Free Writes and the Work of Magic

If I had to estimate, I’d say that I’ve yelled “Youth Speaks Seattle” in over a hundred middle and high school classrooms all over the greater Seattle area. In my year and a half of YSS outreach, I couldn’t approximate how many lunchroom spiels I’ve attempted or how many times I’ve performed my poems in LA classes or how many posters I’ve stapled to hallway bulletin boards. Throughout my journeys, I’m  honored to get to facilitate workshops with many rooms of brilliant young folks. To open up a creative and supportive writing space, I usually ground the room in a shared definition of a “free write”. I ask the room to shout out their ideas: write what you feel like!, whatever is in your brain!, write freely!

Building off the concepts already in the room, I usually add some key guidelines, like: Don’t judge yourself as you write. Let whatever is in your brain hit the page and don’t worry about it sounding good or poetic or cool or whatever! No pressure. This is just a place to experiment, play, get some ideas out in the air. I always share Youth Speaks Seattle’s only free write “rule” which is: keep your pen/pencil/writing utensil moving for the enPaperstripstire free write time. Even if you’re just writing, “I hate this” over and over, you never know where your pen might take you. I believe that free writes give us the potential to surprise ourselves with ourselves.

With a collective definition of free write to draw from, we then move into constructing some constraints, prompts or guidelines to get a free write sparked. Write whatever you feel like! is exciting but also the scariest freedom possible. A blank page with no starting point is intimidating to even the most prolific poet. While it’s important to push ourselves to write without self-judgment, a container can be helpful for stream of consciousness to take shape in. That in mind, I design curriculum with many variations on constraints. My challenges to students often include starting lines or required images or words.

As I develop curriculum, I always return to the idea that writing is the work of magic. To cultivate that magic, a workshop must serve as a powerful ritual. Ritual involves trusting the unknown and making space for it in our writing practice. In the classroom, this manifests as having each group of students generate unique constraints for our workshop. For example, I’ve asked students to write a specific shade or color in the corner of their paper. Once the room is filled with lime greens, ripe watermelon reds, indigos and eggshells, I ask each student to rip the color out and pass it to their neighbor. I encourage everyone to believe that this is the color that they are meant to write with today. The randomness of receiving a color is a form of magic, all part of our shared ritual. And once students share, it feels that magic led them to create the exact free write they were meant to, bursting with color and inspiration.

Similarly, I’ve asked students to write 5 words on slips of paper that describe their identity, before we throw them all into the center of the room and draw back out 5 words, randomized in a flurry of paper. These identity words go on to spark complex and courageous free writes. In another workshop, I challenge students to write a letter to a person or thing in their life. To determine who or what we need to write to most in this particular moment, we often do a ritual spinning of our notebook and random pointing on a brainstormed list of important items or people.

Through these acts of divination, I’ve witnessed youth read authentic, fiery and heartbreaking poems. I’m continually in awe of how free writes give way to such raw vulnerability. They make a place for all of us to trust the magic inside of us and dive head first into the unknown. Constraints, like ritual, give us a shape to land in. Once we go there, the piece may even seem to write itself. When I witness the power of young poets speaking truth, it’s a collective discovery of what they needed to say all along.

 

- Shelby

Teen Artist Program Co-Coordinator

 

Help Fund Massive Break Challenge!

Massive Break Challenge

Invest in Massive Break Challenge, Seattle’s largest regional break dance battle for middle & high school youth!  This dynamic event is a partnership between Arts Corps, Northwest Folklife and Extraordinary Futures, a nonprofit affiliate of the Massive Monkees break dancing crew.

Donor Benefits:

Every dollar donated is matched – doubling your impact!

Gifts of $10 or more: We’ll give you a shout-out on Facebook and Twitter!

Gifts of $25 or more: We’ll give you a shout-out online AND in person—the MBC host will specifically recognize your gift to kick off the event!

Gifts of $50 or more: All of the above PLUS you’ll receive a signed photo/postcard with a note from Jeromeskee, of Massive Monkees!

Gifts of $100 or more: All of the above PLUS we’ll invite you back-stage during the MBC event, where you’ll meet the youth performers and professional break dancers. (Limit 30–first come, first served)

Gifts of $150 or more: All of the above PLUS you’ll be invited to watch the event from the stage! (Limit 10–first come, first served)

Gifts of $250 or more: All of the above PLUS you’re invited to hang with the DJ during the event! [Limit 4--first come, first served]

Donate Here!

