Art education in public schools seems nonexistent today, and I personally experienced very little of it while attending Boston Public Schools. Small community-based organizations have taken on the role of bringing art education to inner-city neighborhoods, shouldering the job that our schools and government should be performing. The sheer number of community-based youth art organizations and programs in major U.S. cities sends a strong message about the demand for more art education in schools and communities across the country.
Late November, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston’s Out-of-School Teen Programs, a sub-set of the ICA Teen Arts Council , and Providence’s AS220 Youth Studio were awarded the 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by First Lady Michelle Obama. Selected out of a pool of 350 applicants, the ICA and AS220 were two of only twelve organizations nationwide to win this prestigious award. The recognition comes with a $10,000 prize, which allows both of these organizations to support their programming and engage more young people from the community.
Art and community are two things that I have always been interested in and have blogged about several times over the years. Recently, I toured the studios of Medicine Wheel Productions, an organization in South Boston that focuses on strengthening communities through the power of art and was struck by the dedication of instructors and mentors. Organizations and groups like the ICA Out-of-School Teen Programs, AS220 Youth Studio and Medicine Wheel Productions most often include kids who have never had any formal training in the arts, and come from communities or families who have had very little exposure to their cities' cultural institutions. Often youth participants have struggled academically, some are in the custody of the state, others incarcerated in juvenile facilities.
Along with promoting self-expression, exchange and communication, exposure to the arts and creative workshops often reveal talents and teach new skills. These programs and organizations promote goal achievement, accountability and hard-work through strong collaborative efforts between participants, mentors and instructors. The youth are the heart and soul of these programs, and the activities are designed around their interests and issues. Their impact often extends far and beyond the scope of the participants: as a group, the youth will identify the problems in their communities and bond together to make a change.
Congratulations to both the ICA Teen Arts Council and AS220 Youth Studio for their efforts in integrating arts and youth to create stronger communities.