Song Writing and the Creative Process

One of the biggest perks of my job as a teaching artist at Orca is that I can practice being a teacher with the support and resources of several other educators at my side. I get to receive feedback, try new approaches and strategies, and assess how I am doing professionally on a daily basis.

Each day during first period, this dynamic works in my favor during the song writing class that I co-teach with the AWESOME sixth-grade teachers, Jeff and Tanisha.  In the classroom, I get to work through my own creative and professional process alongside those of my students and colleagues.

Our classroom culture aims to create an open and authentic space to write about what interests you. A typical day in song writing (if there is such a thing) might include any of the following: dance warm ups to Justin Timberlake songs, a get–to-know-you game based on Musical Chairs, a presentation on recording via Garage Band, a game of The Human Knot, a visit from fellow CSI teaching artist and song writing guru, Amy, and sustained time to work on writing lyrics.

While teaching artists consider myriad aspects of creativity and education, for now I want to focus on critique, feedback loops, and assessment because there is an element of each in the others. Critique is essential for any artist to hear new perspectives on their work and have the opportunity to engage in something they hadn’t considered. Feedback loops are the result of critiques. For example, “my classmates said the piece wasn’t relateable, so I will tone down the echo effect that makes my lyrics incomprehensible.” Assessment is trickier to define. Arts Corps’ definition is to “make student learning visible and give young artists reflective time.”  In no way is assessment a grade or judgement of a final product.  It is a chance for students to decide how their skills, understanding, behavior, and attitude have changed over the course of the class or project.  In a nutshell, feedback from others and the willingness to receive and create multiple iterations from that feedback is critical to how they will assess their own learning.

For the most recent project, we decided to try a new method of peer evaluation and feedback: post-its.  Since I am from Minneapolis, I decided it was good to keep my fellow Minnesotans employed by requiring each of our 20 students to give feedback to each of the 10 partner groups, including themselves, on post-its.  (I’ll leave the math to you.) After each song, we took a few minutes to write what we heard that we liked, and how we thought they could improve for the next project. This was the result:

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Suggestions, critique, feedback, and compliments were stuck to each laptop so that we all had the chance to receive feedback. For self assessment, we asked students to write (again on post-its. You’re welcome, 3M.) responses to the prompts, “one thing that was awesome about the way I worked was…” and “one thing I would change about the way I worked was…”  Their thoughtfulness was impressive:  “I helped pick out tracks. I would want to give more ideas.” And, “I tried new things and pushed myself to step out of my comfort zone.  I would change how I worked by pushing myself a little further to sing maybe.”

At a time of transition in my life, my Uncle Dave told me to, “Measure your success in ways that are meaningful to you, not what others might think.”  I have it written on a (virtual) post-it on my laptop screen as reminder to myself of what is important as I experience new identities in various stages of young adulthood. As a rookie artist and educator, evidence of my learning is visible in how I encourage students to be honest and vulnerable, create stories from potentially nebulous ideas, risk putting them on display for peers, and stand tall in their own definitions of success— and to do the same things myself.

-Liz Farmer
AmeriCorps Artist-in-Residence

Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam 2014



Arts Corps presents
Youth Speaks Seattle GRAND SLAM 2014

Doors at 6:30pm / Show at 7:00pm
@ Town Hall Seattle (First Hill)
1119 8th Ave, Seattle, WA 98101

10$ youth / 20$ adults
// Homie discount for groups of 5+ youth = 7$ per ticket
Buy Tickets here:

Hosted by Ela Barton, of Rain City Slam
Featuring Prometheus Brown aka Geo, from the Blue Scholars!
& Romaro Franceswa from YUKMOB
Also featuring YSS alums Raven Taylor (as sacrificial poet) and Donte Johnson (as voice of god)!

Competing Poets:
Evelyn Fitz
Janessa Durden
Koha Farr
Kay Barker Wong
Josie Rimmer
McCall Kipling
Travis Thompson
Acacia Salisbury
Carlos Nieto
Deqa Mumin
Carlynn Newhouse
Keoki Lau

Culminating of the 2014 Youth Speaks Seattle Slam series, 12 finalists will grace the final stage to create a transformative night of poetry. These are some of the finest, most brave and talented young poets in Seattle. At the Grand slam you will witness stories of love, loss, resistance and survival, told through the raw medium of spoken word. The truth will change you.

All poets will perform original works, without the use of music or props. Each poem is scored by a panel of judges from the community–after the 3rd round, 5 poets will be named the 2014 Youth Speaks Seattle Slam Team and for on to represent Seattle at the 2014 International Brave New Voices Festival in Philadelphia in July.

The Grand Slam is Youth Speaks Seattle’s biggest annual fundraiser. In order to continue providing incredible youth-led programs such as our writing circles, open mics, poetry slams and paid internships, we need you to support us!

For more info:
contact shelby handler at

What place does audio production have in the classroom?

Sound is all around you. It manifests in music and alongside visual media; in espresso machines and drops of coffee filling your mug, in freeway traffic, in dog whistles, shouting bats, and cell phone transmissions – it exists as vibrations in the air even when we believe it to be silent.

Upon waking every morning, we are bombarded with sensory information but are not often taught how to wield the power of our senses to create new understandings of the world. This is the culture that audio production fosters.

Audio production includes your favorite CDs and vinyl records. It includes video game sound effects and everything you hear in movies. It is at the heart of live concerts and podcasts and broadcasts and the reason you can hear sound coming out of speakers. Audio production is the process of capturing sound and reproducing it back to an audience – or perhaps to document and archive to retrieve in the future.

In my personal process of integrating arts into the classroom at Madrona K-8, I have been striving to give audio production equal weight as an art form and as a tool for students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic in an unconventional way. To demonstrate this, I recorded and edited my own podcast to represent my own understanding of the unit topic: Poverty.

I worked with a fellow AmeriCorps member at Arts Corps to record one of their spoken word pieces that deals with privilege and opportunity, and then included an interview portion where they talked about the meaning and intention behind their piece. Not only did I end up with a great podcast example, but I managed to show multiple levels of art – not just the artistry of the podcast itself being put together, but the art in crafting words to create meaning and the power this has in a recorded medium.

For the poverty unit, my fellow teaching artist and I collaborated on a rubric to include the choice between a visual project, an audio project, or another mixed media project. Many students took to the idea of using audio recorders to perform a rap, song, or commentary that showed their understanding and interpretation of the poverty unit theme.

There is a certain fearlessness that young people possess when it comes to giving them choices. Too often, the school system institutes rote procedures that allow little room for creative exploration and personal expression. One project really struck me as an example of what we may have never learned about two students’ unique expressive ability had we not given them this creative choice in the classroom.

Poverty project – rap

Audio production teaches young people how they can use their voice as a mechanism to express ideas, how to practice and plan for the moment of recording, and eventually transcend the fleetingness of time by contributing their voice to recorded history.

In the end, it can just be a playful process where students have a means to demonstrate their understanding of a topic in an unconventional way that now has a chance to be shared and celebrated.

AmeriCorps Artist-in-Residence


Can you hear them?

Arts Corps’ teaching artist Vicky Edmonds uses the art and practice of writing to bring the deepest and most authentic parts of ourselves to the page and to the world. Recently, she shared a piece of poetry with us, and we would like to share it with you.

During our staff retreat last year, we asked staff members to reflect on why they do this work, and what it means to them. We then asked them to write a poem that explains their love for it. This poem was her response.

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To read more poetry by Vicky, visit her website here.


Taking a Moment to Recenter

A few weeks ago, Arts Corps’ staff members embarked on a short journey to the land of tall trees, rocky rivers, and tree houses! Away from the hustle and bustle of Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, we were able to reconnect and recenter. We reflected on staff culture, social justice, hopes for the future, AND how to take over the world with art (naturally).

