revelation dance company. I also teach dance to middle school kids.
Published with permission from the Hyde Square Task Force.