What’s Beyond Free Pizza?: Mentorship, Adultism and Building Equitable Intergenerational Movements

From Denver to Seattle, to whatever city Brave New Voices finds its annual home, I’ve always loved being one voice in a chorus of youth shouting, “Youth right now are the truth right now!” This short chant, cheered at nearly every Youth Speaks Seattle open mic and slam, still rings electric in my throat when I yell it. To honor the expansiveness and power of youth art and movement might mean allowing “the next generation to speak for itself”. As someone who gets to witness visionary art and organizing from the YSS Spokes on a regular basis, this possibility feels… possible (fancy that). Even more, it feels creative, productive and revolutionary.

Arts Corps + Youth Speaks Spokes celebrating their graduation from the Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute (ALLI)


Yet, for many [adult-run] community organizations and spaces, adults struggle to envision how youth can take part in conversations about programs and services, even if they are the intended audience. Often, this is a result of ‘adultism’ (and how it interacts with racism, classism, ableism, sexism, homophobia and more), a term meaning the “prejudice and accompanying systematic discrimination against young people”. In an adult-defined world, youth don’t get much say in the systems they are forced to navigate, sometimes without support. Activist and youth worker Paul Kivel offers a more in-depth article about how adultism can play out: https://www.paulkivel.com/resources/articles/23-article/83-adultism

I’ve heard fellow youth organizers joke about how adults always say “Free Pizza!” as a way to entice youth to show up to programs that adults planned for them. While free pizza is definitely a legit reason to attend an event (this is not a request to stop offering free food – lets keep feeding youth), but why is that a main strategy for adults to engage youth? What would free pizza look like if we added youth collaboration and leadership to the menu?

I’m excited to live in a city where visionary youth-driven/led organizing has thrived. It’s been a tremendous learning experience to watch youth and adults negotiate how genuine youth leadership can take shape, beyond tokenization or lip service. From Seattle Young People’s Project and Queer Youth Space to YSS itself, there are some radical role models in town to push forward the conversation of youth-centric movements & orgs. (And of course, badass youth-driven orgs extend beyond Seattle, check out Fierce and Youth Speaks National, just to name a few…)

Ken Arkind, organizer and mentor for Denver Minor Disturbance

Coming up in the Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Slam, being a youth poet part of a larger youth movement was strengthened by amazing adult allies. Though I wasn’t using terms like ‘adultism’ and ‘ally’, I knew that my fierce mentors helped transform my agency and poetry by dedicating endless time and energy investing in youth poets. Slams were all ages and warmly intergenerational, with many bonds formed between youth and adults artists. Surely, many audience members thought, “Oh, those youth poets are so adorably angry!”, assuming our passion wasn’t to be taken seriously, seen as simply something we’d outgrow. But among the adult poets, we were given the chance to spit, share awe and even beat the grown ups. At the end of the day, the amount of magic that I felt my mentors possessed kept me coming back to them with trust and inspiration. They were the experts, the teachers, the wise elders that pushed me to find my own voice on the mic. Now, I see that they did not “have all the answers” but rather they asked me the right questions.

Now, as I begin to age out of my youth identity, I start to find myself on that other side of mentorship. What does it mean for me to grow into the role of a mentor? An adult ally to young folks? How can our communities be intergenerational and maintain a keen analysis of adultism and its intersecting oppressions? What does “youth-led” mean in practice? And where do adults and mentors fit in, with all of our varied experiences and identities? As a young person, I saw first hand exactly how transformative mentorship could be to young artists and activists. Accountable and intentional mentorship creates space for youth to work through thought processes, refine skills and gain support from adults. How do we bridge the gaps between youth leadership and adult support in sustainable, critical and genuine ways?

If you’ve got answers, half-answers, brainstorms, pushback, questions or resources, please drop me a line to continue the conversation, at shelby.handler@artscorps.org


Further Resources:


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Meet Teaching Artist Mylen Huggins!

Teaching Artists and Classroom Assistants are invaluable members of the Arts Corps community. They contribute their time, energy and creative minds in so many different ways. Without them we would be lost. Each month, we will feature a Teaching Artist or Classroom Assistant from the Arts Corps community, and invite them to share their experiences, sources of inspiration, and thoughts on social justice. Do you have a pad of paper available? Because you’ll want to take notes!