Our Education Director, Tina LaPadula, captured some great moments during and after our solo reflection walk, which was organized by our Creative Schools Initiative Program Manager, Hillary Moore. The walk gave us a chance to think about where we are as an organization and where we want to go. Enjoy!

From left to right: Elizabeth Whitford, Hillary Moore, Shelby Handler and Devon de Lena


From left to right: Omana Imani, Eduardo Mendonca, April Heding, and Bernadette Scheller


Leslie Collins


A special thank you to our supporters at Treehouse Point for letting us use their beautiful space!

La Festa del Arte 2014

At the Showbox SoDo 
Friday, March 21, 2014

6:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

Tickets: $125


Purchase a Table
Patron – $1,500
Free parking for you & your guests
VIP table
Recognition in program
Fan – $1,000
Recognition in program
Center table


Late Night with Arts Corps
Tickets to Late Night Party only
With Love City Love: $15
9:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Regular price tickets includes the ‘Late Night’.


Love City Love

Arts Corps is thrilled to bring together the artists and performers of Love City Love, as it shines a bright light on those talented artists that are innovating the future of arts and culture in Seattle.


Love City Love is a breath of fresh, avant-garde air to Seattle’s arts and culture scene. It is “a name, a description, a slice of poetry…a wellspring of unselfconscious spontaneity and intentional good vibes,” according to a captivating article about the group in CityArts Magazine. The pop-up boutique showcases local designers, musicians, poets and various other art forms in one moving night of raw expression.


La Festa del Arte has been called the most inspiring event in the region and you can be part of it. Join Arts Corps efforts to 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. 


The Evening



Meet your friends and get your creativity flowing with cocktails and live music from “I’m with Amy” in the Showbox Lounge



Enjoy a gourmet dinner as Arts Corps students and teaching artists break barriers with their creative voices.



Step in and ‘raise your paddle’ to support transformative creativity and equity.



Get up and get down to live music and performance with the Love City Love Arts Collective.


Thanks to our generous event sponsors!

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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:

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


Further Resources:


Dust off your roller skates!

It’s time to dust off your roller skates and pull out your costumes! Arts Corps is gearing up for its second annual skate-stravaganza fundraiser, Rollathon 2014.


We will celebrate our fund-and-friend raising at the Rollathon on February 9, 5:00 – 7:00pm at the Southgate Roller Rink. Tickets will be available at the door ($10 each) for non-team members.

Here are 4 quick reasons to get involved:

  1. Community-Based Creativity: The skills we build through arts education are relevant in all areas of our life: imagination, critical thinking, risk-taking, persistence, reflection, and beyond!
  2. Racial Justice & Arts Education: Our programs focus on educating and empowering young people, especially working-class youth of color, to directly address the racial disparities in access to arts education. Arts access is deeply connected to broader struggles for education reform and youth liberation.
  3. Fun! – raiser: This event is going to be way fun and silly. There are costumes, prizes, roller-skating, team themes and more. What more could you need?
  4. Grassroots Fundraising: Through creative fundraising, we are making this work sustainable and rooted in our values.

Last year’s event was an overwhelming success, so we decided to increase our fundraising goal to $15,000. This means we need YOU and all of YOUR FRIENDS to help us achieve this goal. All proceeds will directly benefit Arts Corps’ teen programs.


This is a one-of-a-kind event that you will be talking about all year. The best part… you’ll be part of a large community of people working to make a positive impact on the lives of young people throughout Seattle. That impact would be impossible without ALL of our friends, family members, neighbors and donors.

Are you ready to sign up, and earn the title of “fundraising extraordinaire”? It takes a few easy steps… go here to sign up. If you need help navigating Crowdrise, visit our directions page here.

Stay tuned throughout the next few weeks for skate related inspiration, costume guides and more reasons to get involved in the Rollathon 2014.

