A Goodbye to James Miles from Arts Corps’ Board

It is with a level of excitement and sadness that we write this goodbye letter to James Miles. We are  very excited for James because we know that every move he makes allows others to see his shine. We are very sad for Arts Corps because that shine is no longer exclusively ours. 

Arts Corps has been very fortunate to have had James’ leadership as Executive Director since 2017.  He has led this growing organization from building and sustaining Seattle and Highline School district partnerships securing high quality arts education for youth in communities of color even during COVID.  So you see, it was a mix of excitement and sadness when he announced his acceptance to join the team of Mentor Washington beginning on December 1, 2020.  

James has brought a multitude of accomplishments as Arts Corps Executive Director. To try to capture them all is almost impossible but these are a  few that we would like to thank him for: 

  • Arts Corps continues to reach over 2,800 youths in South Seattle to South King County. 
  • Increased technological arts learning through the development of Learning Immersive Technology (LIT) and Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute (ALLI).  
  • Since 2017, increased our revenue to over 2.5M up until the pandemic hit.  
  • Turned a well-planned usual live annual fundraiser, FESTA, to a Live Stream fundraiser produced in less than two weeks after a state shut down was announced, reaching new donors nationally and internationally. 
  • Arts Corps is on all social media platforms, including consistent communication to our communities through online arts learning experiences delivered by our stellar teaching artists, monthly blog posts, and relentless advocacy for equitable arts education. 
  • Led the creation of online, remote learning arts experiences for youth and community partners- check out the; led the development of art kits delivered to over 400 students.
  • Created more connectivity with staff through weekly “on fleek” meets and elevating the “hipness” and “dopeness” into the office.

James has succeeded in making the Arts Corps tagline, “Make Art Anyway” into a challenge that has been widely accepted by staff, youth, the community, and the board, over and over again. We thank him for the energy, enthusiasm, and momentum that allows Arts Corps to thrive even  during the most trying of times. James will truly be missed and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors. With James’ departure, Carrie Siahpush, Arts Corps current Development Director, will serve as the Interim Executive Director. Carrie’s experience and deep knowledge of Arts Corps culture, great relationship with staff and board members, partners, long term stakeholders and donors would secure a seamless transition. 

Stay tuned everyone. Arts Corps is thriving and doing great things. We invite you to join us in our celebrations and watch as we continue to serve youth and our community. It goes without saying, but even through these hard times, we invite you to sing, dance, paint, draw, print, just Make… Art…Anyway. 

In love and peace,
Arts Corps Board

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Change is in the Air for Arts Corps

The fifth inning of the World Series had just ended, with the Chicago Cubs taking a 6-3 lead over the Cleveland Indians. It was game 7 of a seven game series, and if it’s not clear from my numerous tattoos and all that I talk about when people ask me about anything related to Chicago, I’m a HUGE Cubs fan. I love the Chicago Cubs since I was a baby. Growing up in Chicago, close to the baseball field, Wrigley Field, the one aspect of my life that was certain was my allegiance to the best baseball team in the multiverse, the Chicago Cubs. 

I happened to be in Chicago, with my colleague and dear friend, Jamel Mims, to pitch a hip hop education project to the International Education Funders Group. The presentation was the following day, so we were able to enjoy game with some my high school friends. Though the game was in Cleveland, Chicago’s streets were crowded with everyone spilling out of bars and their homes to celebrate a run for us, and decry a run for Cleveland. 

By the 8th inning, the game was tied. I was bent over at the waist, crying, because Cleveland was looking strong. I hadn’t eaten food really and only consumed beer, which seemed to have no effect on me. All of my Chicago friends looked the way I was feeling: lost and depleted. Executive functioning was limited as our hippocampus refused to hold memories. We repeated the same conversation over and over again. We were all prone to drastic mood swings. Time was mutable for us and each minute seemed to last either a second or an hour. Though the 8th inning ended, we didn’t fully grasp that the 9th inning was the last inning of the World Series. I was fixated on each individual play as if I alone had control over the outcome, and my computational skills were minimal.

Maybe I was feeling the beer after all…

With the game tied after the 9th inning, the rain started to come down hard in Cleveland, causing a rain delay. Time slowed. We waited. We drank more beer. I ate a hot dog and some chips. We barely spoke. Jamel looked at all of us warily, not sure of what we would do next. 

