Thursday, October 08, 2015

Arts After School and Why It Matters

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA will be featuring the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. Next week we'll hear from DC SCORES about their exciting new partnership with DC United! Read on for more on afterschool arts programming from Project Create!

Accessible, high-quality, arts-focused afterschool and summer programs can make all the difference in a youth’s life. Research shows that creating work through artistic expression has universal therapeutic and human developmental benefits

For more than twenty years, Project Create has worked in partnership with social service organizations and afterschool programs in underserved neighborhoods of DC to provide accessible out-of-school-time arts education to promote positive development in children, youth and families experiencing homelessness and poverty. 

In January 2015, Project Create opened an art studio in Anacostia that offers youth development programming through free visual, performing and digital media arts classes to young residents. In addition to the tremendously beneficial therapeutic aspects of Project Create’s programming, the afterschool setting and the studio space itself provides a significant and meaningful community of care for youth. Across cultures throughout human history, artists have gathered in community spaces to form friendships, share their craft, enhance their skills, and find support among each other while creating their work. Project Create’s Anacostia studio is a space where youth come together, and stay, because they are safe, they are protected, and their voices are heard. 

The depth of identity the youth feel towards the Project Create studio space is exemplified by how they themselves have built community there through their own networks. This story starts with Brittney. We got to know Brittney through our work with So Others Might Eat (SOME) back in 2010 when she was eleven years old. Her family had already experienced homelessness for most of Brittney’s young life, and even as her mother struggled daily to provide Brittney with the essentials, Brittney had daily access to multiple enrichment activities. Each day after school, Brittney painted, danced and performed theater in Project Create’s art classes at SOME. As Brittney grew into a teenager, the mentorship she received from her Project Create teachers was essential to her development.

We were thinking of Brittney when we created and opened our Anacostia studio space. In addition to strengthening our relationship with the community of children and youth who live in Anacostia and surrounding neighborhoods, we wanted to provide our long-time students like Brittney with a space to stay connected with Project Create, even as they “age out,” move out of their housing facilities, or move around the city. 

As soon as we opened our studio doors, Brittney was there! And she didn’t come alone – she brought her boyfriend James, and then her friend Calvin. Then Calvin brought Evan. Then Evan brought Cecilia. And so on it went until, before we knew it, the studio was alive with budding young artists. They come for the art, for the fun, and to see their friends. They also come because it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and because they’re hungry and they know there will be pizza. They come even when Project Create isn’t running classes because they know at least one of their staff mentors will be around.

At times, the youth come reluctantly because they (think they) don’t really like art. James was unenthusiastic about Brittney’s invitation to the studio space, but like so many of the youth we serve, James comes and stays on because Project Create becomes a consistent and stable space for him. In the time since he started spending his afternoons at Project Create’s studio, James has been forced out of his home, drifted through emergency shelters, exhausted his options while couch-surfing, and moved into foster care placement. But through it all James continued coming to Project Create every day, and even in the midst of constant life disruptions over a matter of months, James has found his niche as an artist. He has created original music and learned that he’s a pretty good songwriter. He has learned the craft of 3D printing, and he carried the plastic superhero he made with him everywhere he went for months after. And we were all impressed to find how adept he is with a sewing machine. James continues to experience uncertainty in his life, but every day after school, he finds enrichment and new possibilities in the Project Create studio.

Brittney, now 16, has emerged as a young leader in the artistic community she helped create. She signed up for several classes and quickly became a regular presence during open studio, at family art days, on field trips and at special events. This summer, she worked with Project Create through D.C.’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Brittney is now working with Project Create as a student assistant (when she’s not attending classes as a student herself).

Brittney, James, Calvin, Evan, Cecilia and dozens more youth, each have their own story of what has happened in their life so far that led them to Project Create. For these young people seeking enrichment after school, just as it has been for creative minds throughout history, quality art in an accessible setting can be transformative as they write, illustrate, design and perform the next chapters in their own life stories.

*All names have been changed to protect our students’ confidentiality.

DCAYA extends a big thank you to this week's blog author, Christie Walser, Executive Director of Project Create. For more on Project Create's awesome work that blends creative and youth development, check out their website here

No comments: