This summer, Creative Art Works hired a Shay Epps, a former Youth Apprentice, to work as our Field Correspondent for our summer Public Art Youth Employment program. Shay was our eyes and ears on the ground, visiting all six of our worksites on a regular basis until she became a familiar presence. Shay demonstrated a gift for capturing candid photos and honest interviews. We asked her to reflect on her experiences.
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The management team of the popular burger franchise Shake Shack commissioned Creative Art Works to produce a mural that will wrap around the front and side of their new location on 125th Street in Harlem because they recognize the power of CAW’s Public Art Youth Employment programs to connect stakeholders – including our Youth Apprentices – to their communities.
The self-portrait project is among our most joyous; it goes straight to the core of Creative Art Works’ mission to equip, connect, and inspire NYC kids through the artistic process. Above and beyond learning technical drawing skills, our students explore their sense of identity. As they learn how to render themselves within a setting of their choosing, they imagine their place in the world and the contributions they will make to it. And wow, do we love what they see! Their optimism -- their sense of power and possibility for the future -- is all a delight to behold, and fills us with hope.
Students at Hamilton Grange Middle School are studying Greek Myths in their English Language Arts class. While Greek gods had awesome powers they also had human flaws. To better understand how fictional characters can have complex personalities, these same students will be creating their own versions of gods with a mixtures of powers and flaws in a CAW integrated painting and drawing class.
CAW Youth Apprentices from Queensbridge Houses and Jacob Riis Neighborhood Settlement came together one Saturday to beautify "Baby" Park in Queensbridge. An outpouring of community support created a memorable day and a mural that will last for many years.
The most important connections in our lives are the ones closest to home. This summer, our Multimedia Team created five short films about nonprofits and other organizations that work to improve the quality of life in our city. The subjects include pianos in public places, a grass-roots effort to make improvements to a local city park, an ambitious plan to create murals in Upper Manhattan of 314 North American birds threatened by climate change, and a program that brings soccer and poetry to young NYC residents. Of course, there is also a documentary about Creative Art Works summer Public Art Youth Employment program.
“Migrations” is part of the The Audubon Mural Project, a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and Gitler &_____ Gallery to create murals of North American birds around Washington Heights, where John James Audubon lived during the last years of his life. The project’s goal is to commission artists to paint murals of 314 species of birds which are threatened by a warming climate.
“Corporate art can be very boring, because there’s a perceived expectation of what corporations want, which can be interpreted as sterile or somber. So, don't give us what you think we want. Don't give us stock photos. Be real. Be bold. Be honest. Challenge our expectations.”
“The family that I’ve created outside of my blood
Molded me into the person I want to be
And the greater idea is that my life has just begun
And my train ride ain’t over yet.”
The 18 Youth Apprentices who designed this mural wanted to offer a message of hope and unity to the young people of the South Bronx, and to inspire them to pursue their passions and make healthy life choices. This message informs the symbolism of the mural. As a storm clears behind them, two PAL kids, supported by lily pads, work together to unlock the magic of their potential futures. The water illy symbolizes resilience and strength, as it gestates in the mud and rises to the top of the pond to bloom as a beautiful flower.
Our first set of "lightning interviews" were recorded on only the second day of our summer Public Art Youth Employment program, when our Youth Apprentices were just starting to get a handle on their job responsibilities. We're now past the halfway point, so our young painters and videographers have some experience under their belts. They know their jobs. They know their projects have tight, non-negotiable, deadlines. They know that there are high expectations.
And they are rising to the occasion.
“How can you NOT be optimistic about the future when you spend your days working with young people?” This summer, we’re going to try to bottle the experiences of our Youth Apprentices the way you might catch a firefly in a mayonnaise jar. Between now and the middle of August, we will be posting regular "lightning interviews" on our social media and in our newsletters. Read on for a six flashes of inspiration.
Kids at ACS Children’s Center are experiencing extraordinary circumstances at a young age, yet they remain resilient and they persevere. They are generally kind and loving to each other and adults. They have open hearts. These are also really smart. They are curious and eager to share their knowledge & interests. And their desire to create is palpable. Children seem to find their way into the art room.
As an undergraduate, I studied with Stanley Whitney, who taught me to embrace the unpredictable nature of color. Stanley said you have to admit that some things are beyond your control. When your paints don’t do what you want them to do, you have to turn that into an opportunity. That’s one of the axioms in my classroom, “There are no mistakes in art!”
In the internet age, when social media platforms allow young people to instantly broadcast their thoughts and opinions to the world with a just a few taps on their smart phone, face-to-face conversations can seem quaint, if not downright low-tech. Yet impromptu speaking is a skill that both kids and adults use every day in school, with friends and family, and on the job. In January, students in CAW after-school art workshops had a chance to talk about their art to friends, family, teachers and administrative staff in RL (real-life) at culmination events.
Any parent who has ever read a picture book to their child knows that some days the child will insist that it’s their turn to tell the story. As young children look at pictures, they naturally tell stories about what might be happening. They do this with their parents, their siblings, their classmates and their teachers. By constructing their own meanings about what they see, children become active creators of their own knowledge.
How can a social media post help students better understand the motivations of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird? What qualities do Greek gods share with everyday heroes? These are questions that students in Creative Art Works' integrated arts programs are contemplating with this fall.
This fall, Creative Art Works is offering some of New York City’s most vulnerable youth an opportunity to connect with themselves and their community, develop their own voice and, simply enjoy a healthy and creative experience. CAW is providing two after-school art programs to young children and teens living in the Children’s Center, a transitional residence run by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) for young people who are awaiting foster care placement.