The tenth inning began with Cubs at bat. They started strong and scored two runs, which we celebrated loudly with tears. Cleveland was up at bat next and after two outs, they scored another run. The entire city of Chicago was silent for 2 minutes as the final Cleveland player stepped up to the plate. The pitcher threw the ball, Cleveland hit a groundball up the third base line, which was caught and thrown to the first baseman, who tagged the base for Cleveland’s third and final out. 

Time stopped when we realized the Cubs won the World Series! This was the first time the Cubs won, since 1908!! We jumped in the air, yelled, cried, and immediately went outside to hear others celebrating and crying and screaming too. We hugged strangers, laughed loudly, and even high fived police officers. It seemed as if everyone and their mother, including my own, was outside smiling ear to ear. It was the happiest day of my life. The next day, Jamel and I had a fantastic presentation, made some wonderful connections, and flew back to New York. My euphoria lingered as I went back to work, proudly wearing a Cubs hat and  nothing could bring me down. 

A week later, an alleged criminal was elected to be the next president of the United States of America, and all of the happiness and joy I was feeling disappeared, almost instantaneously. Those same pangs of distress I felt watching the World Series game increased 1000%. My amygdala was overexcited and my cortisol levels increased. My generally healthy lifestyle went by the wayside, my skin broke out, I was depressed, I was angry, and felt this way for the next four years. 

One of the only positives during the past four years has been working at Arts Corps. A month after the 2016 election, I flew to Seattle to interview for the role of Executive Director, and three weeks after that, we moved to Seattle. I started on January 21st, 2017, to coincide with Inauguration Day. I counted my days in office, and compared them to our new president’s. Every vile policy, he enacted, we worked to address those actions using creativity and empathy. As he tried to divide, we sought to unite. We brought love into schools, and appreciation into the lives of young people. We shed a light on the power of arts to make change. We resisted and remained resilient. We sometimes bumped heads, but we all believed in the work we were doing. We believed in young people. We grew, we shrank, we grew again. We had good times and we had bad times. We experienced fracture and we made steps towards healing. We worked shoulder to shoulder, until we were asked to stay 6 feet apart. We shifted and we adjusted. We prevailed.  We made art anyway. 

Quickly, November 2020 was coming closer to being a real date, and a feeling of unease built. My family became more emotional and scared of what would happen. Every time I saw one of my neighbors, we could barely manage a congenial hello.The schools where we work were struggling with maintaining normalcy in abnormal times and the election added to their concerns. The future was uncertain. The whole country voted, and then we waited. My screen time increased 120% over the past week, constantly checking the results of the election. It was impossible for us to see what tomorrow could hold because of this sense of inertia.

My parents In Ohio called everyday to check on us. My friends in NYC and California texted regularly that they couldn’t get out of bed. Then on Saturday morning, I hear fireworks going off. I looked at my phone and saw 75 texts. My wife said we elected a new president, a different president, a president that wants to heal, and I felt a release. We felt a release. As an organization, as a city, as a state, as a country. We can see a future where there’s more possibility. Where there’s a black woman in office. Where the White House could look more like the people that it serves. We see a path forward. It will be hard work, progress will be slow, but I think we can all feel a collective weight off our shoulders. I know, this is the first time I breathed a deep breath in a very long time. 

Yet, I also know that racism, hetero-paternalism, and xenophobia didn’t disappear overnight. On Saturday, I was just as likely to be pulled over, arrested, and potentially killed by police as I would have been Friday evening. My kids would still see images of whiteness as a default, and told their brown skin and African curls aren’t ‘beautiful.’ Many of the youth we serve would remain outsiders inside the only country they’ve known, and my non binary friends and colleagues would still have to click ‘other,’ on medical forms. There may have been a historic election of many firsts, but until we no longer need to add the moniker of ‘first (fill in the blank)’ there is still work to do.

Arts Corps will continue the work we have been doing for twenty years, serving over 3000 youth in south King County. Arts Corps will remain one of the only organizations consistently employing teaching artists and providing creative outlets for families across the region. Arts Corps will still make strides in providing our culturally responsive arts based framework to educators across the world. Arts Corps will do all of the above and more, but it will happen without me, as the Executive Director. 

