The Arts are ‘Essential’


On Monday night, Governor Inslee mandated that Washington residents must ‘shelter in place.’ All non-essential businesses were ordered to close and we were all urged to both stay inside and to drastically limit interactivity with anyone outside of the immediate household. These measures were an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. We are in unprecedented times and we need to do a better job of looking out for one another. California, New York, and Chicago instituted the mandate earlier, and I only wish we had done it sooner.

When I awoke today, I picked up my phone, as I’ve been doing more frequently and with more rapacity recently, and checked out what was, in fact, essential business: groceries, gas, sanitation, food, defense, and health care. We stocked up a couple days ago, but with the four of us home all the time, we definitely needed to get more food, soap, and other sundries. As soon as I sat at my computer to start my day, my phone pings to let me know that my local dispensary is open. This makes sense as marijuana helps some people engage in the world around them, helps others express themselves, and releases stress for those that partake. I have a lot of anxiety as a black man raising two black girls in Seattle, especially now that we are living amidst a global pandemic. My local dispensary has been readily utilized.

So, if dispensaries, like liquor stores are open and considered essential for daily life, how do those under the age of 21 engage in their world, express themselves, or relieve their stress? Well, that is obviously the arts.

As Audre Lorde stated, “the arts are not a luxury.”

As Einstein writes, “Play is the highest form of research.”

As Marina Abramović writes: “Art must be life — it must belong to everybody.”

And as author and motivational speaker Brené Brown states, “Art has the power to render sorrow beautiful, make loneliness a shared experience, and transform despair into hope.”

Arts are essential and provide the needed support, relief, and guidance that makes the world tick. Yet, they are still relegated to the ‘Other,’ They are as necessary to our wellbeing as the food we eat, the healthcare we need, and the toilet paper we hoard. The arts are even more essential now that we are trying to derive meaning from a world that we have never experienced. It will outlast all of us and it will tell the story of our times to future generations.

While schools are out, families are at home with their children for an extended time, possibly for the first time in a long time. They are searching for activities for their kids to do. They are searching for learning materials to keep their young people engaged in school work. They are worried about rent, bills, groceries, They are searching for an escape from the monotony of being at home every day. They are hoping for a brighter day. They are seeking more art in their lives.

As we are working with our young ones, let’s please remember to add arts to their daily schedule. Before ‘shelter in place,’ we passed out arts kits to childcare centers in the Highline School District.

Arts Corps is now releasing instructional videos, lesson plans, and other resources on our website, but we aren’t the only ones trying to #MakeArtAnyway. Coyote Central has an amazing list of arts activities. Pacific Northwest Ballet is teaching ballet online. Creative Advantage is creating videos to be shared on SPS YouTube channel. The New Victory Theater is creating Arts Breaks every week for families and children. The Globe is streaming Shakespeare plays straight to the viewer. Artist Home has created a list of virtual music teachers for young people interested in learning an instrument. Creative Generation has also created #KeepMakingArt for their campaign to bring awareness and support to artists and arts organizations. Adobe and Avid are providing free software. Comcast is offering free internet. There are too many to list here, but Arts Corps will continue to post artistic resources to add to the list weekly.

On Instagram Live, musicians have been streaming live performances to get you moving, providing a welcome respite from the newsfeed. From Questlove, 9thWonder, DJ Premier, Erykah Badu, to John Mayer, and Jon Bon Jovi, thousands have been tuning in. The Saturday sessions from 1980s hip hop wunderkind, D-Nice, had 200,000 viewers watching as he deejayed for 10 hours straight. Even Oprah Winfrey and former First Lady Michelle Obama tuned along with a host of other celebrities. It proves that everyone needs art and artists now, and that the arts are one of life’s essentials.

As my own children have started to record cooking videos for their friends, making stop motion movies, I know they are not alone. My brother and sister-in-law did live stand-up sets for Comedy Central. My mom is taking arts classes online.

What are you doing? What does #MakeArtAnyway mean to you? Share your story to info@artscorps.org so we can spread love with the rest of the Arts Corps community.