Massive Break Challenge supports over 70 youth from nearly 20 schools around Washington state to compete in mini-battles, leading up to the ultimate championship at the Bagley Wright Theater during the Folklife Festival on Saturday, May 23rd, from 3-5pm.  Hundreds of people show up every year to witness the B-Boy and B-Girl break dancing students participate in this high-energy competition as they build community and challenge each other’s skills in front of a live audience. Both the mini-battles and the main event are free of charge for performers and audience members.

Mini battles start in February 2014, and once a month break crews from Seattle Public Schools match skills at The Beacon Studio in Seattle’s International District.

By supporting the Massive Break Challenge you will help us cover the venues cost, feature performances, supplies and transportation for youths from across the city to be able to attend & compete in the event! Special thanks to Northwest Folklife for offering free performance space for Massive Break Challenge during the Folklife Festival!

 

La Festa del Arte

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La Festa del Arte has been called the most inspiring event in the region, and you can be part of it! Join us as we address a critical opportunity gap in a region where race is the greatest determining factor in access to arts education. Help shape a new day for arts learning and be part of our work to develop students’ capacities for imagination, courage and persistence. Festa Parking & Directions.

 
When: Friday, March 20, 2015
, 6:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.

Where: Showbox SoDo
Tickets: $125 (click to purchase tickets)
 
PURCHASE A TABLE
Patron – $1,500
Free parking for you & your guests
VIP table for 8
Recognition in program
Fan – $1,000
Recognition in program
Table for 8
 

THE EVENING

6:00-7:00pm: CULTIVATE

Cocktails and Bakra Bata, featuring Women’s Steel Pan Project

7:00-8:30pm: INNOVATE

Dinner and performances by Arts Corps students and teaching artists

8:30-9:00pm: ACTIVATE

Raise your paddle for youth, justice and creativity

9:00pm-11:00am: CELEBRATE

Dancing with DJ Daps1

*Reserve your tickets here!

*Contact dev@artscorps.org with any questions you may have.

 

Thanks to our generous event sponsors!

Postcard Art!

If you received our 2014 Annual Report in your mailbox, you know that we included a blank, self-addressed postcard, inviting our donors to take a risk and mail us their own works of art. We’re happy to say that several of you accepted our challenge! Thanks for sharing—and cultivating—your creative spirit! Here’s a sampling of what we received:

If you haven’t sent us your postcard art yet, please do! We’ll post a second round of what we receive.

 

Hiring for Part-Time Grant Writer!

Arts Corps is now hiring a a part-time Grant Writer! Contribute to Arts Corps’ growth as an organization by cultivating strong relationships with institutional funders.

Grant Writer Position Description

Position is open until filled, but priority will be given to applications received by January 27th, 2015

Please forward all inquiries with a resume and cover letter to dev@artscorps.org or mail a hard copy to Arts Corps, 4408 Delridge Way, SW, Suite 110, Seattle, WA 98106. Please reference the Grant Writer position in the subject line.

 

Solidarity

Racial Profiling Painting Oraca K-8 2013
Racial Profiling – Painted Box by 8th grade students at Orca K-8, 2013

We at Arts Corps wish to express our solidarity with and our gratitude to the youth, artists, and activists who are rising up with courage and persistence to confront injustice. The recent high profile events of unaccountable police violence against individuals and communities of color are extreme examples of the oppressions experienced by so many in our community on a daily basis. In our work, we seek to address one manifestation of systemic oppression—the inequity in access to arts education within our public school system based on race and family income—while also equipping our students with creative tools and strategies to express their voice and make change in the world around them. And that is precisely what they are doing. They are telling their stories, they are advocating for change, and in doing so, they are helping to lead us all to a more just future.

Let’s listen.