Though the timing is coincidental with the election cycle, my decision was not predicated on the outcome. Working on advocacy and policy has been of interest to me since I quit acting and became a full time educator in New York City. As happenstance would have it, I was recently presented with the opportunity to be the Executive Director of Mentor Washington, and organization that does advocacy and policy work centered on youth development. At the same time, Arts Corps became a tighter and stronger organization, and most importantly, a stable organization.

Leaving Arts Corps has been one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make, yet I realized that like the White House, new leadership was required. That leadership will come from Carrie Siahpush, our current Director of Development and Communications, who has been with Arts Corps for over four years. She will step in the role as our Interim Executive Director, and I have nothing but faith that she will steward Arts Corps through the next phase, and into another 20 years of amazing arts based programming. Carrie brings with her a focus and acumen needed to keep pushing towards meeting Arts Corps’ mission. She is both an incredibly successful fundraiser and astute at administrative management. She is passionate and she is thoughtful. She is awesome. 

Like the release I felt during the 2016 World Series, like we all felt after the 2020 election results, we are excited about the future of Arts Corps. Though I will no longer work here, I will hold it dearly in my heart, and “stan” from the sidelines. Much love to Arts Corps, to the teaching artists, the board, the staff, the youth, the community, and to our supporters. As I am writing our catchphrase for the final time, I hope we can all continue, no matter what, no matter who, no matter how, to Make Art Anyway. 

Bless up,
James

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Out of the Storm

A tractor was upside down on the street, the top of the license plate scraping the concrete. Trees were knocked down, as were power lines. Sand and dried salt water dusted everything, in sight. A house was somehow on the opposite side of the street from where its foundation lay. 

SuperStorm Sandy hit NYC in 2012, and to prepare for the storm, my family and I stocked up on food, water, candy, and beer. We didn’t know what would happen, and we didn’t want to freak out our three-year old twins, so we turned the lights out and played in-the-dark singing. When the storm actually touched down, the wind whistled past our windows, and the frames shook. There was some heavy rain, but that was the extent of the storm, from our perspective. When we turned the news on, we saw the real damage to the city. Subways were flooded and the Hudson River splashed onto western side of Manhattan, Statue of Liberty in the hazy background. Trees fell down, and homes were demolished. The parts of New York closest to the water were hit the hardest and it was there, in a part of Queens called The Rockaways, where I saw that house on the wrong side of the street.

I was working as a teaching artist for many different organizations in NYC at the time and had worked with some of the students in The Rockaways. I felt a sense of inertia because I didn’t know if there was anything that I could personally do, besides donate to food banks and housing assistance programs. One of the organizations, the New Victory Theater, called a handful of us and suggested we go to The Rockaways and do some playmaking with the youth. I was more than happy to offer my services, but wondered why the hell we would do some play-making when kids were hungry and living in shelters. 

The trains weren’t able to go to The Rockaways because there was no electricity and buses were very much delayed because of the damage to the areas. So, we woke up early, got into a large rented van to drive from midtown Manhattan to The Rockaways. The news coverage showed some of the damage of the storm, but it was nothing compared to what we saw when we arrived.

In addition to the wrongly situated and damaged personal items that I mentioned, there weren’t any lights on anywhere and it was desolate. Those that were able to evacuate did, but not everyone had the means to do that. Fifty- three people died and many, many more were displaced. Thousands of homes and several hundred vehicles were destroyed. It is estimated that 19 billion dollars worth of damage was done to the New York Metro area. When we arrived, days had passed since the storm and the impact was still very raw and real. 

We arrived by van and parked several blocks from the ocean, where there were several housing project buildings in close proximity to each other. People were outside, and they watched us approach. Most of the faces were black and brown with a mix of old and young. Some of the youth must have been in the same clothes they had on when the storm hit because the clothes were stained white by the saltwater. On the ground there was sand everywhere, and it was blowing softly down the street. After we parked the car, we headed inside of the dimly lit recreation center, where there were tables filled with packaged foods, drinks, plates, and utensils.

We were guided to a couple areas where we could set up activities. The visual arts station had crayons, paper, scissors, and other items. We also had a skills section set up where youth could work on creating a clowning skit, and learn juggling, hula-hooping, and balancing skills. Lastly, there was the physical comedy/ acrobatic station where youth could create pyramids with their bodies or attempt a new physical skill. 

I headed to the clowning area outside, ready to begin teaching some physical comedy and object balancing. We pulled out feathers, scarves, and plates to juggle, as the young people started to pick which area they wanted to focus on first. Not more than 3 minutes passed before there was the familiar sound of children laughing and smiling. Parents and elders were called and told to ‘Watch’…’Hey, look at me!’ and some of the adults started to participate, as well. During a break to grab some water, I happened to look around and saw happiness and joy, where earlier there was sadness and gloom.

One hundred people or more were gathering in the middle of the street, participating in some form of arts education, and though they may not have had electricity or running water, they had each other and they had the arts. It was at this moment, that the power of the arts to change lives, even during dire circumstances, was showcased and embraced. I had been considering a retirement from acting to focus on education, full time, and this experience confirmed my decision. I saw the New Victory Theatre lead that charge in these communities that had been suffering, and it cemented my love for that organization, specifically, and for arts education, in general. 

Eight years later, we are in the midst of another life altering event, this time on a much larger scale. The novel coronavirus has accounted for 30 million infections and almost 1 million deaths, worldwide. Businesses have been shuttered since March and many remain unemployed, most of whom are artists and gig workers.  The New Victory Theater closed its doors in March 2020 and remains closed until theaters can reopen. They have released online resources which are amazing, and it continues to be a source of inspiration for me; yet I worry about the organization that has brought so much joy and love to youth and families. 

Many artists and hourly employees remain without an income. Actors Equity Association, the union where I am a proud member, has an unemployment rate of 97%. Predictions state that two-thirds of restaurants and bars in NYC will close by December 2020. Despite the fact that Washington State boasts 10 of the wealthiest people in the world, and Bezos’ net worth almost doubled over the past year, we are faring no better. If anyone has been to downtown Seattle recently, they will confirm that it’s a ghost town. Over a hundred businesses have closed their doors permanently. This, in addition to theaters, performance halls, museums, nonprofits and those they employ struggling, and I am afraid more businesses will close before the end of 2020. 

Add to the list of issues hitting us in 2020 a revived and continued effort to end police violence, wildfires and smoke on the West Coast, hurricanes and storms on the East Coast, climate change in general, murder hornets, zombie cicadas, horrors of remote schooling, an upcoming election, and now the passing of feminist hero and judicial icon, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We are all feeling sad, depressed, hopeless, and withdrawn. We are searching for a light. We are searching for a better tomorrow. We are searching for the feeling those families had in 2012, after their lives were changed by Superstorm Sandy. We are searching for an answer. We are searching for the arts.

The arts have the power to create something out of nothing. The arts can uplift, ignite, and inform. The arts provide us with the ability to imagine a better tomorrow. When we hear music, it hits all four lobes of the brain, particularly the corticospinal portion that makes us want to move and dance. That affects the brain evoking emotions and memory. It provides a release and it unites through a common song. When we are drawing or doodling, our cortisol levels drop and our stress levels decrease.

Visual arts send a jolt to the reward pathways of our brain, decreasing our anxiety, which increases our ability to process new information. Albert Einstein said “play is the highest form of research,” so when we play, our executive functions are strengthened, helping us plan, pay attention to details, and organize our thoughts. Play enhances our gross motor skills through movement and helps with coordination. 

The arts are so essential right now, and we should do all we can to ensure the intrinsic value of the arts is accessible to all of us. Where other regions have drastically cut arts from schools, thankfully Washington State has mandated that the arts continue to be part of every student’s schooling. However, a mandate isn’t enough, as only schools with enough funding can afford to make that happen, which is where Arts Corps steps in.

Thanks to our donors and supporters, we are lucky enough to help bridge the access gap to the arts. We are also lucky that we have been able to transition to a new way of teaching and learning this year. Our classes at 6 Interagency High school sites started on the 14th. Arts Corps provides synchronous remote arts classes to the students enrolled at these schools, and we are their art credit, a credit needed to graduate from high school. Soon, we will continue our Creative Schools programs at several Highline Public Schools providing culturally responsive arts integration. We have been doing this work in Highline since 2014, and we will continue to boost academic mindsets and strengthen social emotional learning, much needed during remote learning.

