Next stop on the anniversary tour of the state, Holyoke. Hosted by the Care Center, young people showcase their poetry, theater, photography, and other skills at the Wistariahurst Museum on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 4:30-6:30 pm. This event is the third in a series, part of the yearlong celebration marking 20 years of funding through the YouthReach Initiative. Come soak up the inspiring visions of young people from Holyoke, Amherst, Ware, Springfield, Worcester, and others.
Maureen Finnerty relishes the moments in which the audience is shocked by what the performers can do. She cites many instances in which audiences gasped when the performers abandoned pairs of crutches or relinquished their wheelchairs during the performance, “You can sense that people wonder if they should get up and help [the performer]. It’s the fact that they can’t, we’re on stage and that shows people just how much anyone can do.”
Maureen remembers parents who could not have imagined their child as a dancer, students who ask her to call their teachers to explain that they can physically do much more, and students who understand that being stared it can be ok.
“People [are] looking at them, but now it’s for the right reasons.” Indeed, for Maureen the real reward is seeing how the attitudes of the performers change about themselves. The audience’s misinterpretation of the performance’s intent is negligible. “[The students] come away with a different idea about what the pathways for people with disabilities are,” she explains, “the audience will have their own perspective on the performance, and they will have their own perspective on my disability.”
According to performer and movement educator Maureen Finnerty, the audience often misunderstands the performers.
“I’ve had people come up to me after a show and say, ‘Wow. I really loved what that piece said about disability.’ But the piece had nothing to do with disability.” When asked if the audience’s misinterpretation of her students’ performance bothers her, Maureen is quick to explain that, “… we’re giving a present to the audience. Everyone will unwrap it differently.”
For Maureen, the beauty and power the ensemble members bring to their performance stems from their personal investment in the roles they craft. She says the investment happens because the students at Access to Theater are never told their characters. “We choose [our character] and through rehearsals [we learn] the impact of our words and movement before we’ve even performed it.”
And the end result? “The parents always cry. I don’t get it,” she laughs.
Despite her self-assured way of talking about her experience as a performer and an educator, Maureen was not always comfortable in the realm of creative movement. Only after joining Access to Theater at a friend’s suggestion did Maureen begin to explore movement as a form of self-expression.
“My only idea about movement came from my physical therapy,” she explains, recalling her initial hesitation to learn movement techniques. “When I started [at Access to Theater] I realized [movement] was no longer a painful thing I did for physical therapy. It could be beautiful.”
Through many years as a student, an intern, and now a staff member at Access to Theater, Maureen has come to see movement as a tool for self-discovery. “It helps people accept who they are. [Access to Theater] gave them confidence.”
As the Movement Director for Partners’ for Youth with Disabilities’ Access to Theater Program, Maureen Finnerty teaches children and adults with and without disabilities that “everyone has a place in theater and that each person enriches the creative process when he/she keeps an opened mind.” She has been a resident artist for VSA Massachusetts for seven years and has assisted with workshops that focus on teaching the elements of improvisational theater to participants of all ages and abilities; included in these workshops has been the concept of access for all through universal design. She also performs in community movement productions.
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.”
On January 15, Boston Children’s Chorus and Art Reach at Provincetown Art Association and Museum were honored at the MA State House for winning the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. There, Cat Van Buren of Harwich, MA, spoke eloquently about the role an out-of-school arts program plays in her life.
Hi I’m Cat Van Buren. I’m a sophomore at Harwich High School on Cape Cod and I attend the Art Reach Program at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum… Going to Art Reach every Wednesday and Saturday are the highlights of my week because they allow me to take a little step back from school and other work that I have to do and focus on having fun and doing what I love. It’s a welcomed break from stressing. …
Cape Cod is just the small, flexing arm of Massachusetts and yet it holds a treasure trove of hidden talents, artists, and interests. Going to Art Reach allowed me to meet and befriend people I would not have met without this program “reaching” to us all. … It so surprising and comforting to know how many people on the Cape share my interests.
I am so happy I can go to Art Reach every week and do what I love. Drawing is my outlet for my imagination. If I could not do that I have no clue what I would do! Art Reach allows me to practice my trade and be with people that share my interests. It is an escape for young artists!
