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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Arts Corps COVID-19 Art Kit Project

Does a freshly sharpened pencil make you want to write? Did your childhood imagination ignite when dipping a brush into an untouched oval of watercolor paint? Do you still get excited about a colorful stick of chalk that hasn’t yet been worn down or broken?

Brand-new art supplies inspire a unique sense of joy and possibility, among children and adults alike. And it’s these feelings that Arts Corps had in mind when we launched our COVID-19 Art Kit Project this spring, which ultimately resulted in the distribution of 1,321 free art kits to families in South King County.

The spring quarter is always busy for Arts Corps programming- it’s short and condensed- so when schools were forced to shift to distance learning, our Director of Arts Education and  program managers had to quickly work to narrow the arts education opportunity gap in our region. With the need for children to have opportunities for creative expression greater than ever, we needed to find an immediate solution. Distributing art kits for students to enjoy at home with their families became a key strategy for Arts Integration Program Manager, Sabrina Chacon-Barajas. 

Given our limited resources, we chose to focus most intensively on our relationship with Highline Public Schools (HPS). This was not only because we have long and deep relationships with the communities in Highline, but also because Arts Corps is a major funnel for arts education in the district. In certain communities within the district, we are the only funnel of access to arts education.

For several years now, Arts Corps has partnered with the City of Burien to help remedy this inequity by providing integrative work in Burien elementary schools. When it was clear that we needed to find a way to engage students in arts learning remotely, Heleya de Barros, Director of Arts Education, immediately reached out to Gina Kalman, Cultural Arts Supervisor for the City of Burien, to inquire about reallocating funds toward an art kit project. Her office agreed, and plans were made to use funds to support the design, assembly, and distribution of art kits centered on the themes of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math), community, gratitude, and healing.

Given the immense amounts of creativity and resourcefulness among Arts Corps’ teaching artists, the design aspect of the art kits was the easy part. The hard part was how to distribute the kits in a way that respected social distance guidelines and kept HPS families safe. Thankfully, the district connected us with Anne Baunach, Executive Director of Highline School Foundation, and with their help, we were able to distribute hundreds of art kits via their free meal sites in White Center, Burien, SeaTac, and Des Moines. Additionally, OST manager Olisa Enrico worked with our partners at Southwest Youth & Family Services and Mt. View Elementary to reach approximately 100 additional families.

The greatest number of kits were distributed to students at Hazel Valley Elementary (HVE), a school with which Arts Corps has worked very closely for several years, including on our Department of Education-funded Highline Creative Schools Initiative. With support from foundations who share our commitment to deepening family engagement in school communities (thereby increasing student sense of belonging), we were able to build an art kit for EVERY SINGLE STUDENT AT HVE. As a graduation present, 5th graders received extra special art supplies in their kits. Arts Corps Veteran Teaching Artist Carina del Rosario designed the kits and worked with HVE to have them passed out this week, the final week of HPS’ 2019-20 school year.

In the midst of a global pandemic and pronounced racial tension and injustice, we hope that these art kits provide a glimmer of hope and inspiration to the 1,321 families who received them. We’re so grateful to our teaching artists, funders, volunteers, school and community partners for helping make this innovative project happen so quickly. A special thanks to Laird Norton, Horton Foundation Fund, Discuren Foundation, 4Culture, Arts Fund, and the Ketcham Family for their support of this project.

Given the success of Arts Corps’ COVID-19 Art Kit Project this past spring, we hope to continue the project into the summer. Under the leadership of Meredith Arena, Arts Corps Veteran Teaching Artist, and Olisa Enrico, Arts Corps OST Manager, we plan to distribute approximately 300 additional art kits for summer learning at 4 sites  in partnership with Southwest Youth and Family Services. 

Arts Corps COVID-19 Art Kit Projects at a Glance:

  • Total art kits distributed = 1,321. 
  • Art kits distributed to 10 sites across South King County
  • Partnered with Highline School Foundation to distribute kits at meal sites in White Center, Burien, Des Moines
  • Each of the 475 students at Hazel Valley Elementary received art kits. 5th graders received special art kits to celebrate their graduation from elementary. Kits included a mixed media paper pad, micron pens, and either skin tone crayon set, maker set, or chalk set.
  • Teaching artists, classroom assistants, Arts Corps staff, and volunteers dedicated approximately 90 hours to construction of art kits 
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Confessions of An At-Home Teaching Artist


I recently traveled home to New York City amidst this whole COVID-19 pandemic. Although my friends and family were fortunate enough not to contract the virus, some of their friends, family, and friends of friends were not so lucky. I decided to bring my 15-year-old nephew and 8-year-old niece back to Tacoma with me. They are both doing remote learning for the remainder of the school year and I thought it be an appropriate and fun trip to take while practicing better social distancing here in the Pacific Northwest than is available in the greater Tri-state area. 

I began to learn the different online learning platforms and requirements for each of my siblings’ children and I quickly understood that this adjustment posed new challenges. Aside from needing to wake up at 5:30AM because of the time change, I never knew how many apps and platforms existed for online learning, let alone how confusing each would be to navigate.

Now, I feel that we have transitioned into a great flow that produces substantial results. Here’s how: around the home, I have introduced many incentives and systems, such as points and rewards, that I use to help me. Putting these in place has allowed me to maintain focus, keeping the children motivated and their minds occupied away from the current global crisis. 

The point system rewards the completion of various tasks, accomplishments through online learning, trying hard, being helpful, household chores, etc. This allows for a healthy and reliable expectation and structure that your new in-home students are secretly craving during this time.

We encourage parents to share stories and methods for helping their remote learners maintain focus and participation during quarantine. Please write in to info@artscorps.org and let us know what works for you!

— SAMUEL CORALES, Teaching Artist

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The Gift of Song


Being Fat
by Erica Merritt, age 8

Being fat is an uncomfortable way

To live your life, day by day

You’re always insecure, about the way you look

You always feel like someone, took……. one too many glances at your body

Your clothes feel tighter, week after week

The scale number gets higher, below your feet

The diet’s get stricter, month after month

The food gets more tempting, mostly the junk

Until finally you’re at, right where you’ve started

Only this time you’ve gained more pounds to be charted

And, so I guess, that is that,

You see it’s all a part of being fat!!

By age 8, I realized that I was very different from those around me. I knew that my body was not what I wished it to be. Self-doubt and insecurity were a part of my reality. Then, I found healing and confidence through music. When I sang, one size truly fit all. I felt triumphant in my ability to transform words into lyrics, lyrics into songs. Music was my ticket to wonderland.

I could write and sing about my heart’s desire. When I sang, I didn’t mind when people stared at me. I was proud of what my body could do! I was “music to my own ears” as well as theirs. I took pride in knowing that I possessed a gift that was special and unique. It was a welcomed distraction to life’s hardships. Singing empowered me to define, and validate, my sense of self-worth. This is why I teach! I want to give a gift that keeps on giving, empowering youth to practice self-validation. In a world where image can often supersede one’s authentic self, the Gift Of Song can fill in the blanks.

Share your #MakeArtAnyway story to info@artscorps.org so we can spread love with the rest of the Arts Corps community.

— ERICA MERRITT, Teaching Artist

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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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