— JAMES MILES, Executive Director

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Arts Corps’ COVID-19 Response

 

I loved, loved, loved, Mork and Mindy. I loved the comedy. I loved the characters. I loved the story. To me, Robin Williams was a god. His energetic humor and boundless happiness made me sing. He made me want to be an actor, a comedian, and a human beacon of love.

A couple years later, I saw the play, Merchant of Venice, at the Goodman Theatre, starring Paul Butler, a black actor, as Shylock. His daughter, Jessica, was played by an Asian American actor. It was the first time I saw an actor onstage that looked like me and talked like me. I turned to my friends and said, “yo that’s us!” I was 16 years old.

That’s why I’m here today. To bring love like Robin Williams, and to represent the faces of my students like Paul Butler. I wouldn’t have been the actor I was, the educator I am, the future that my children will be, if the arts were absent from my life. Arts changes live and puts a mirror to the world in which we live. My wife is an artist. My brother is an artist. My sister in law is an artist. Art has shaped the world around me and for others to not experience the power of art, is pure travesty.

I also know the WHO declared that COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and the White House declared the outbreak a national emergency. Restaurants are closing. Hotels are closing. Schools are closed. People are out of work, and we are wondering where our next check is coming from. We haven’t experienced such global impact since the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Everyone is straight up stressed!

Yet still, we must not forget the arts. They make the world a better place. They uplift society. They are the light in the darkness. We can’t neglect art and artists. Art showed me a world I didn’t know could be imagined. It has given me pride and has provided a platform for me to express the humanity of the world’s inhabitants. During this time of uncertainty, it is crucial that we remember our first movie and our first play. The first time we felt seen or heard. Then we must see and understand our children’s artistry and experiences. We must make a better future than the one we have inherited. We must have arts. We must make art. We must keep pushing. In spite of anything, or maybe because of everything, we must #MakeArtAnyway.

Here, at Arts Corps, we are continuing to pay ALL of our staff and TAs. Both the LIT and Spokes programs will continue as students will work online, and remotely with our teaching artists. We are finding ways for teaching artists to support families, who are now at home with their children for an extended amount of time, by providing them with art supplies and activities for families to keep. Our 20th Anniversary Fundraising Gala, FESTA, has been reimagined to now be an online livestreaming event, featuring TAs, staff, and youth alumni performing for a national audience.

If you are a funder, grantor, donor, we ask that you offer relief to non-profits of program deliverables during a time of crisis. We also ask that you do not withhold, or limit, funding at this time of need. We are incredibly appreciative of those that are able to navigate the changing situations daily, by extending deadlines, offering open online support, waiving fees, and finding ways to offer financial support. To paraphrase a recent ArtsFund email, “a loss of revenue is a loss of the funds that provide paychecks for artists, staff, and contract workers.” We are the cultural fabric of the region, and we are woven together through everyone’s support.

Support your local artists and hold us close. We are all that we have.

Bless up,

James

P.S. Check out our Online Learning page, where our teaching artists are creating online content, step-by-step instruction, and simple activities that you can do from home. 

DOWNLOAD THE EVENT’S PRESS RELEASE HERE

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CHANGES

A new year marks a new beginning. For the past several years we have been under attack by policies set up by the current administration. There have been upticks of hate crimes in places where our president speaks and counties where he has won. He’s ridiculed and attacked women and people of color that are critical of his work.

The immigration protocols that are supposed to make this country the best in the world have made the US look inhumane: minimizing access to SNAP benefits, threatening civilians overseas, and openly cavorting with foreign governments to interfere with domestic elections. He’s even besmirched a teen climate activist.

Now that our president has been acquitted of impeachment charges, I know many of us are thinking, “will anything change, or will he be held accountable?”

Xenophobia and nativism are not solely US issues. From the deforestation and colonization of indigenous lands in Brazil, to the dismantling of the rights of Muslims in India and China, we are experiencing threats to our freedom, globally.

This year was the last year Arts Corps will have been a recipient of the New Executive Fund. This award is given to new leaders of non- profits that work in human rights. Arts Corps is one of the only arts organizations to receive this grant and we are the only education-focused organization in the last three years.

It has been an honor to receive acknowledgment from George Soros, a known advocate for equity and justice. Recently, he pledged $1 billion to fund a new university network that would tackle nationalism, namely in the countries mentioned above.

My last international trip was several months earlier, in April, in Germany, when I was working with UAEM. As you know, I had difficulties enjoying it completely, so I was eager to have a better time in Spain. Spain had been experiencing some protests and unrest, regarding Catalan becoming an independent republic, separate from Spanish government. Catalan has a distinct language and culture and almost operates as an autonomous community. Yet it is still a part of Spain. The people are split about whether or not this should move forward, but 12 activists and politicians were recently sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for sedition. People immediately took the streets to protest the convictions, or to support the decision.

In Catalan’s biggest city, Barcelona, however, there was little I saw in terms of protest or unrest. It reminded me of a sleepy port town in rural Maine. I was expecting something out of Vicky Christina Barcelona, with vibrant colors, beautiful people in fancy clothes, and delicious food. Instead it was more like… well a sleepy port town in rural Maine.

After eating dinner and recovering from jet lag, all of the new executives gathered for our first session the following day. Looking around, I noticed a big difference, even from two years ago. Most of the executives in attendance were of color and the number of non-binary and trans executives tripled. It was first time that I sat in a room of C Level folks and they looked like me and were from similar communities to the ones Arts Corps serves.

A noticeable exhalation happened as others noticed the same. We were coming from all over the globe and this year also had more representatives from the Global South. It was an amazing feeling to be in a group where you’re not the “other.” I’ll speak for myself, but I’m sure others felt similarly, like we aren’t in this alone.

Then we started talking about our work in human rights and our work as leaders within that field. We spoke of issues familiar to all non- profits: lack of funding, overworked staff, work feeling like its never finished, out of touch funders, and love of our work despite all of that.

It didn’t take long to get deeper though. We spoke of operating within the non- profit industrial complex based in patriarchy and white supremacy. We spoke of the disparity of philanthropic resources available to people like us that didn’t come from those communities. We spoke of the lack of trust funders have in POC, queer, non-English speaking, immigrant, and trans communities. We discussed how the current political environment is making our work more difficult, and for some physically dangerous.

Quite a number of my colleagues talked about armed forces trying to stop the work of non-profits. Some spoke of being forced to leave the country they’re operating in, for fear of violence. While the name George Soros brings some cache to US-based human rights organizations like Arts Corps, his name is anathema to countries and communities being led by oppressive dictators.

For those that inherited the leadership role from a white cis predecessor, we spoke about the difficulties in doing so. Even though, my predecessor was incredibly helpful and supportive, still to this day, there’s no denying we are held to different standards. By funders, by our community, and by our staff. The internal conflicts sometimes matched the vigor of the external conflicts for many of us.

One ED said it best, when she said, “We are in a state of crisis, and there’s no end in sight.”

I sat there staring at the floor, tears forming in my eyes. The work of providing the Maslovian needs to people that have been stripped of their humanity should not be this difficult. We are all working for a better world, but the cards are stacked up against us. A couple of my colleagues were leaving the non-profit sector and others gave themselves a definitive end date, not far from today. We were all hurting, and luckily, we had one another with whom we could commiserate.

The work of human rights is draining but it needs to be done. Communities have had their resources taken from them and we must fulfill those needs, but only by competing with one another and for fraction of the costs that it takes to meet those needs. The disparity between the haves and have nots is growing yet philanthropy overall hasn’t changed much. In fact, the wealthy are giving less and it’s our communities who suffer.

What do we do?

Obviously, using the “master’s tools” aren’t working, and haven’t worked, as Audre Lorde predicted decades ago. We need another tool. My question is can art be that tool?

If art can be the tool for black liberation as Alain Locke writes, can it also be the tool to liberate others?

If we look at Great Depression, and how the Harlem Renaissance provided both pride and a source of income, could we continue that modus operandi in 2020? Look at how Manchester addresses their homeless problem with the arts. How the arts are a central core to Finland’s education system, which is the best in the world. How the work of Amplifier, in Seattle, sheds a light on issues facing us, locally, and across the US. How the group Appetite for Change uses hip hop to bring awareness to healthy living.