I think youth art programs are one of the most beneficial things that could be placed anywhere. Art Reach as one of them gives a creative and productive outlet to the students in it while allowing the feeling of social communion and acceptance. Art programs are a place to belong. It allows students to explore and express themselves in the world of art. With Art Reach I have definitely learned that art is what I want to do for my career. Learning about different materials and computer programs and utilizing them. I belong at Art Reach. There, I feel like nothing can get to me; everyone is just doing things they enjoy, swapping stories, and sharing techniques. It’s great. I am so glad I learned about Art Reach because without it I think I would just be bored, to put it plainly. Bored.
Without Art Reach I think my life would be black and white, but with it there is color!
The ZUMIX Jazz Allstars are headed to Panama to perform in the 2014 Panama Jazz Festival, one of the preeminent Jazz festivals in the world, January 14-19, 2014. Enjoy this clip, “The Chicken,” from their newly released album:
To help these musicians realize this dream, join as one of their backers.
Charge up for the new year. On January 16, 2014 Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion hosts La Lengua del Poder (The Language of Power), a showcase of young people freeing their voices through visual art, theater, music, movement, and poetry. Free. 6-9pm. Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, 85 West Newton St., Boston. Part of the YouthReach 20th anniversary celebration.
Massachusetts high school students are invited to submit a 30-second video promoting the school breakfast program and encouraging their peers to eat a healthy school breakfast. Gift card prizes (to be spent on a classroom or out-of-school program) up to $1,000 will be awarded. Submissions will be accepted March 3 – April 4, 2014. Contest rules and tips available now. Sponsored by the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Project Bread, and managed by the Child Nutrition Outreach Program.
Luis Sanchez, then (2008, age 14) and now (age 23). Luis danced with Ritmo en Accíon, a dance troupe sponsored by Hyde Square Task Force in Jamaica Plain, MA, for 3 years beginning in 2005. Recently, Harvard Graduate School of Education student Lisa Yolansky had an opportunity to sit with Luis as he reflected on his years with Ritmo “back in the day.”
Lisa: How did you get so involved in Ritmo en Accíon?
Luis: I used to take classes at the Brookline Community Center, and one of the people I loved taking classes with was the Ritmo en Accíon choreographer, Burju Hurturk. She asked me to join Ritmo, which was just around the corner from my house. Over time my involvement got bigger. I actually got to perform at the White House and at a Red Sox game.
How did the opportunities to dance at the White House and at Fenway impact you?
We were like, “Wow, we are actually important. We are really doing something huge.” I think that really made me feel like I could accomplish anything, and that I could accomplish something with dance even though not everyone felt like dance was that important.
Wasn’t the work at Ritmo viewed as important?
Yes and no. A lot of people undervalue the arts and the aid the arts give. Specifically to teenagers, you know? During my teenage years, everything was awkward, and I don’t think people realized how much stability the dancing gave me.
What have you been doing since graduating high school and leaving Ritmo?
I have a lot of projects going on, but my work at Charlestown Community Center is what I am most excited about. It brings back memories of what I got as a high school student out of Ritmo en Accíon and what I can have the teenagers I’m working with get out of my program. I am one of the dance coordinators and I’m working with other young people to establish a range of arts programs. That way we can build the students’ skills and tell the community, “This is what your young people can do.”
You said you want your students to get similar things out of your program as you got out of Ritmo en Accíon. What things did you get from your work in the arts?
The thing that Ritmo en Accíon did very well was providing us with an art that we loved, but also showing us that we had to work hard, have discipline and be responsible—that we can get good results for the effort that we’re putting in. And that carries over to school because if you put in that same kind of effort you’ll get good grades, get scholarships, etc. It was also really great to be a youth member of Hyde Square Task Force and to go out and do something for the community—teach classes, paint peace signs, and just being able to use my passion to help other people.
Do you have any advice for people working with youth in the arts?
Always take the opinions of the youth members seriously. Even though [the program leaders] have the broader prospective, the youth have the inside scoop on how to make it better and on what they want to get out of it.
What do you want policy makers and funders in the arts to know?
I want them to know that in arts programs in general, there are so many benefits. The United States in particular is really missing out on using the arts. All these other countries are using the arts to prevent crime, increase motivation, and so on. We are missing out because in the U.S. people say, “oh, it’s just an arts program” instead of looking at the powerful good the arts do.
TEDxBoston’s 2013 website posed a single, provocative question: “Where do you go for inspiration in Boston?” The organizers answered their own question by turning to Artists For Humanity (AFH), commissioning the youth-driven studio to develop an innovative take on the TEDx “X”. From initial concept meetings with the client through design and final execution, the process at AFH was characteristically youth-led and professional.