One thing I've been reminded of this year is that, given a chance, young people can and will create amazing works of art that reflect their inner triumphs and turmoil's. I came to this revelation once again while conducting a series of art workshops with at-risk teenage girls through Class Acts Arts, Inc., a non-profit arts outreach and presenting organization serving diverse populations in the DC metropolitan area. And even though at times the teens are reluctant to try new ways of expressing themselves, after the initial discomfort, they always manage to jump right in.
Some of the projects I led this summer with these teens included a paper mural that challenged them to imagine what it would be like to experience certain natural disasters like a Tsunami. I shared a newspaper article with them about a teenager in Thailand who was one of the few survivors in his family. He managed to survive while clinging to a make-shift raft for eight days. Another project, encouraged them to create a simple artists book using collage. They wrote about difficult life experiences and invited the reader to talk a walk in their shoes. In the course of the summer we have explored several paper decorating techniques using salt and plastic wrap; have created marbleized paper; origami; pop up cards and have made several artists books including a modified accordion book incorporating oil pastel and watercolor, examining the notion of "The Me Nobody Knows".
At the end of several sessions, many of the girls were anxious to share what they created in the workshops with a special person in their lives. I think the workshops have been valuable because they not only allow these teens to express themselves through language art and visual art, but also increase their self esteem and awareness.
To make arts experiences possible for those who normally don't have access is vital. For me personally, the smiles generated from the girls after completing a challenging project make it all worthwhile.