How the work of my friend, playwright Mathilde Dratwa, whom provides a perspective to the misogyny of David Mamet writing about #metoo, a world in which he is oblivious. Akwafina winning a golden globe for telling her Asian American story. Bong Joon-Ho winning Best International Film, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay for the Korean language film, Parasite. Art provides voice to those whose voice wasn’t valued. It provides an expression of how we feel and an outlet for how we want to shape the world.

Art is liberation and artists are the liberators. Though we all may feel downtrodden, let us remember the arts. Let’s look to artists and believe in their visions and let’s be artists that make our own world. Let’s Make Art Anyway and know that there is no better resistance to oppression than that of creativity.

— JAMES MILES, Executive Director

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Spokes Application Now Open for 2019/2020

Calling all Youth POETS!

We’re looking for fierce young artists (aged 14-19) who want to create change through community organizing, performance events and artistry!

SPOKES is the youth leadership body of Youth Speaks Seattle. This crew of young leaders commits to a 7-month internship where they lead arts showcases, open mics, writing circles, poetry slams and produce a poetry chapbook. They meet weekly for leadership development in event planning, public speaking, facilitation as well as building their social justice analysis through artistry and cultural work.

Questions? Please email spokes@artscorps.org

APPLY TODAY

Applications due by October 22nd!
#artsed #edquity

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What does revolution mean to you?

 

 

What does revolution mean to you?

Some students have already started, but most public schools across the country start school this week. It is another year of the doldrums, where students are equally excited and horrified about returning to their schoolhouse. Another year of 21st century students learning in a 19th century model. Another year of students reading books about people or subjects that have no relevance to them. Another year of students staring outside, yearning to play, but stuck inside memorizing facts so that they may take a test that has nothing to do with knowledge or comprehension. Another year of mostly white teachers teaching mostly black and brown youth. Another year where the achievement gap remains unchanged.

So, what are we gonna do about it? How do we change these modes of educating our youth? How do prepare teachers to be effective and engaging? How do we trust our teachers to do their job, and have their achievement based on student comprehension and not on standardized tests? How do we trust our students to be more than empty vessels that need to be “filled,” and that we, adults, know all of the answers? How do we uplift the black and brown children that have been forgotten and discarded for 400 years and 15 days?

How do we revolutionize education?

That’s a question Arts Corps has been seeking to answer for the past two years, if not longer. We were founded on the principles of providing access to arts education to students that previously did not have it. We were founded to provide a place for teaching artists to work in their field, with youth who did not know that you could be an artist. We were founded to “Make Art Anyway.” 

But what does that mean? 

Author and Nobel Prize winner, Andre Gide said “Art begins with resistance – at the point where resistance is overcome.” Artists are the resistance and by making art anyway, we are combating oppression and creating a better world. By making art anyway, we are telling our education system that our voice matters. That through our expression, we are demonstrating comprehension of the world in which we live, and how we can operate within it. Using art as our tool, we are showcasing cultures of people around the globe, the people that look like our students, the people that are our students. This year, we are going to be working closely with teaching artists and classroom teachers to shift the culture of school to be more inclusive. We are going to work with students and ignite the creative power of youth, and we are going to work with our community to build a better education system for all of our youth.

What does revolution mean to you?

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Accessing Creative Technology with LIT

“The really exciting thing about emerging tech is that it’s constantly changing, and that means that anybody could shape it. And it means that students of color could shape it.” – Netsanet Tjirongo, filmmaker, LIT teaching artist

This year I’ve had the privilege of documenting a revolutionary new program at Arts Corps, in partnership with Reel Grrls, called LIT!

Student holds his arms straight out to his sides while he is scanned by another person with a virtual 360 scanner.
Fabian is scanned so he can be turned into a virtual 360 model.

LIT, which stands for Learning Immersive Technology, engaged students from Big Picture High School in Virtual Reality game development, audio production, and 360 filmmaking in order to develop as artists, technology innovators, and to prepare them for 21st Century Careers in the emerging arts and tech industries. The students were able to explore all three types of technology with expert teaching artists and then dove into one area for their final projects, collaborating between departments as they would in a real-world production environment.