Meet Teaching Artist Mylen Huggins! Mylen Huggins believes that the arts are an essential part of becoming an educated person. She’s a visual artist, an arts advocate, coordinator, collaborator, facilitator, volunteer; her passion to bring more arts into schools resulted in the development of a thriving arts program at a neighborhood Seattle Public School that began in 2009. She’s been teaching visual arts to young learners since her earliest days at Seattle Children’s Museum in 1996. Since then, Mylen has facilitated various art-making workshops and classes from preschool cooperatives, to after-school programs, art camps and currently at elementary schools. Mylen has exhibited paintings in different venues around Seattle. As an artist, she is greatly inspired by and thrives on the super-art powers and creativity that comes from her collaborative work with students.

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What inspired you to become a Teaching Artist? Actually, teaching found me. When my sons were in cooperative preschool, I always volunteered to organize the art activities – making props, creating masks, painting, sculpture, construction, whatever visual sensory activity and tactile projects the teacher needed help with. The best part of the whole experience was being a part of the wonderment and awe that children expressed when they discovered that they have just created art with their own two hands, conceived from their very own self, always blew me away. Or when I helped them realize something has always been there, like the color of shadows, or that objects when looked at from a certain light has a shady side or when they realize that writing their name is a form of drawing, and that all along, they have super artistic powers…it is so inspiring to be a part of that discovery and that building of confidence is for lack of a better expression, AMAZING!

What project(s) are you working on with youth right now? At Southern Heights Elementary School, a K-5 school without art instruction for the past 4 years, I worked with the teachers and principal to develop a curriculum that introduces and explores the fundamental language of visual art. The students learned that there’s not a day without line; that texture is the smoothness of their skin to the rough feel of the rug they sit on for story time, that green can be made by mixing blue and yellow, etc.  Southern Heights students are courageous, they are trying new things, they realize that imagination and creativity is always a part of them.


In addition to Southern Heights, I am also working with a group of Kindergarten and 1st grade students at Madrona Elementary School. I designed a curriculum around books that are fun, visually engaging, familiar perhaps and hoping that it would generate a visual narrative as a collage, a line drawing, a textured painting, or as a portrait. One of the first books I read to the students was Swimmy by Leo Leoni and then we used stamping inks and markers to create thumbprint fish. One student created three-dimensional eels by accordion folding paper and drawing in eyes, others combined stamping ink and markers to create their fish.  My initial plan was to have the kids glue all their fish into the shape of another big fish, just like the story, but before I made the suggestion, the eel designer exclaimed, “We should make a school of fish!!”  Brilliant, I thought. I ripped a huge sheet of blue paper, laid it out on the floor and handed out scissors and glue sticks and there on the floor was a school of kids creating a school of fish. Collaboration in action!


What do you feel is most important about the mission and work of Arts Corps? I’ve been an independent teaching artist since 2009, a volunteer art docent since 2003 and advocate for the arts for as long as I can remember. I am a passionate supporter of bringing more art into public schools – a belief that I share with Arts Corps. I am so honored to be a teaching artists for Arts Corps because I am fulfilling what I feel is my civic duty of bringing quality, high art education to school children, especially those who are underserved.

How do you incorporate social justice into your teaching?  Each student contributes to a community agreement that every one has to abide by in order to create a safe, supportive and collaborative environment. At the end of each lesson or session, we take the time to reflect on individual work or group work and provide encouraging and supportive words to make each person feel confident and successful about their work and themselves. I also make sure that the classroom teacher is included in our discussion and activities, the experience that occurs during art lessons is not just for the students, but also for the classroom teachers.


To view some of Mylen’s personal artwork, visit her website.


*Photographs by Mylen Huggins.

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CSI Artist-in-Service: Amy Pinon

“Music is the art of thinking with sounds.”  – Jules Combarieu

I'm with Amy

I am a recent graduate of The Art Institute of Seattle with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Audio Design Technology. Which is a fancy way of saying that I’ve invested a lot of time learning about the technical applications of music and sound! I am a vocalist, audio engineer, and educator. I write and perform acoustic music with my musical partner in crime, and together we form a band called I’m with Amy.

Toward the end of my time in college, I realized that I had a passion for education and I merged my love for audio with teaching by developing an audio curriculum for my Senior Portfolio. I have since taken an arts-integration approach to audio production – a personal commitment to addressing the lack of technical arts education available for young people and a nod to the opportunities I had before college to discover the world of audio production in the first place.

