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.
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.
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.
- Are assets-based.
- Foster the development of positive relationships and social skills.
- Are youth-driven
- 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.
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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.
Youth voice is essential to creative youth development. We’re asking youth leaders to speak to the power of culture as active agents in their own growth:
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.”
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.
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.
Mass Cultural Council is proud to award 15 new Amplify grants for 2020 totaling $22,500. Directed to projects designed and executed by young people in programs receiving YouthReach or SerHacer funding, Amplify furthers the Commonwealth’s investment in youth leadership and empowerment.
The Amplify grant process incorporates youth voice throughout, including the participation of young professionals and program alums in the panel review. This unique approach ensures that the Amplify program continues to strive not just for the highest quality and innovation in programming, but to naturally and actively incorporate youth leadership in its rightful role in cultural provision across the state of Massachusetts.
Congratulations to this year’s Amplify recipients:
Ballet Rox, Boston
Individuals who come from various cultural backgrounds such as Vietnam, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Ireland, are all part of BalletRox. To celebrate this diversity, teens will work to investigate dances from these cultures, understand their uniqueness, and then work to incorporate every culture into one dance piece. They will showcase different styles of dances that expresses who they are and where they come from by preforming at the Earth Festival and Dance for World Community.
Berkshire Pulse, Inc., Great Barrington
The Berkshire Pulse Young Choreographers Initiative will be choreographing a dance around the topic of body image and will showcase it in two culminating events. The process will include different sections that will be choreographed by each of the Youth Project Leaders working with other teen intermediate level students as well as dancers ranging in ages 30-60 from the community, in order to more comprehensively understand how this topic affects people of all ages.
Elevated Thought, Lawrence
Teens will create a “Housing Initiative” documentary and build connections through their voice and platform as they work with their community to creatively analyze and address housing instability for young people.
Enchanted Circle Theater, Holyoke
Young people will lead spoken word, dance/movement, music, poetry, and other creative arts to express personal stories about their experience in foster care and adoption. The HEROES Youth Truth is a creative arts and media performance ensemble focused on creating awareness and positive change for foster and adoptive kids.
Express Yourself, Beverly
Utilizing multiple art forms, including songwriting, stop motion animation, claymation and set design, youth leaders will collaborate to create an original animated short film and theme song for Express Yourself’s annual exhibition gala at Endicott College. Themes will educate the public about the realities of what youth experience who have mental health issues.
GreenRoots, Inc., Chelsea
The ECO Youth Crew will provide new white sneakers, a variety of art supplies, and inspiration at their Kustomize Your Kicks event. ECO will outreach to their peers, offer a fun creative night that will provide teens with new sneakers for those who need them, and connect those who are interested to the important work in environmental justice.
Mystic Learning Center, Somerville
Youth Peer Leader, Andrine, will plan curricula and host a series of writing and community organizing workshops for teens at the Mystic Learning Center. She also will help other teens to plan, host, and present their own original work in Books of Hope’s annual Somerville Youth Arts Festival and at the Mystic Housing Development.
New Bedford Whaling Museum High School Apprenticeship Program, New Bedford
Young people will educate and inspire people to take action around the United Nation’s Life Under Water Sustainable Development Goal by working with organizations and other youth who will focus on a one-day marine area clean-up in New Bedford.
New England Aquarium, Boston
Through a partnership between the New England Aquarium ClimaTeens and the Institute of Contemporary Art teens, young people will create artwork on the issues of climate change and display it on World Oceans Day at the New England Aquarium. The exhibit will educate Boston area youth to advocate for climate action and demand climate change in our communities.
The Performance Project, Springfield
Young artist, Joalis, will create a mixed-media exploration of her city entitled, “A Vision of Holyoke.” Through the eyes of a young person, using the mediums of drawing, painting and photography, the community exhibit will focus on people and places that are familiar and unique to Holyoke.
Raw Art Works, Lynn
Young men of color in RAW’s leadership program, RAW Chiefs, will create a sculpture entitled, “Talk About It.” In creating art in Lynn, and exhibiting the art in South Hamilton, it will inspire others to explore themes of immigration, injustice, and separation, and hopefully have the courage to talk about difficult injustices in their own lives.
Sociedad Latina, Boston
Two Youth Artists will organize and lead an open mic series, The Raíces (Roots), in the Youth Arts Mastery Program for youth and community. A “Question & Answer” session with renowned Latino guest artists will help guide a themed discussion centered around a social justice issue chosen by our Youth Artists.
South End Technology Center @ Tent City, Boston
Teens will design the project, #MakingLiberation with the Local Voices Network & Everyday Boston to explore a social justice issue important to them. Through facilitated and recorded conversations, their feelings and ideas will be seen through the creation of interactive art, performance, and through a technology project exhibited in three venues.
Worcester Chamber Music Society, Inc., Worcester
Teens will find inspiration as they educate themselves about Baroque music. Along with learning how to play and perform with greater expertise, they will also take a field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts to study the historical instruments. They will actively inspire others as well through the design and presentation of a workshop and a concert for their younger peers involved in WCMS and their community.
Worcester Youth Center, Worcester
Five youth leaders will plan, recruit, and offer a monthly series of talent shows. This program will allow organizers to practice and strengthen their organization skills, as well as give talent show participants an opportunity to showcase creative talents to the community.
Youth voice is essential to creative youth development. We’re asking youth leaders to speak to the power of culture as active agents in their own growth: