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

Coming 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 […]

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

Read More

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 […]

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 3.19.35 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Read More

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 […]

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?

YSS_slam_posterLARGER

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

Read More

Youth Speaks Seattle + Arts Corps is seeking our new generation of Spokes Leaders!

We’re launching our first Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute  and are looking for teen artists and activists, of all mediums, 14-19 years old, to take on a 9-month commitment of leadership.  Spokes will help us drive our teen programming, develop professional skills and organize our teen events: Open Mics, YSS Slam Series and after school […]

We’re launching our first Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute  and are looking for teen artists and activists, of all mediums, 14-19 years old, to take on a 9-month commitment of leadership.  Spokes will help us drive our teen programming, develop professional skills and organize our teen events: Open Mics, YSS Slam Series and after school clubs!

Please pass this on to any young folks who might be interested.

Complete the attached SPOKES application.  It’s due September 23th!

Read More

Make some cents!

Find some cents, will ya? Literally. Like, on the sidewalk or in a couch.  We found 80 cents hiding at the office.  See: The physical Arts Corps office space donated!  And now, you can too!  So, here’s the challenge- 1) Go digging for change wherever it’s free to be harvested. 2) Snap a pic and post […]

Find some cents, will ya? Literally. Like, on the sidewalk or in a couch.  We found 80 cents hiding at the office.  See:

The physical Arts Corps office space donated!  And now, you can too!  So, here’s the challenge-

1) Go digging for change wherever it’s free to be harvested.

2) Snap a pic and post on our FB page the picture, the amount, and where you found it.

3) Drop by the office and add your cents to our cents so we can make a bunch of cents!

We are launching the Make Cents campaign to raise funds for Youth Speaks Seattle to send the Youth Slam Team to the Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam & Festival.  If your more comfortable paying with plastic, click to link to our online campaign.

Every cent adds up to hella cents.  So go and MAKE SOME CENTS already!

 

 


Read More

2012 Grand Slam Trailer

Don’t miss this epic event! Friday, April 13th 2012 at the Neptune Theater: 1303 NE 45th St, Seattle The top 5 poets from the Grand Slam will form the Youth Speaks Seattle Team. The team will travel to San Francisco in July to represent Seattle at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam, which […]

Don’t miss this epic event!
Friday, April 13th 2012 at the Neptune Theater: 1303 NE 45th St, Seattle

The top 5 poets from the Grand Slam will form the Youth Speaks Seattle Team. The team will travel to San Francisco in July to represent Seattle at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam, which convenes young poets from over seventy different cities to compete and perform.

Buy your tickets today!

Video by Chris Zweigle

Read More