Our LIT program will be entering its third year of providing hands-on training in tech skills needed to work on video game design and virtual reality filmmaking. Based on student feedback and last year’s successes, we plan to expand the number of youth from different schools that can participate, by hosting two week-long intensives during school breaks, and then a month-long summer intensive. In two weeks, the ALLI program starts, where students are paid to work in visual arts, music, and digital storytelling pathways twice a week, for ten weeks. This is different from the usual in person, two- week summer intensive, though it will be just as impactful and inspiring.

Arts Corps’ partnership with Southwest Youth Family Services remains strong and we hope to build on our work with four of their sites by also working with some of the older youth and adding an additional site, pending funding. Most of our work will be remote, synchronous teaching this year, yet we are also addressing some technology access gaps by delivering thousands of physical art kits to schools and sites in King County. This has been very successful, and this summer we were able to facilitate several live drive-through performances for youth and families  in collaboration with our partners at SWYFS. 

Complementing our work with youth, Arts Corps will provide more professional development to teachers, this school year, as well as collaborate with other sectors. We have joined the Free the Vaccine campaign with UAEM and C4AA, to help ensure that when a covid vaccine is available, it will be safe, effective, and accessible to all, regardless of income. Health Secretary Azar stated that he won’t promise that the vaccine will be affordable, which is utterly reprehensible. If this country truly wants our students and teachers to go back to school, we must make sure that a vaccine is accessible to the school communities, particularly communities where we work, as the CDC reports that of the children that have died from covid, 73% were Black and Latinx. Lastly, we are working with a network of national guilds to promote voting and voter registration. Similar to the REACT work which was a response to the murder of George Floyd and others, our Voting Values initiative will launch soon.  

I must reiterate that Arts Corps is lucky to be able to keep our doors open and continue to operate our programs. Like everyone else, we are worried about funding, sustainability, and the future of our nation, so we rely on foundations, grantors, and our community to keep us alive. My experience eight years ago in The Rockaways gave meaning to our hashtag #MakeArtAnyway. With your support, we will continue to live and breathe that motto, long into the future. 

If you believe in the power of the arts to bring something out of nothing, then help us #MakeArtAnyway by joining Art Corps’ Culture Club today. Your monthly investment will fuel our work to ignite the creative power of young people in our community, making space for them to lead us out of the storm and into the streets.

— JAMES MILES, Executive Director

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A Note from Windsor Heights


Realizar un programa para después de la escuela es muy gratificante cuando uno tiene la oportunidad de trabajar con  los chicos en persona, tengo haciendo este trabajo durante casi 20 años y nunca nos habíamos enfrentado a una situación como la que estamos viviendo ahora debido esta pandemia. Una parte importante de nuestro programa son nuestro colegas de otras agencias que nos ayudan a proporcionar diferentes actividades durante nuestro programa. Uno de nuestros grandes colegas es
Arts Corps, normalmente ellos vendrían a nuestro sitio a realizar sus diferentes actividades, pero como lo mencione anteriormente ahora tenemos que adaptarnos a esta nueva realidad. Cuando la directora de programas me hablo de una actividad que se llevaría a cabo en nuestro sitio donde viven las familias, mi primera reacción fue escéptica, los maestros del arte vendrían a hacer dos presentaciones para los estudiantes y sus familias. Honestamente no pensé que esto funcionaria debido a que teníamos que tener en consideración toda la logística para llevar a cabo dicha actividad.  Además, que no estaba segura de que tanto las familias participarían.


Fue  muy grato darme cuenta de que estaba equivocada,  las dos actividades que los maestros presentaron, no solo fueron hermosas, sino que además trajeron a las familias mucha alegría. Fue maravilloso ver a los chicos asomándose a la ventana, cantando, bailando, tomando fotos y videos y disfrutando de las canciones que una de la maestra presento. La actividad de la segunda semana fue increíble ya que estaba relacionada con la cultura de las familias con las cuales trabajamos, yo pude inmediatamente darme cuenta de que ofrecerles algo culturalmente relevante para ellos es muy importante.  Mi corazón se alegro mucho al ver a los padres bailando en su balcón y a los chicos salir de su apartamento a bailar. En estos momentos de angustia y soledad poder proporcionar un poco de alegría a las familias es maravilloso. 

Gracias Arts Corps por su gran trabajo, es un placer trabajar con ustedes.  

