Monica Elenes knew from an early age that she loved to sing. As a little girl she sang in Spanish, putting on shows in her family’s living room or at her church. Her parents consistently encouraged her to keep singing and creating. Her voice felt like a gift, but building on her talents would take persistence and access to opportunities to help her grow.
She first found her way into Arts Corps programs through teaching artist Erica Merritt’s Glee Club when she was 16. Next, she discovered our Youth Speaks Seattle poetry club at Cleveland High School and caught the poetry bug too. She jumped right in, performing at Youth Speaks Seattle open mics and joining the SPOKES leadership program, where she explored infusing song with spoken word poetry and honed her artistic and professional organizing skills.
This summer, Monica found her next big stepping stone: the Hip-Hop Artist Residency, a three-week music production intensive partnership between Arts Corps, EMP Museum, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. There, she collaborated with other youth to write, produce, and perform two original hip-hop tracks. The final products were a CD, an opportunity to perform on KEXP, and an incredible showcase performance at EMP’s Sky Church.
The more intensely she pursued music, the more she recognized the incredible challenge a music career would pose. What would her parents think? Her family immigrated from Mexico and wanted her to do great things. Would they worry about her choosing such a risky path?
For Monica, the best part of the residency was the deeper dive beyond the music, into the business reality and the effort required to succeed. Beyond just developing talent, Monica began thinking about music not just “as your passion, but also your career.” Her parents began to think that way, too. They were elated to hear her voice on the radio and to see her come home with her own professional-quality CD.
Now as a college student pursuing political science, Monica is searching for ways to meld her artistic talents with her desire to work for the US State Department. She wonders, “Could I be an ambassador that uses the arts as my medium?”
Monica is now coming full circle, stepping into the classroom as a teaching assistant with Erica Merritt. She wants to be an ambassador for Arts Corps programs; to make sure that young people know there is a place that they can call home, just as she does.