Our ability to learn new skills relies on the availability of programs and the support of experienced professionals to teach us. I realize I have had many teachers in my life that have gone out of their way to help me in some way. Be it a small action or a large undertaking, it is always a gesture I appreciate and would like to pay forward in my own endeavors. With a commitment to such investments in young people, we not only foster a positive creative environment, but also allow an up-and-coming generation to become more socially and civically responsible.

Music has always been the most powerful force in my life, and as such, I use it to express, create, and innovate everyday. My true passion in life is to help the next generation of aspiring young artists and engineers realize their potential through the creative processes of arts and music. I am humbled to serve as a Creative Schools Artist-in-Service at Madrona K-8 to highlight the importance of my art form in the school.



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Art as a Voice for Social Change.

Approaching Amazing Art is the title to a brand new curriculum being tested at Cleveland HS. Its a humanities curriculum that explores the power of art in Social Movements.  As teaching artists at Cleveland we’ve been invited to help deepen the curriculum.

Culminating the unit each student will complete the following project:
1. Create a work of art that has a message or makes a difference.
2. Make a video documenting the experience of envisioning, designing, creating, and performing or displaying the piece,
3. Write an artist statement to accompany the piece.”

A group of students have stepped up to help create an gallery event for their fellow students to show their work at school and in the community. They are passionate about sharing their ideas and opinions and we are excited to help them make it possible!

In preparation of their curriculum that is beginning in May we’re bringing them workshops of various mediums. Starting with Collage this week, we invited students to piece together images and words to create a message they are passionate about.






























It was exhilarating to watch students approach the art table with apprehension and self doubt and leave the table with a fully assembled piece confronting real social issues. Each student posted their work in the hallway with a statement explaining what they wished to communicate through this medium.











A hallway passerby will notice powerful social issues being challenged with powerful images, such as ageism, racism paired with sexism, environmentalism, our dependency on technology and much more. The images are chilling and moving.


It was a honor to be in a room with such bold thinkers and daring risk takers!

More Pictures will be posted soon. Stay in Touch!


Thank you,

Jaala Smith


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Bring on the Funk…Power of Words at the Northwest African American Museum

This blog was written by guest contributor Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, Program Director of the Northwest African American Museum’s Dr. Carver Gayton Youth Curator Program (pictured below second from the right). 

Daemond Arrindell and Arts Corps are totally hip in the opinion of the Northwest African American Museum 2012 Youth Curators…count me in too.  The Dr. Carver Gayton Youth Curator Program at NAAM is a community outreach program targeting teens age 14-18yrs old.  Teens join a team for twelve 2-hour sessions to explore museum philosophy and develop their creative abilities as they complete a themed project that coincides with a current gallery exhibition.

The 2012 project and exhibition, First Impressions – Inner Expressions was all about self-awareness and articulating the discoveries. Daemond led the Youth Curators in a series of exercises, inspired by the exhibition Xenobia Bailey: The Aesthetics of Funk.  Throughout this process, creative writing skills and individual expression evolved into the power of spoken words…heartfelt, questioning, passionate and humorous…all encouraged by Daemond.

The Youth Curators presented their exhibition and poetry to a full house on April 7th.  In the crowd was Kathleen Flenniken, WA State Poet Laureate, who called their poetry “gold”.  Kathleen supports young poets and has already posted two of the poems to her blog, The Far Field with more to follow.  Youth In Focus, captured photo portraits of each Youth Curator for the gallery exhibition, thank you Sherry Loeser with student photographers, Duyen and Jennifer.

You can check out this fabulous exhibit that attributes much of the success to Daemond with support of Arts Corps; I look forward to a long and lasting friendship with both.  The First Impressions – Inner Expressions exhibition is on view through Summer, 2012. Visit the NAAM website for hours and events (www.naamnw.org).

A huge thanks to all at Arts Corps…your fan for life,



Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, Program Director

NAAM Dr. Carver Gayton Youth Curator Program


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Exploration in Art, Part 1

We catch up with Teaching Artist Lauren Atkinson who stopped by the Arts Corps office to show off some recent drawings by young artists in her “Exploration in Art” class.  Stay tuned to meet the young artists working in her class!

Cityscape drawing by Jacob, a young artist in Arts Corps' Exploration in Art Class with Teaching Artist Lauren Atkinson



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