— LUCIA MARTINEZ, Site Manager at Windsor Heights

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Why You Should Join the 2020 Arts Liberation & Leadership Institute

“A big takeaway form ALLI for me was an ability to envision happy, healthy, shame-free learning environments, and that has led me to pursue systemic changes within my school, public education in general, and other education programs.” – ALLI participant 2018

CALLING YOUTH ARTISTS 14-19!!!!

Join Arts Corps after-school this fall for a paid teen arts internship focused on creating social change through art.

The Arts Liberation & Leadership Institute (ALLI) is a paid 10-week teen leadership intensive where 25 youth are trained in artistry, social justice and organizing. Youth leaders develop as cultural workers in chosen arts pathways–Visual Arts, Digital Storytelling, and Music. This cohort of youth hones their arts and organizing skills, while deepening their understandings of race and social justice issues. They collaborate, build community and create art that challenges oppression and envisions a more just world.

Sound like you or a youth you know? Apply today! Applications open now until Monday September 14, 2020. 

ALLI 2020 takes place online via zoom. Tuesdays and Wednesday afternoons October 6th – December 9th, exact time TBD but around 3:00pm-5:30pm. Final ALLI showcase Saturday, December 12th. Youth are paid a $350 stipend for participation.

What’s awesome about ALLI? Here’s what one participant had to say last year:

 “The guidance from leaders, the connections with people in my community who are just as passionate about art and authenticity as I am. The welcoming space created that allowed me to be open and vulnerable, to share and explore without fear.” –ALLI participant 2019

This year’s master teaching artist mentors include Adam Jabari Jefferson for Digital Storytelling, Maria Guillen-Valdovinos in Visual Arts, and Erica Merritt for Music. Learn more and apply here: www.artscoprs.org/alli 

Questions? Email programs@artscorps.org 

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Why We Do What We Do

I’d be lying if I said the last few weeks have been easy. I’d be lying even more if I said the last 40+ years of my life have been easy. I’d be lying if I said I had the answers. Or any answers. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel emotions. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wake up with sweaty hands every morning, and I have since I moved to Seattle. I’d be lying if I wasn’t worried about my children, or my brother’s child, or any child, especially Black and Brown children stuck in an educational system that doesn’t value their humanity or existence. I’d be lying if I ever felt calm. 

But I’d be telling the truth when I say I am scared.

At age 10, an officer held a gun to my head because I was racing my cousin as we left a mall. He pulled out the gun and asked if I’d stolen anything. And when he couldn’t find anything on me, he said I was “lucky” because he could have told my parents. It would be several years before I realized he had no reason to stop me, let alone conduct a search.

At age 17, I went to jail for looking at graffiti while waiting on the train:

Cop: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Nothing.”

Cop: (Referring to graffiti) “Did you do that?”

Me: No.

Cop: “I don’t believe you… prove it.”

Me: (Taking off my bag) “OK.”

Cop: “Why are you removing your bag? You trying to run away?”

Me: “No.”

Cop: “OK, smart guy. You’re going downtown for destruction of property and resisting arrest.”

I ended up in jail for the night. For no reason. 

In my mid twenties I was enrolled at Brandeis University’s MFA program. I worked at the local movie theatre in Waltham, MA, 10 miles west of Boston. Our uniform at the movie theatre consisted of a white shirt, black tie, slacks, and dress shoes. Although it was a laid-back work environment, we were all avid film fans and therefore took our work very seriously. We often argued over whether The Godfather or The Godfather II was the best movie ever made; we resoundingly hated The Blair Witch Project, which, unfortunately, was showing on two screens. Our distaste stemmed from the fact that before patrons could acclimate to its handheld camera work they would vomit in the aisles, leaving us to take turns sweeping up human bile in the darkened theaters. One night on my walk home from work, two police officers pulled up and blocked my path with their cruiser.

“Where you going?”

“Home.”

“Oh, really? And where, pray tell, might you live?” (I pointed at my house, which was across the street.)

“And where were you before… if you’re going home now?” (I turned around and pointed at the movie theatre, 20 feet from where I stood.)

“You sure you didn’t rape anybody? We got a call that there’s a rapist matching your profile.”

“My profile? In Waltham? I’m the only person in Waltham that looks like me. I work twenty feet in that direction and live twenty yards in that direction. I know that can’t be true… sirs.”

“Watch yourself. Don’t want you getting into trouble. We suggest you go inside and don’t come out.”

