March is National Arts Education Month, and with today's blog, we are highlighting the work of Project Create, a community-based nonprofit that promotes creative youth development through accessible arts education for children, youth and families experiencing homelessness and poverty in Washington, D.C.
At Project Create, we believe that “art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate” (Harvey Fierstein). Arts education complements in-school learning and serves as an important tool for positive youth development.
We'd like to share three ways in which Project Create incorporates creative, positive youth development into our programming, and the stories of the young people served by each.
1) LUWANN: Art as Education
In the face of the urgent needs of our students, art makes a difference. We believe that “arts education is not a flower, but a wrench” (Rachel Goslins, President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities).
A study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that at-risk kids exposed to the arts had better academic outcomes, higher career goals, and greater civic engagement. Thus, they contribute more to their communities, achieve more themselves, and have higher aspirations and hope—all from engaging in art! This conclusion is as clear in practice as it is in the research. At Project Create, we notice that our students are trying harder in school.
Sometimes Luwann brings her homework to our after-school open studio; she seeks help with challenging math problems, or asks one of our interns to quiz her on spelling words. When she succeeds at school, Luwann brings her A papers to us to celebrate. It is rewarding to watch Luwann’s growing commitment to her schoolwork. We love it that art is the hook that draws Lawann, a budding illustrator, into the Project Create studio, and once there, she finds the support she needs to succeed at school.
The act of artistic creation is transformative, and for the large population of children in our city who are experiencing poverty and homelessness, the potential impact of this transformation is even more necessary and urgent.
Positive emotions are among humans’ most vital resources. In a city where families and children experience trauma from violence, concentrated poverty and homelessness, the arts have immense potential to play a role in the healing process. The most impactful arts programs are those that cultivate an environment for positive social interaction to flourish. At Project Create, we understand that the single most important factor for children who develop resilience (necessary to adapt and thrive despite adversity) is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. Here we witness daily how the arts create community, and a sense of belonging for our most vulnerable youth.
Derrick comes to the Project Create studio every day after school. Since he entered the foster care system, he has struggled through depression and anxiety. Because of frequent transitions in his placements, Derrick has changed both schools and friends several times in the last two years. The transitional nature of his life is difficult, but there is one constant in Derrick’s life: Project Create. Here he has made new friends, and he is part of a close group of teens who support and encourage each other. He also finds support from our resident art therapist and other staff members. “I knew she was a person I could talk to,” says Derrick about Project Create’s Executive Director, who has been a stable presence among changes in his life. “I could trust her. She is always there for me.”
3) DONNELL: Art as a Tool for Future Employment
Arts education plays a vital role in preparing students' creative and innovative capacities so they can move into a new high-tech world, into a new economy, and prepare for the future. Former President Barack Obama said it best: "None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from…What we can do - what America does better than anyone else - is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. But if we want to win the future then we also have to win the race to educate our kids."
Creativity is a vital tool, a “21st Century Skill,” that we can use to address changing economic, social, technological, and environmental challenges. Creative youth development programs are a true investment in the future, and future residents, of Washington, D.C.
For two years Donnell has been working for Project Create as a studio assistant. We first met Donnell at a program for homeless youth, where we were instantly impressed by his enthusiasm and commitment to the arts. He has brought those qualities to his work at Project Create and has become an invaluable member of our team. When the opportunity presented itself to introduce Donnell to our partner Urban Ed, a nonprofit that teaches young people technological skills, we jumped at the chance to connect him. Donnell is now enrolled in Urban Ed’s IT Apprenticeship Training, learning important work skills that will allow him to succeed in the future. Donnell’s innate creativity, along with skills he has developed working at Project Create, helped guarantee his success in this program.
PROJECT CREATE: Art as Advocacy
Through creative expression, imagination, and the freedom of abstraction, our students come alive and find their unique voices. We must prepare the District’s youth so that they can use their powerful voices to advocate for the next chapter in the history of Washington, D.C.
At Project Create, we understand how art can play a role in social justice education, community building, and social movements. We know that art provides a universal language that gives voice to individuals and communities and is accessible across social boundaries; it is vitally important that our students are empowered to gain ownership of the arts in their city so that they can actively participate in the production of and reflection on culture in order to advocate for themselves and their communities.
DCAYA thanks Christie Walser, Executive Director of Project Create, for contributing this week's blog. For 23 years, Project Create has worked in partnership with social service organizations that offer emergency, transitional, and long-term housing to homeless youth and families, as well as with out-of-school-time community-based programs in underserved District neighborhoods. In 2015, Project Create opened an art studio at 2028 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in Anacostia for children, youth and families in Ward 8 and beyond.
More About Project Create:
- Project Create’s newest class, “Reel Social Justice,” examines documentary films centered around social justice issues affecting communities (communities of color in particular) as students develop their voices to become active filmmakers and create a documentary around a topic that resonates with them. Our Project Create teens, who participate in an ELITE (Energetically Lifting and Inspiring Teens to Excellence) program, have chosen to develop a film centered around housing in Washington D.C. Their final project will explore topics including urbanization, gentrification and redlining. The final project will be a 15-minute documentary using interviews, archival footage and statistics along with student commentary and reflection on how communities are created, focusing on housing, one of our most basic needs. In this way, Project Create students are actively engaging with and exploring their city, digging deeper into important and timely issues that affect them.
- Last year, the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness recognized Project Create for its “dynamic and impactful work with children in shelter to nourish their minds, creativity and curiosity.” Christie Walser, Project Create’s Executive Director, accepted the “Beyond Housing” award at the ICPH conference in New York City on February 14, 2016. Take a look at the ICPH “Uncensored” article about Project Create’s work in creative youth development.