To find local programs that serve At-Risk youth; those programs that assist young men and women but also require participation in a highly structured program.
Initially I felt as though I was simply wishing on a star… Wishing that one, just one, would allow me the opportunity to work within their community. I had a clear vision of the communities I wanted to reach. I did my research, prepared my proposals, and was ready to contact each. There were three different proposals for community-based projects. With great enthusiasm and no expectations I waited, and I was overwhelmed with positive responses. A number of communities were hungry for the arts and projects were actualized in four different communities. I spent the next year working with At-Risk youth in their communities; a girls ranch, a girls home, an alternative school, as well as, a private military academy. Together we engaged in a number of community projects; to include, murals and collaborative book projects.
- "Inner Pages" ~ Handmade and handbound Coptic journals and an edition of handbound Accordion Artist Books with art contributions from each of the residents.
- "Picturing Community" ~ A collaborative large-scale mural displayed in a community room, a response to the students', or residents', conversation around the needs of their communities. Designed and painted by the students, or residents.
- Lyman Ward Military Academy ~ The military academy experience was quite unexpected! When I approached the school, I was aiming for a short-term, extended community project. I was offered a teaching job! Offered to cadets for 1.0 Fine Arts credit, it was the first for credit art class to be offered at the military academy. Through the love and kindness of artists and friends, I raised close to $1,000 for art materials. Their collaborative project became creating and editing a brand new school publication, Reinventing, a student created Zine.
Each experience was unique, and each community comes with its own set of challenges. The residents at each site are transient. In some cases these young men and women will stay for one to two weeks, sometimes they stay for one semester or several years depending on the program and need. Access to these communities are limited, that which I am allowed to share of these experiences varies. At the military academy, I had no restrictions outside what is normally expected of a professional. The remaining communities required that I sign a Confidentiality Agreement. There are often concerns for safety, and those serving these communities also seek to protect them from prejudices that may come as a result of being enrolled in their respective programs. For this reason I am unable to use the faces, names and, in some cases, the specific locations of the sites I worked with; this includes images of the work.
This kind of work requires the artist to have a personal connection with the mission of each program and to build strong relationships with the administrators. What I found is that institutions for At-Risk youth really have a need for the Arts, specifically short-term art projects. Through collaboration and a gift of community inclusion, I was able to create experiences that provided the opportunity to explore, to experiment, to express, and to inhabit space in our world. At the culmination of each project, I had a clearer vision of how art can be used as a medium for initiating conversations, organizing groups, and inspiring action.