From behind: student and teaching artist look at a music project in Logic on a computer screen and talk about the composition.
Noel works with Matt to create original music in Logic.

When talking with Noel, one of the students focusing on music production, he showed me the four tracks he had created for another student, Fabian’s VR experience. He also mentioned that he really liked music production and that he wanted to continue coming to the studio to make music at Totem Star – one of our partner organizations that runs the recording studio that the students used during LIT – even after the program was over.

Chatting with Vanessa – whom you’ll meet in this short video – I learned that she not only produced music for her friend Faith’s 360 film, but also enjoyed the process so much that she produced music to pair with various paintings that she was creating for a school project on Chicano art murals and the Chicano movement to fight for the rights of farmworkers.

Yet another student, Azariah, recalled how she had been interested in writing screenplays since she was five years old, and through the LIT program, she learned how to professionally format a script. She now sees herself turning her vision into something that people would enjoy watching on screen.

Student helps an Arts Corps staff member put on the VR headset to view the experience.
Eli helps an Arts Corps staff member adjust the headset to view his VR experience.

It’s clear that the students in the program gained much more than the ability to model a virtual world, capture a 360 scene, or put sounds together to make a song. At the culmination, all of the students were finding applications for these new skills in their everyday lives. They were able to talk confidently about the technology, talk about their work, and represent themselves proudly at public presentations in front of friends, family, and industry experts.

This video is a window into these students’ experiences, and it is only a preview. The extended feature will be released later this year.

The extended version of this film will give more context to the landscape of immersive technology outside of just the LIT program. It will explore the possibilities of what the industry could look like if young people who have historically been denied access to emerging technology, are at the forefront of shaping its’ future.

-AMY L. PIÑON, Creative Media Producer

 

 

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It isn’t always easy

It’s not always easy.

As many of you know, Arts Corps is experiencing some unrest and change, and the pain has been palpable. 

In the past several months, we’ve had to navigate the dismissals and resignations of key staff. Some of these changes surprised and disappointed members of our team, who shared that disappointment with the community. Heartbreak was felt all around.

While ensuring first and foremost that our student instruction wasn’t impacted in the short-term, we immediately doubled down on the hard long work of mending hearts and mapping steps to help us come out the other side stronger and more whole.

We held a gathering for our staff and teachers designed as an opportunity for healing and mediation within our organization. We then worked with our board to hire a respected, independent, and professional facilitator. Dr. Taylor was brought in to lead our mediations because she is a highly-regarded expert mediator specializing in equity and inclusion. She is here to guide us and to help ensure staff and faculty are respected and heard around the issues Arts Corps is grappling with. Dr. Taylor has not previously worked with James, or Arts Corps, which was one of many considerations by our board to ensure this facilitator would be unbiased. While some staff declined to participate in our first mediation, we are holding our second mediation tomorrow and remain hopeful staff and teaching artists will work together with us to continue evolving this organization to better serve everyone. At the request of staff, I’ll also, as Board President, be present at the mediation. 

We are looking at everything from organizational hierarchies to how we can increase pay and support for teachers and staff-members at a faster pace than previously thought possible. Our decisions will be made with great care, incorporating the guidance of a representative group of experts, our community, our supporters, and our board.

Since our inception nearly 20 years ago, Arts Corps has strived to be a light for young people in our city, providing music, poetry, theater, visual arts and more to those who couldn’t access it otherwise. We aimed to ensure the teaching artists providing instruction were highly valued in word and deed to reflect the deep respect we have for them and their work.

We are a man of color and a woman of color. Many of our teachers and staff members are people of color coming from multiple intersectional identities, as are the students we serve. But our demographic statistics don’t, on their own, change the imbalance of power felt by many within our own organization or organizations like ours.

Throughout all of this, one thing is clear, and has always been clear: we believe in the importance of empowering and changing the lives of young people through arts education. And we are committed to doing everything we can to listen, learn, facilitate and support this work in the best ways possible for students, teachers, staff and our community. 

It’s not always easy. But it is unquestionably worth it. 

– James Miles and Tanisha Felder

 

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