Having completed my internship at Americans for the Arts, I’m excited to take back what I’ve learned to my local community in Western Massachusetts.
Over 10 weeks, I worked on a wide range of projects that involved public art, local arts agencies, and emerging leaders. One topic, community engagement, is something I can be a direct advocate for even after the summer is over.
Through Net Impact’s Board Fellow program, I’ve served on Youth Action Coalition’s Board for the last year. The Arts for Change program at the Youth Action Coalition pairs intensive arts immersion with social justice education for youth. This program is free to any youth in the community interested in creating a change in the area through high quality arts programming.
How can the arts actually be used for social justice education and youth empowerment? YAC’s four primary programs engage different audiences through various media:
- Get Up Get Down participants explore a variety of art forms—from murals to street puppets, sidewalk art to gallery work—to investigate issues that are relevant to youth and their communities. Youth are able to expand their skills as community organizers through trainings and hands-on work and build leadership by organizing and facilitating talk-backs about the work.
- E’town Rising participants explore and communicate their views about the city of Easthampton using digital cameras and creative writing. Themes of the projects are identified by the youth.
- GirlsEyeView participants express themselves through photography and creative writing in a supportive and creative space just for young women. They host exhibitions of their work twice a year in schools and in downtown spaces.
- Video Vanguards participants work with youth of color and their allies as they empower themselves while exploring the issues that they deal with every day. Using video, they engage in deep dialogue and trainings to create socially-conscious pieces that address issues that are overlooked by the mainstream media. They organize screenings and events throughout the year.
Not only do the youth in the community have the opportunity to create art, they can also serve on the board to gain invaluable experiences in arts administration and to support in executive decision-making.
There are approximately 15 members on the board every year, comprising of an eclectic mix of high school students, artists, professors, and community members. Every meeting is spent discussing community needs, planning for fundraising and programming events, and eating pizza.
The organization is led by Executive Director Stacey Lennard, with the support from partner organizations, an Americorps staff member, program directors, and the board.
Do you have any similar organizations in your area? Tell us about them in the comments below.