Got questions? Please contact April Heding at


Poetry Slam 101

New to slam poetry or need a refresher? Shelby Handler, Youth Speaks Seattle co-coordinator, shares some thoughts on slam history and the slam experience as they gear up for the first Youth Speaks Seattle slam on December 20th (this Friday) at Harambee, 316 S. 3rd St., Renton, WA, 6:30 – 9:30 pm. (youth poets should sign up at 6 pm to slam)

Q. What are poetry slams and how did they develop?

A.  Poetry Slams are competitive poetry events where 5 randomly selected judges score poets on a scale from 0 to 10 (using decimals). Sounds weird, right? You might be wondering: why would we score poems that are often deeply personal, raw, dynamic, beautiful and honest?
And that is the trick of the slam: it’s a game. The game is the gimmick that gets folks in the seats, gets folks together, listening to poetry. Ha! It’s all a big trick. For Youth Speaks Seattle, the competition is fun and always full of LOVE! These poets are AMAZING, let’s be real, but they are also there to support one another and grow from being in community with other young poets. With that balance in mind, we like to chant at slams: The point is not the points, the point is the POETRY!
If you attend Friday’s slam, you’ll hear this spiel from the hosts, which the brief history slam recited at most events: Slam was invented in Chicago, in the 80s, by a construction worker named Marc Smith who was tired of going to boring poetry readings where the audience wasn’t engaged in the performance. Slam was a way of giving poetry back to the people and creating a conversation between poet & listener.

Q. What does a typical poetry slam look, sound and feel like?

A.  A typical slam with Youth Speaks Seattle feels like a cauldron of buzzing nervous energy, home, love, joy, talent, risk taking, spirit, history & hella youth power. If that makes any sense. They are often raucous events where the audience is snapping, stomping, yelling, MMMM-ing along with the poet to give them feedback & energy as they perform their heart out. They feel like a journey. Between so many fabulous poets and audiences that are right beside them as they go *there* with hilarity, sadness, truth & resistance. But to truly know the YSS magic: ATTEND A SLAM!

Q. What can people expect to experience if they attend the Youth Speaks Seattle poetry slam on Friday?

A. People can expect to be blown away, humbled, surprised, challenged, inspired, impressed, welcomed and strengthened by the voices of youth who can speak for themselves. These youth are not messing around. One thing you can expect is to hear the following chant: YOUTH RIGHT NOW ARE THE TRUTH RIGHT NOW! Cause that is what Youth Speaks is all about – honoring new generations of artists & change makers!

Want to know more? Check out this video of Seattle 2013 slam team member Hamda at the 2013 Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam.

Hamda 2013 video

A Very Special Announcement

Please give a big Arts Corps welcome to Omana Imani!


Dear Arts Corps Community,

I am very excited to introduce Arts Corps’ new Program Director, Omana Imani. Omana brings great expertise in youth development, social justice and program evaluation, as well as experience in growing a powerful program to scale. I have no doubt she will be another transformative figure at Arts Corps, and we are so grateful to have her on our team.




Omana is originally from the Bay Area and recently moved to Seattle. With over twenty years experience working in community non-profit services, she most recently served as the Deputy Director for Youth UpRising in East Oakland, CA. As the Deputy Director, Omana was responsible for managing the organization’s programs and staff, forging community partnerships, and helping to lead organizational operations overall. Prior to joining Youth Uprising in 2005, she was the Director for Underground Railroad, a community based organization dedicated to developing the political analysis and artistic skills of young people in the Bay Area.

A message from Omana: I am so excited to be working with Arts Corps! It’s an honor to be part of such a dedicated team of artists, community workers and partners striving to create possibility for young people. I look forward to working with the team to drive forward our goals of: increasing access to high quality arts classes to students who otherwise would not have it, developing young people’s skills and imagination, and providing safe and fun spaces for youth to create visions for their lives and the world. It is the visions of young people which have always given me so much hope for what is possible. – Omana