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Homeless Young People

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Photo: Tom Parsons on Unsplash
Concern for homeless youth continues to grow.

Since I read Sarah Smarsh’s memoir Homeland, I have had to recognize that my difficult childhood was not as difficult as many other people’s. And my difficulties were never exacerbated by the relentless poverty Smarsh’s farming family experienced despite always working hard.

Still, I identified with some aspects of her story, like the wish to run away. In the book, Smarsh would decide to live with a different relative from time to time, which seemed to help her get her head together for a while. I never ran away, but even as an adult, I used to fantasize about ways a child might do that successfully. I finally concluded it’s not possible, despite The Boxcar Children and their apparent self-sufficiency.

It may not be possible to do so successfully, but children and teens do run away. Tristan Hopper and Kaitlin J. Schwan write about youth homelessness in Canada at The Conversation and suggest some ways to help them.

“Despite decades of policy and programming, youth homelessness remains an urgent issue in many communities across Canada. [Twenty] per cent of people experiencing homelessness are youth. Particular groups — Indigenous youth, racialized youth and youth who identify as LGBTQ+ — are at increased risk of homelessness due to intersecting forms of structural and systemic inequity. …

“Given this, there has been an increased focus on homelessness prevention across Canada and globally. … Research shows that meaningful and accessible activities like sports and arts can have significant impacts on youth social connectedness, better developmental outcomes, improved mental health and recovery from trauma. …

“Youth homelessness is a complex social issue affecting people between the ages of 13-24 who are living independent of parents or caregivers and do not have the means to acquire safe and secure housing. …

“A key component of youth homelessness prevention is not only preventing youth from experiencing homelessness in the first place, but also preventing young people from re-entering life on the streets. …

“Social exclusion, loneliness and limited social networks are particularly common issues for those who have recently left homeless status. These experiences powerfully contribute to mental health decline, substance use, feelings of hopelessness and subsequent returns to homelessness.

“Young people exiting homelessness may be housed in locations that are isolated from services, community centres and childcare. This distance can create barriers to accessing meaningful activities and can present challenges to social and political inclusion.

“All young people deserve stable and safe housing, and also the opportunity to be engaged in meaningful activities, [which include] resources that encourage social inclusion … Social inclusion may also mitigate risks of eviction. For example, neighbourhood groups may help navigate conflicts with landlords. This inclusion may help in the development of a new identity as young people re-articulate their sense of selves in a new community.

“Some studies show that youth experiencing homelessness view artistic activity and sports engagement as absolutely critical to their wellbeing, recovery and exits from homelessness. … Recreational sport participation can have several physical, psychosocial, emotional and developmental benefits. … However, for sport programming for homeless youth to be purposeful, the social, political and cultural barriers to participation must be addressed, including time and place of programming, cost of access and cultural acceptance.

“Research has shown that for Indigenous youth, re-connection with cultural practices — including sports — can be a critical component in connectedness and meaning. … We need to [invest] in frontline prevention programming that includes sports and arts activities driven by the needs and interests of the young people they serve.”

More at The Conversation, here. (I believe social scientists like these are doing good work, but their writing is awfully dry. For more-engaging and specific writing on youth in trouble, try UTEC, here.)

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Photo: Metro Arts
This
student is engaged in a restorative justice program that uses the arts to reach young offenders. Cecilia Olusola Tribble, Community Arts Coordinator of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, says, “We have been able to work and watch miracles happen every day.”

My friend Diana was the first to explain to me the concept of restorative justice, and I wrote about it here. The idea is to bring a young perpetrator and his or her victim together, if the victim is willing, to learn about the effects of the crime and make restitution. When the process works, the young person turns aside from wrongdoing and keeps a clean record. Today I have a story about how the arts can be part of a restorative justice outreach to youth who are already incarcerated.

Cecilia Olusola Tribble writes at ArtsBlog, “The purpose of the Restorative Justice + the Arts program is to enable artists and arts organizations to provide dynamic program opportunities for youth and families who have interacted with the criminal justice system. Our aim is to equip teaching artists with the tools they need to bolster their practice in ways that lead youth toward productivity, resiliency, and well-being.

“In 2016, photographer and musician Nduka Onwuzurigbo heard about the transformation happening in the juvenile justice system and wanted to create a project with the youth in the detention center.

“Since her election in 2014, Judge Sheila Calloway has been restructuring the juvenile justice system in Metro Nashville/Davidson County to include resources to divert children and families in trouble, providing them creative paths toward a better, brighter, and more productive future. …

“[She] mobilized her team to make sure the children in the detention center were able to participate in the photography project. As that singular project was seeing success with the youth who were incarcerated and had a positive community response, Metro Arts in Nashville approached the judge about establishing an ongoing partnership. Since then, Metro Arts and the Juvenile Court in collaboration with the Oasis Center have been able to build the Restorative Justice + Arts program.

“It costs roughly $88,000 to incarcerate one youth for a year in Nashville. For the same amount of money, we have been able to pitch, build, and pilot the Restorative Justice + Arts program. …

“To start the program, Metro Arts held focus groups with our artist community, grantees, arts educators, and other stakeholders. … Next, Metro Arts spent time in the various departments in Juvenile Court. The focus in the court is in the process of shifting from solely emphasizing penalty to giving children and parents the tools to restore healthy relationships and communities. Judge Calloway has explained Restorative Justice in the following way:

‘Restorative Justice moves the conversation from “Who did the crime & what do they deserve?” to “Who has been harmed?”, “What are their needs?” [and] “Whose obligation is it to fix their harm?” ‘ …

“In FY 2018, the artists have been able to serve 424 youth who have been incarcerated, had other involvement with the court, or who are deemed at-risk due to poverty, school attendance, neighborhood crime, poor school performance, or living in an area where fresh food is scarce. …

“It is because of the partnership between multiple government agencies, youth-centered organizations, arts organizations, and artists that we have been able to work and watch miracles happen every day. We have witnessed youth leaving the detention center and seeking out their yoga and dance teacher. … We have watched the miracle where former gang members admit to shooting at each other, but theater and painting classes have bonded them together as brothers with arms entangled. Our hearts are full at experiencing young folks arguing with the characters of an August Wilson play to make a better choice. …

“This spark came from one artist who asked the question and made the difference.” One and one and 50 make a million. More here.

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Photo: Jackson Food and Art Festival
A food festival in Mississippi incorporates the arts to address nutrition issues.

It’s a good thing that philanthropies are able to support projects that improve lives in communities, because low-income municipalities can’t afford to tackle as many concerns as they’d like. Among the initiatives that Bloomberg Philanthropies supports are arts programs that address human needs.

As ArtForum reports, “Jackson, Mississippi, is the latest city to be awarded a $1 million Public Art Challenge Grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. … The funds will support the project ‘Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue About Food Access,’ which aims to inform policy related to nutrition by using art as a medium to communicate the complexities of the issue in the city. Local and national artists, landscape architects, filmmakers, farmers, chefs, nutritionists, and community members will be invited to collaborate on a citywide exhibition featuring installations and performances, as well as other programming.

“The initiative will activate public streets, community gardens, a local elementary school, and a vacant building, which will be converted into exhibition space and a food lab with a pop-up kitchen, to address challenges stemming from the proliferation of fast food restaurants in the area. According to the Clarion-Ledger, many areas of Jackson are considered food swamps where there is almost no access to grocery stores.

Due to the overabundance of fast food, the city has the second highest obesity rate in the nation and the highest rate for children between the ages of ten and seventeen.

“ ‘The city is overjoyed to have been selected in this process,’ Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in a statement. ‘This was a highly competitive grant.’ …

“Among those participating in the project are artists Adrienne Domnick and Kara Walker; filmmakers Keegan Kuhn and Roderick Red; Mark Bittman, the country’s first food-focused op-ed columnist for the New York Times and a faculty member of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health; chef Nick Wallace; clean eating advocate Ron Finley; and landscape architect Walter Hood.