Poem by Donte Johnson, Arts Corps Teen Programs Co-Coordinator and Youth Speaks Seattle alumn

 

 

 

 

 

Black Art-ivist

Once again the country has shown it’s behind and we are in another state of chaos.
Youth from around town have been asking me “Donté what do I do as a new community organizer and artist in this time of deep pain”
I wanted to say “Take the streets, block the roads, make them hear us, let everybody know that we have been crying and afraid and ashamed for too long and its enough its BEEN enough”. But I couldn’t even answer back, I thought about the question so intentionally but I was like as an artist and activist living with depression and anxiety I don’t feel safe enough to be in the streets and protest even though I feel like I should be there and I had to meditate on what is my role in this movement? I had to remember that activism doesn’t look any one way. It takes multiple different approaches and actions and kinds of things that adds to a movement including taking care of the people in the movement which I feel like can be my role reminding folks to take care and to hold space for all the black folks who are actively hurting every day watching the full out attack on our people.
There are artistic video projects in the works, and more and more folks feeling the call to action. Figuring out the many ways we can be vocal about our needs, below is my first step into how I do activism:

 

 

A List Poem for the way my body reacts to the death of Black People

  1. Freeze, Eye lids fading, Eye lashes tickle eye brows in an attempt to feel anything besides melting

  2. Mouth and throat going Sahara as your eyes lose focus on tracking motion

  3. You feel the burn of a solar eclipse passing in your throat

  4. Freeze, and you do, the word seems to rattle in your head till the tinnitus  sounds just like the last phone call you made to your mother

  5. Freeze, and they did until they spilled,

    watch the blood pool in the dark of every unlit street

    visualize how they cleaned them off the floor

    read facebook till you cry

    read articles till you cry

    Pick corners for you to die

    I wear all black most days because I don’t know when I’m gonna go

    But Capricorns anticipate everything, so I wear my face like a veil, wear my skin like a red delicious dress at a funeral, the crisp bite into death as flames fuck my flesh into ash

  6. Count breaths,

    Like loose change

    in attempt, to regulate breathing

    Asthma, holding Fourth of July in your lungs

    Another Black body,

    Evaporating into social media rants and swept under consumerism and white supremacy

  7. Freeze, that’s what they screamed, trying to mask murder with lies,

    Tryna mask murder with mock justice and Christmas carols

    Freeze, because everyone knows it’s easier to hit a target when it don’t move

    You have read another article about a Black body turning sunset

    You feel the light fading from their mothers eyes, it feels like a heart coming to a halt

    You haven’t moved in hours as if you were obeying the law, as if they had already killed you

  8. You find comfort in knowing that if you were dead you wouldn’t have to watch them kill your family

  9. Your mouth begins to thaw, you feel the heat of carbon dioxide between your teeth, your teeth dance like a tambourine in full explosion you can barely make a sound but the only thing you say is

  10. If all lives matter, then why aren’t you dying-

    To save me.

-Donté Johnson, Teen Artist Program Co-Coordinator

We’re Hiring!

We’re now hiring for the CSI Evaluation & Documentation Coordinator position! This person will support the Creative Schools Initiative (CSI) in Highline Schools by coordinating the logistics of our evaluation, documentation and media. Please see the job description below.

CSI Evaluation & Documentation Coordinator JD

Application Deadline is December 31, 2014

Send a resume and cover letter to Hillary Moore at csi@artscorps.org

 

 

 

Race and Social Justice Learning Series

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Arts Corps’ Race and Social Justice Learning Series, is a 3-part sequence of workshops, hosted by Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, intended to foster community conversation and shared understanding on different strands of oppression.  The series kicks off Wednesday, December 3rd with a viewing and discussion of the documentary Cracking the Codes by Shakti Butler.

Please RSVP for one or all sessions here.

December 3, 2014, 6-9pm: Causes and consequences of systemic inequity: film and discussion of Cracking the Codes by Shakti Butler. Facilitated by Arts Corps’ Executive Director Elizabeth Whitford and Arts Corps’ Program Director Omana Imani.

February 25, 2015, 6-8pm: Dismantling Adultism workshop: strategies for shared leadership with young people. Facilitated by Arts Corps’ Community Partnerships & Teen Programs Manager Devon de Lena.

May 6, 2014, 6-8pm: Sexism and Gender Justice: exploring the effects of sexism and the difference between sex, gender, and the gender spectrum. Facilitated by  Molly Pencke, Program Manager at Powerful Voices.

