Art Start uses the creative process to nurture the voices, hearts, and minds of historically marginalized youth, offering a space for them to imagine, believe, and represent their creative vision for their lives and communities.
Through consistent workshops with long-term partners, including youth organizations, schools, alternative sentencing programs, and residences for youth and families experiencing homelessness, art becomes the starting point of a larger life process, and the start of larger conversations about the future of our communities.
A conversation between Art Start and The Canvas
Mariama, briefly tell us how you personally became involved with Art Start, and your role within the organization.
I became involved with Art Start as an intern in 2015. I was getting my degree in Dance and Global Studies and looking for an internship that melded together my social justice pursuits with my passion for the arts. I continued volunteering in one of the workshops and was eventually offered a Teaching artist position in early 2017, teaching dance and visual art. In the summer of 2017 I was offered a full time position and have continued growing within the organization. Currently I am the Deputy Director
Issue 1.0 of The Canvas is focused on community and the power of how community can elevate and/or sustain those within it. Even going further, what's repeatedly surfaced among contributors is how critical it is for trust to exist in order for a community to prosper. How does Art Start work towards building trust with young artists who may not come from a strong community?
Building trusting relationships is extremely important in the work that we do. The creative process can be an intriguing and generative endeavour but also quite intimidating especially for people with lesser exposure to the arts and because of the ways it calls for vulnerability, self-expression and openness. It’s the reason why we emphasize process over product with our young people as it reduces the pressure of needing to create a final output and redistributes focus to the making of the thing. Within the workshop space for instance, the facilitators are learners just as much as the youth, as we promote collaboration, student-centered learning and experimentation. A related but different example is the way youth in our Portrait Project are involved in all decision-making within the project, including concepting and approval of photo and oral histories before they are made public. In both instances, we aim to level the playing field between an adult and young person hoping to ‘meet youth where they’re at’ and build trusting relationships in the process.
Really enjoy how much emphasis Art Start places on the creative process over the final product, which is very similar to design education. What teaching mechanisms does Art Start implement to ensure this is taught?
In our Creative Collectives workshops, we prioritize short term projects where they are completed in 1 session rather than over a series of workshops. With this method of creating a new project each workshop, there is less pressure to create the ‘perfect project’ as youth have another opportunity to create again the following workshop. Projects are also very accessible as most of our workshops have large age ranges ranging from 6 to 14 years with our curriculum including adaptations for differences in skill level and age. As well, these workshops are supported by volunteer mentors (in addition to the Teaching Artist) who work one-on-one with youth and can help them adapt the project as needed. We welcome student input and often make adjustments to projects as needed. Lastly, many workshops call for reflection and discussion and may not have a final product as the outcome especially in our Performing Arts, wellness and gardening workshops.
Art Start recently expanded to Milwaukee with an additional pilot program in Chicago, could you share some strategies in how Art Start enters a new community?
To go back to the second question, building relationships is definitely key. In both locations, it was important that we partnered with people and organizations already doing great work in these communities and discussed the ways they see Art Start serving their community. We also prioritized hiring and including members from within those communities who could relate to the youth with whom we’d work. We worked with these partners to marry our model that we have been perfecting in NYC with that of these organizations and individuals. As well, we have only entered into communities where a need was shared with us by people from that community, thus only entering communities by invite. Lastly of course we ensure that the work is furthering our mission of supporting youth from historically marginalized communities.
What is next for Art Start, beyond the pilot program in Chicago?
In 2021, Art Start will continue to exhibit the 2020 Portrait Project produced in Milwaukee and New York City. Exhibitions for this year’s cohort began in an outdoor exhibit in October of last year and our digital exhibition is currently running on our website and our living archive www.seemebecause.org . We are navigating the pandemic, of course as is everyone, and constantly rethinking and reimagining our programming to suit this new way of life and it’s important that any new expansions are sustainable within our new climate. We do hope to continue expanding our programs to other cities, eventually becoming a nationally-recognized Organization.
For those interested in getting involved -- where to begin?
As we are a nonprofit we always welcome support in the form of donations. Some of our donors enjoy creating special fundraisers such as birthday fundraisers, artwork sales, auctions while others may utilize employee matching funds at their jobs, donate in-kind or sign up as monthly donors. There are also opportunities to volunteer ranging from our workshops (supporting Teaching Artists), mentoring our Emerging Artists one-on-one, or supporting the Portrait Project in production and/or exhibition. We also have corporate sponsors who donate to our programs and support youth programming by hosting field trips, leading workshops, providing mentorship etc. Lastly we’re always trying to connect our youth to opportunities that can further their creative pursuits such as internships, job opportunities or scholarship programs post-Art Start.
If you and/or Art Start could collaborate with a brand, who/what would it be?
It’s hard to answer this question because we are fortunate to collaborate with so many individuals and brands every year. Not a specific brand, but we know that food insecurity is often a reality for many Art Start families and so we’d love to be connected to companies that can support us in providing healthy food options to them. Also, though we are youth focused, we love being able to engage Art Start parents and in some cases separately from their children. We look for brands that may provide self care products, art-making for adults etc. For our teens and young adults, being connected to companies wanting to hire high school youth or youth that may not have a lot of work experience, especially creative-focused companies.