“In February [2018], Bloomberg Philanthropies invited mayors of US cities with thirty thousand residents or more to submit proposals for temporary public art projects that address important civic issues.” More here.

And click here to read descriptions of other winning projects, including one to help heal the community after the Parkland school shooting: “The City of Coral Springs in partnership with the City of Parkland proposes developing five temporary installations to bring the community together in collective healing and reflection following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February of 2018. The artworks will serve as the community’s vision of change and hope for the future. The project will draw on and support Coral Springs Museum of Art’s ‘Healing with Art,’ an art therapy program which began as an immediate response to the shooting.”

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Photo: Elliott Simpson
“Two Piece Reclining Figure No.1,” by Henry Moore, Glenkiln Sculpture Park in southwest Scotland. Scotland’s government has proposed a policy that, among other things, would give ordinary Scots a greater say in shaping the cultural life of their communities.

What I remember about a trip to Scotland decades ago is Loch Ness, the glowing quality of sunlight in Inverness, how Edinburgh’s castle looms over the city, sheep on the hills, sheep crossing narrow highland roads.

But there is more to Scotland, and now the government is working to give communities a greater say in how the country’s culture is presented to the world.

Christy Romer writes at Arts Professional, “Ensuring culture is fundamental to Scotland’s social and economic prosperity is a core aim of the country’s first culture strategy in over ten years. …

“The draft document outlines plans for a new Government cultural adviser and new funding models for the sector. In addition, it aims to give people a ‘greater say’ in shaping the cultural life of their communities through participatory models of decision-making and community ownership.

“ [The draft strategy says Scotland] ‘places culture as of equal importance alongside other areas such as the economy, education, environment, health and tackling inequality, and values culture for the unique perspectives it can bring.’ …

“One of the major initiatives announced is a new cultural leadership post within Scottish Government, which would be supported by strategic thinkers from the culture sector and beyond.

“This figure would be responsible for joining up thinking across Government and with major stakeholders. They would aim to respond to big societal issues and make culture central to progress in areas such as health, the economy and education.

“Other initiatives include developing a national partnership for culture, which would see the sector work with academics to develop new approaches to measuring and articulating the value of culture.

“Partnership working with businesses, schools and care homes is also seen as key to creating opportunities for more people to take part in culture. The document …  suggests using Scottish Government powers to generate a collective responsibility to support culture in the long term.’ This could involve the National Investment Bank or devolved tax and legislative powers.”

Oh, dear. Already I see trouble ahead. The intentions are good, but that wonky document suggests to me that artists were not involved in the writing and may not be helping much to carry out the policy. Hmmm. I’m wondering if government’s role in a country’s culture should be limited to funding it.

For example, consider what Claire Selvin reported in October at ArtNews about New York City: “With largest-ever allotment for department of cultural affairs, New York City Grants $43.9 million to arts programs.” That’s putting your money where your mouth is. I realize some of the funds may get lost in the bureaucracies of the various recipient arts organizations, but I think I’d rather have them working on the ultimate allocations than a government entity.

More on Scotland at Arts Professional, here.

One of Scotland’s historical highlights is the Antonine Wall, built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland. These ruins mark the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire.

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Photo: PjrTravel/Alamy
The act of building puppets has long been a form of protest for the Czech people.

Never underestimate the power of the arts to affect the course of nations. In this story, puppets kept the Czech language alive during a period of repression by German speakers.

Jacklyn Janeksela writes at the BBC, “It was thanks to the humble puppet that the Czech nation – and its language – was inadvertently saved.

“In the 17th Century, when the kingdom of Bohemia was under Habsburg rule, the Czech language almost disappeared. …

“When the Protestant court left Prague in the early 1600s, the city fell into decline for almost two centuries. The new ruler, Ferdinand II, did not tolerate non-Catholics, viewing Protestants as a threat to his faith. Czech locals, mostly peasants and working class people, were forced to speak the German language of their invaders. Soon after, intellectuals, who had initially resisted the German language, followed suit. Even Czech actors began to perform in German as an official mandate. Czech became a mere dialect, and would have slipped into oblivion had it not been for some unassuming pieces of wood.

“The act of building puppets has long been a form of protest for the Czech people. Seventeenth-Century wood-carvers, who were more versed in sculpting Baroque seats for churches than human facsimiles, started making puppets for the actors of Bohemia soon after Ferdinand II came to power, as puppets were the only remaining entities that had the right to speak Czech in public places. While the rest of the country and its people adhered to the newly imposed German language, wandering actors and puppet-masters spoke through the puppets in their native Slavic tongue.

“It might seem unlikely that a few hundred puppets and puppet-masters could safeguard a language, especially through a loophole, but the people’s last remaining legacy to their past was tied to the puppet’s strings.

“It’s easy to see why these marionettes have found a home in Czech hearts, and why the magic of puppets continues to permeate the city. …

“In the streets, puppeteers make magic happen. I watched a puppet show in a charming cobblestoned square, where the puppet-master wore the velvety cap of a pageboy, pierced by a single plume that swayed along with the puppet’s movements. He used his puppets to beckon bystanders. Melodic medieval music accompanied the dance of a peasant male and young princess, a Czech love story with a plot twist that favours the underdog, the peasant who wins the heart of a far-fetched royal love.” Read more at the BBC, here.

With minority languages threatened around the world today, it’s worth remembering that a culture and way of life can be preserved through arts like puppet-making. See also my blog post on the historically important role of shadow puppets in Armenia, here.

Photo: Carol J Saunders/Alamy
Puppets have a special place in the hearts of the Czech people. For one thing, they saved the language in the early 1600s when German-speaking rulers prevented everyone but puppets from speaking Czech in public.

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Photo: Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times
In a ceremony at the Abrons Arts Center in New York, Emily Johnson acknowledges the Lenape tribe, which inhabited Manhattan before Europeans arrived. The bonfire event is part of an initiative by artists called “land acknowledgment.”

It’s interesting to me that at the same time that nationalism and harsh attitudes about migration are sweeping the Western world, some very different movements are gaining traction. One is the increased acknowledgment in some English-speaking countries that Europeans were once interlopers, too.

Siobhan Burke writes at the New York Times about arts groups starting to pay attention to first residents.

“On an evening in early June, before the sun had gone down, a bonfire blazed outside Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side. Handmade quilts lined the steps of the outdoor amphitheater. Anyone walking down Grand Street could come in and take a seat. As a group of singers arranged themselves around a large cylindrical drum, the choreographer Emily Johnson stood up to speak a few careful, welcoming words.

“ ‘I’d like to acknowledge and pay my deep respect to Lenape people and elders and ancestors — past, present and future,’ she said. She gestured toward the ground and in the direction of the East River. ‘I acknowledge and offer deep gratitude to this Lenape land and water that supports us, as we’re gathered here right now together, and I invite you to join me in that acknowledgment, that respect and that gratitude.’

“In recognizing Manhattan’s original inhabitants — the Lenape (pronounced len-AH-pay) — and their ancestral homeland, Lenapehoking, Ms. Johnson was taking part in a ritual that, with her guidance, has become increasingly common at New York performing arts spaces in the past year.

“Routine at public gatherings in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the custom of Indigenous land acknowledgment, or acknowledgment of country, has only recently started to gain traction in the United States outside of tribal nations. In New York City the practice is sporadic but growing, occasionally heard at high-profile cultural and educational institutions like the Whitney Museum of American Art and New York University. …

“Ms. Johnson, 42, a Native Alaskan artist of Yupik descent, has been the catalyst for much of that progress in the city’s dance scene. … Wherever she tours, she publicly honors — and engages with — the Indigenous people of that place.