I walked away from the cruiser and toward my house. My roommates were hanging out in the kitchen and I told them what happened. They were outraged but not surprised — they were also Black and two of them were from Boston proper. During the school-sponsored “House Hunting Weekend,” we were the only Black grad students in attendance. Understanding that it was Boston, and that we were definitely “other,” we figured there was strength in numbers. And somehow we were able to find a place not too far from campus, though if I remember correctly, only the other light-skinned roommate and I ever met the realtors in person — she was accompanied by her parents and I wore a shirt and tie… the same shirt and tie I had on when confronted by police and accused of rape.

Those are just a couple stories from my experiences with the police, and are tame compared to the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jamel Floyd, Charleena Lyles, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and… many, many, many more.

In fact, I almost didn’t share these stories because I didn’t want to add the trauma of other folks that have been lost loved ones due to police actions. I am only sharing to write about how I dealt with these traumatic experiences. It was through art. All of the above stories have been taken from other pieces of writing I have done. By writing about these interactions, I have been able to find a way to process my grief. Using my art form of theater, I have been able to translate those experiences into characters I have portrayed, and stories I have told to audiences. It has helped me navigate the life I live through creative expression. It has helped capture an archival moment of my life that I have passed onto my children, so they know that though this may happen to us, it doesn’t define us. We are more than our interactions with police. We are more than a hashtag. We are more than what they see(and don’t see) on TV. 

We are the wildest dreams of our ancestors. Art has the power to uplift, incite, and change the world. That’s why we do what we do at, Arts Corps. To provide a platform for youth to talk about and through things that they are unable to do, in a typical classroom, or school setting. It is why during school closures, we didn’t miss a beat, and immediately started to make online content for students. We made culturally responsive coloring books. We made activity books, and passed out art kits where free lunches are distributed. It is why we have kept paying our teaching artists, our wonderful amazing teaching artists, because we know that the work they do provides a beacon of light for youth and families in our region. It is our raison d’etre. It is why we Make Art Anyway.

But the future is uncertain. We don’t know when our economy will recover. We don’t know when we will be able to be back in schools. We don’t know when we will be able to shake each other’s hands again, hug each other again, hold each other again. We will need to make some serious shifts in programming to better meet the needs of youth and their families. We will need to reimagine what Arts Corps will do, and potentially what Arts Corps can no longer do. 

We do know that we will continue to center the voices and experiences of the youth we serve. We know that we will still prioritize the TAs that lead the work in the communities, in and around Seattle. We know that gig workers have been hit the hardest, during this pandemic, so we are dedicated to hiring more part time salaried TAs, providing them with a steady income and health insurance. As we are in the midst of financial recession, coupled with loss of expected revenue for the coming year, we have had to make some cuts and shifts in programming.

Below is a list of we will plan on doing in the upcoming year: 

    • Thanks to secure funding, we will continue our Creative Schools LAB program at Hazel Valley, Mt View, and hopefully MLK Elementary Schools.
    • Although we will continue to work with Interagency sites, it will be in much smaller doses, and we will be providing curriculum, career exploratory learning, and the arts credit these students need to graduate high school. 
    • Provide professional development for HPS, SPS, other school districts(TBD). 
    • LIT will move from a six month long program to a Spring Break Intensive and Summer Intensive, pending funding.
    • ALLI will be postponed from Summer 2020, to Fall 2020, so that we can best plan for virtual workshops that would be engaging to the youth, as we probably won’t be able to meet, in person.
    • We will deliver Art Kits to all New Future sites and Art Space sites, as we won’t be able to meet with those youth in person.
    • We will start Strategic Planning, ASAP, to further align our mission and work.
    • We continue to facilitate workshops, write blog posts and journal entries, speak at international conferences, and advocate for educational policy shift in Olympia through emails, calls, letters. 
  •  
    • As some of our partner programs have successfully become their own non-profit organizations, we are left critically thinking about how we work with teens in our community. We will take time to reimagine our Teen Leadership programs to be efficient and stronger. 

Things are changing so quickly, and so drastically, this list might evolve and change again, as we work to best serve our community and partners. What will stay the same is that we will stay to true to our mission of revolutionizing arts education, and our creativity and innovation will guide us forward. 

Stay safe and healthy.

— JAMES MILES, Executive Director

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