View and share the event on Facebook

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Another World is Possible: Visioning Cultural Strategy with Youth Speaks Seattle

ALLI groupComing up as a poet in the Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Slam, I remember constantly wrestling with what our roles as young artists had to do with social change and activism. Stepping to a mic with power, analysis and bravery, we could feel that we were channeling necessary energy. We were speaking raw truth and seeing the impact it could have on audiences– and on ourselves. We knew the slam was more than a game. It was more than pretty words strung together. We weren’t just cute youth poets who had a way with words— we were shifting perspectives and bearing witness to complexity and humanity. At slams, it’s a tradition to chant, “The point is not the points, the point is the poetry!” The point was the poetry but the point was also the people. The point was the transformation of hearts and minds through shared exploration of contradictions. And yet, despite all that, I remember constantly running up against a wall: was our art really activism itself? We wondered, “Sure, we’re all talking about changing the world but when are we gonna start doing the real work?” Yet, we didn’t realize that shifting culture through art is not a precursor or an accessory to the movement. It is movement work in its own right.

ALLI groupYouth Speaks Seattle is rooted in a legacy of fierce artistry and liberatory change work. Since its inception, YSS has been held by political artists whose work was deeply informed by and accountable to grassroots movements. Under the leadership of powerful cultural workers, it grew into fertile space for cultural strategy to thrive. But, what do I mean when I say “cultural strategy”? To define this term, I want to throw out some foundational concepts of culture and change taken from the Culture Group’s “Making Waves: A Guide to Cultural Strategy”. The Culture Group describes the relationship between culture and change with the metaphor of the ocean and a wave. Waves are processes shaped by many powerful and often invisible forces, such as “the gravitational pull of the moon, the speed of the wind, and tectonic shifts at the bottom of the ocean”. Like a wave, change is an ongoing process shaped by strong forces. Culture is the ocean that waves happen within. Culture is “vast and ever-changing” and comprises “the prevailing beliefs, values, and customs of a group; a group’s way of life”.

Tai and Ivan ALLIIn order to achieve social change, culture must shift. In other words, “there can be no change without cultural change”. The Culture Group asserts that, “We change culture through culture”, making culture both the agent and the object of change. With this framework, art is a truly generative, inspired and courageous form of activism. As I realized as a youth poet, art transforms hearts, minds and communities. Through these shifts, there is the opportunity to build power and activate social change.

This intersection has long been honored by Youth Speaks Seattle’s legacy of cultural strategy. Building off this history, last year we piloted the inaugural Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute (ALLI). This 9-week intensive is centered on building skills around social justice, artistry and community organizing. For the fifteen Spokes youth leaders, ALLI begins their 8-month organizing commitment to Youth Speaks Seattle and the Arts Corps Teen Artist Program. With ALLI as a springboard, the Spokes go on to collaboratively run the Open Mic Series, Poetry Slam Series and Writing Circles, with the support of the Teen Artist Co-Coordinators (aka Donté Johnson and myself!).

ALLI ArtistAfter a successful pilot year, we are launching ALLI for the second year and we’re off to a fiery start. With a brilliant crew of 14 Spokes, 2 returning Legacy Spokes and 3 youth organizers from our community partner Totem Star, we wish to ask: Why is art a tool for social change? What are our roles as young artists and activists in social justice movements? To spark this conversation, we began by collectively defining two terms: “artist” and “activist”. In two groups, ALLI participants created word clouds on the huge chalkboards of our cozy classroom at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. The “artist” brainstorm included a swarm of different words: bold, outcast, free, accessible, connection, inspiration, awareness, reppin’, confidence—to name a few. The “activist” side was equally energized: society, caring, fists, riots, change, speak out loud, advocates. After raucous discussion by both groups, we reunited and had reps from each side of the room share back on how they defined these two different roles. We found sparks, tensions and similarities between the two definitions. As our conversation continued, we were able to find the natural ties and extraordinary potential of bringing artist and activist together in pursuit of revolutionary ideals.

From the chalkboard to the stage, Youth Speaks Seattle continues to be a hive of personal and political transformation. The audience of any poetry slam or open mic will witness amazing boldness and authentic emotional expression. With these performances, complex ideas are brought to life and made accessible to a broad audience. Visions for a more just world are made real when spoken aloud. Youth Speaks Seattle is a space where another world is made possible, against all odds. The page and the stage are where we get to imagine what changes we need to build a society that can hold all of us, with equity, love and freedom. Cultural work simultaneously brings us whispers and flashes of another world while we put in the work of building it. Art can help us access the world to come and weave movements that somehow are already living within it.

 

- Shelby

Teen Artist Program Co-Coordinator