“And behind the scenes she has been working to strengthen relationships between predominantly white institutions and Indigenous communities, to ensure that more Indigenous voices are heard at all organizational levels, from the artists onstage to the board of directors. That process, she said, begins with institutions recognizing where they are: on land taken from Indigenous peoples. …

“For the inexperienced, speaking an acknowledgment can be awkward at first. Hadrien Coumans, a co-founder of the Lenape Center, said false starts were to be expected. …

“While land acknowledgment might be a mere formality in some contexts, Mr. Coumans emphasized that he sees it as something much greater, an invitation to consider and appreciate where, really, you are standing.

“ ‘We’re part of a living being,’ he said. ‘Earth is a living entity, so in acknowledging land, what we’re really doing is acknowledging life. Not nationalism, not patriotism. Life.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Walther Bernal/CBC
Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation Chief Lance Roulette signed Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord in June. The new treaty addresses tribal representation in numerous aspects of life.

The “truth and reconciliation” initiatives in South Africa after Nelson Mandela was released from jail set a kind of standard for healing old wounds — or at least for moving on. The idea was that nations must bring to the light of day all the bad things that were done and give everyone a chance to express their pain. After that, acceptance and reconciliation can begin.

A similar process is happening in Canada to heal the injustices done to tribes. One example is in Winnipeg, where the lung association, an arts organization, and many others are working to make amends for the past and create a better future.

Aidan Geary writes at CBC News, “A Manitoba association created by the agency that once ran segregated ‘Indian hospitals’ in the province is among more than 40 new signatories to Winnipeg’s Indigenous accord. …

“The Lung Association was among dozens of Winnipeg-based groups that added their names to the city’s year-old Indigenous Accord [in June]. Other groups include the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, CentrePort Canada, Investors Group, the Manitoba Museum and the Manitoba College of Social Workers.

“The accord was first signed by more than 80 groups [in March 2017]. Signing on means committing to an ongoing responsibility to reconciliation, the city says. Signatories are required to report yearly on the success of their efforts and their future goals.

“For the Lung Association, it also means addressing a legacy of segregation, substandard care and allegations of mistreatment at the hands of tuberculosis doctors from Indigenous patients, [Neil Johnston, president of the Manitoba Lung Association] said.

” ‘We want to make sure that that … never happens again, and we want to help in the healing of people who have survived that care but also the families and make up for the intergenerational trauma that occurred,’ he said. …

“So far, Johnston said its goals include examining and establishing the association’s own history, and speaking to people who experienced the hospitals themselves. From there, the association will work with Indigenous community members to form a plan for reconciliation and improved health outcomes. …

“Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman urged more organizations to sign on, calling the accord an ‘aspirational document’ and an ongoing effort. … ‘We have created a website in which organizations can submit their outcomes on an annual basis and report on what they’re going to work on, and that’s shared publicly so there can be that learning within the community.’ …

“Carol Phillips, executive director of the Winnipeg Arts Council — which signed on in the first year of the accord — said her organization will launch a new Indigenous arts leadership fellowship program this fall, placing two Indigenous fellows into arts organizations to develop management and governance skills.

“She said Indigenous people are underrepresented in leadership positions in arts groups across the country, with the exception of Indigenous-focused arts organizations. She said she’s seen improvement on that front, but not enough.

” ‘There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be Indigenous arts leaders in any arts organization, and that’s ultimately what we want to see happen,’ she said.

“The WAC will also place an Indigenous artist-in-residence in the city’s Indigenous Relations department, she said.

“Values around reconciliation have long been a part of the arts council’s work, she said. But she said it’s important to demonstrate those values and make them clear to the community.

” ‘The city obviously wants an overt demonstration of commitment, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, so we participated,’ she said.

” ‘The thing is, here we are still talking about the sort of exceptionalism of this situation. Our goal is that this is just how things are, and it’s not an exception — it’s how the arts community functions.’ ”

More at CBC, here.

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