Convening Creative Youth Development programs to share their secret sauce
Written by Erin Naomi Burrows, Seattle University MFA in Arts Leadership practicum student
Around the U-shaped conference table in the brand new ARTS at King Street Station are some of Seattle’s finest: the culture workers and teaching artists behind the scenes coaching, mentoring and supporting the next generation of Seattle’s artists. The Creative Careers Cohort, a time-bound, peer-learning experience, brings together six youth-focused arts organizations in Seattle to share lessons learned, best practices honed and innovative strategies to reach, teach and learn from creative youth. These out-of-school time arts programs prepare Seattle youth aged 14-19 for creative careers and reinforce 21st Century skills.
Organizations on The Creative Advantage Community Arts Partner Roster, a vetted list of local artists and organizations who offer creative programming in schools as part of The Creative Advantage, were invited to apply for the Creative Careers Cohort. The call prioritized organizations offering teen programs with explicit and existing career development objectives.
The inaugural Creative Careers Cohort members are:
Arts Corps Spokes Youth Leadership Board
Spokes youth leaders gain tangible artistic and professional skills by leading open mics, writing circles, poetry slams and producing a multi-arts album. They meet weekly for training in event planning, public speaking, facilitation and social justice analysis through artistry and cultural work.
Massive Monkees, Extraordinary Futures Massive Skills
Sessions led by Massive Monkees instructors include creative career exploration in breaking, hip-hop and the arts. Participants learn class/group management, business and financial planning as well as “Adulting”. Offerings include positive youth events, free performances, free dance classes led by the youth, middle and high school breakdance league championships, and the Massive Break Challenge.
RadioActive youth participants discover public radio journalism and gain access to the skills, community, and institutional resources that spur their growth as media makers. Through their stories, listeners of all ages gain a deeper understanding of diverse young people whose voices are rarely heard by the greater public.
MoPOP The Residency
MoPOP offers a summer intensive hip-hop artist residency focusing on creative songwriting, performance techniques, and beat production. All participants, youth ages 16-19, record an EP of their original music at a professional studio and put on a final performance in MoPOP’s Sky Church.
Reel Grrls Learning Immersive Technology (LIT) Program
Youth co-create the future of mixed media content and curate with adult counterparts. Teenage participants mentor middle schoolers during a spring break camp with over 60 hours of paid opportunities to evangelize mixed reality through supporting a VR demos and showcases.
Totem Star: The Studio, The Stage, The Story
Totem Star‘s programs fosters skills and confidence in teens that may not find arts-rich opportunities anywhere else. Students create original compositions with a focus on collaboration and cultural diversity. All Access Fridays are led by women, femmes, non-binary, trans & LGBTQ teaching-artists.
The purpose of the Cohort is to foster learning amongst peers in the field and to inventory Creative Youth Development best practices for career connected learning and 21st Century skills acquisition. During the Cohort meetings, participating organizations provide a 20-minute presentation on their respective programs using these guiding questions:
- How do you (or your org) define career connected learning?
- What does leadership development mean to you in the context of your program?
- What skills do you think are most vital for the young people in your program to practice and acquire? (21st Century, artistic, technical, etc.)
- What are your programmatic best practices? (What’s your secret sauce?)
The first meeting, held March 4, 2019, brought a dozen staff from Cohort organizations together with City employees to explore definitions of career connected learning, vital skills for young people to practice and acquire, and programmatic best practices (i.e. the secret sauce).
Fostering community within each arts organization was identified as key to transformative experiences for youth. Arts Corps’ Youth Speaks program, for example, implements call and response culture broadly. If anyone says “Youth Speaks” in any space – from a rehearsal to public rallies to public speaking at City Hall – anyone in the know will shout back “Youth Speaks!” This ownership by participants shapes pathways of continued engagement of former participants and alumni. While some of cohort organizations identified participants aging out of programs and alumni engagement as a growth area, Arts Corps staff framed it as a primary goal of the work to hire former youth as young adult teaching-artists and colleagues.
Each organization emphasized building a culture of responsibility for young people to produce their own events as a team, taking on roles of design and production. For RadioActive youth at KUOW, this means collaborating with mentors and full-time editors of radio content. For Arts Corps Spokes Youth Board, it looks like intensive social justice trainings and embedding anti-oppression practices in the production of events. Totem Star’s Daniel Pak shared that for their The Stage program, youth interns book the space, think through load-in and closing, if they can bring their own food, noise ordinances, event promotion, as well as host and DJ the event. Pak notes that in their studio offerings, Totem Star is proud to serve as a creative sanctuary for young people open six days a week. He explains, “Once you enter that studio threshold, I’m sorry, you’re part of the Totem Star family. We’re gonna hold you accountable and treat you like professionals.”
Stay tuned for more on the progress of the Creative Careers Cohort and in the meantime, check out these highlights of youth art: