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Dreaming of a Future Through the Arts

Date: 07 December 2021
Twelve youths stand in front of a colorful mural wall, laughing and showing off the art. The mural has youth faces and bright colors, with the words "we dream of a world without prisons..."

Twelve youths stand in front of a colorful mural wall, laughing and showing off the art. The mural has youth faces and bright colors, with the words, “We dream of a world without prisons…” This photo was provided by Performing Statistics. To learn more about the making of the mural check out this video.

On August 2nd, Performing Statistics, a partner of Arts Education Partnership (AEP), announced the release of Freedom Constellations. This interactive public art project represents a new monument that asks youth to illustrate a road map toward freedom for all young people. AEP spoke with two youth leaders in the project, Ta’ Dreama and Clyde about their arts experience supporting and collaborating with those in the care of juvenile justice facilities. Ta’ Dreama began the conversation with a 30-second elevator pitch for the Freedom Constellation project:

“The project basically worked with different kids all around Richmond, [Virginia] to just express themselves in an artistic manner. We made multiple projects that make up the constellation; a film, a mural project, a bus, and also the banners on city hall.” Youth with experience under the care of juvenile justice facilities and youth within coding programs were among the kids who participated in the project. Clyde continued, “Yeah, it’s about keeping youth free and every time I talk about it, I try to get better at getting more information [out] so I can reach the masses in a selling manner. [This project shows that] other kids like me can be heard and I hope that when they hear our voice, it can show them y’all can do the same thing and accomplish [it] too.”

My voice is important

AEP was interested in the learning environment created by so many different collaborative actions with different organizations. Ta’ Dreama responded, “At the beginning of the project we would play games, bond, talk about our own experiences and just connect on a personal level, but also almost like coworkers. Having that camaraderie and learning about each other helped me see qualities within each of us[that made me think,] ‘I love that about you.’ There was a lot of value in that, and I think it really made me comfortable [that] we were working on such a big project. We’re all comfortable around each other.” Clyde agreed, “Yeah, as soon as I met Mark [Creative Director at Performing Statistics] and the rest of the people it was already like a friendship. I usually have to be around people for a certain period of time but as soon as I met them, they were easy to talk with and it made me feel real comfortable.”

Throughout the project both were able to have personal growth wins, turning their learning experience into uplifting and actionable outcomes. Clyde shared, “At first, I was real shy and I was scared to talk in front of people but the more I spoke the better [I got] at speaking in front of crowds.” Ta’ Dreama also shared, “I really pushed myself to express myself on a huge platform and people accepted it. [After] I saw what we created, I knew my voice is important, I can push things forward, and I’m valued. There is nothing holding me back.” She continued that the project was not just empowering to others; she noted it “empowering me as a person and helping me grow.”

You can make a change

They both shared how these arts experiences were different from other learning spaces. Of the project, Ta’ Dreama reported, “Art is very calming to me. Taking an idea and putting it on the canvas and putting the varnish over the painting just takes a certain heaviness off of me to express myself. If I’m, like, enraged I could just put it on the paper. This gave me a stable ground to excel and push forward. Because when you’ve been through a lot, and then you get to see something that’s bigger than life, that you were a part of, you can feel like even though you’re going through what you’re going through, that this beautiful thing came out of it.”

Ta’ Dreama continued to express the usefulness of creating an environment that uplifts youth thought and creativity. “I feel like in a lot of these educational spaces that’s important, especially because us artists, we tend to feel the most you know. It’s kind of interesting to be able to build on that and have teachers that say, ‘Hey I know you’re very creative, y’all have been through something and I want to hear what you have to say. I want you to create something beautiful that expresses the way you feel. And not only am I going to encourage you to do that, but I’m going to give you a platform where you can talk about it, where people can see it, and where you can make a change.’”

A better day is coming

Clyde shared similar thoughts as he talked through an experience he had during the project. “Everybody had a huge part in making my image, [showcased in constellation], because when we were doing the photo shoot we couldn’t stop laughing and I think that also helped me feel a bit more comfortable with the camera and trying to find what I wanted to do and how I wanted to look. At first, I didn’t want to smile in my photo because I wanted it to show that I was tough and was fighting for freedom but then I felt like having a smile on my face was different: I need to make this picture look like a better day is coming, I want this to be special.”

The conversation ended with a call to action for all young people. Ta’Dreama explained, “If I was speaking to the next generation of youth, I would tell them that the world is yours and every opportunity that’s given to you — take it no matter what. Make it your own. When you get opportunities just take care of them, nurture them, and grow them like seeds. Because when we do something like put beautiful Black children on [two sides of Richmond City Hall] beside the police department that’s huge and powerful. [I’d tell them] when I walk past my own image, I get to see people taking pictures in front of it and saying, ‘Look at this beautiful piece of art!’” 

In agreement Clyde shared, “It’s a mind-blowing thing, every time I go downtown when I’m on my way to school, I see me and my sister on City Hall. I never thought that could be me, especially at such a young age. I want to see people do the same thing we’ve done in our community. Not just us, I want to see other kids on banners, on buses, on murals. I don’t want kids to think that just ‘cause they’re in a hard situation that they can’t do anything they dream of.”

This is the fourth post in the multi-part Juvenile Justice Series: Broadcasting Arts Experiences. AEP hopes these story-driven contributions will expand thoughtful discussion and research into the role of the arts in the juvenile justice system. You can read the first post in the series here.

If you’re interested in sharing your arts education experience in juvenile justice settings for a future blog post, AEP wants to hear from you! Please contact Project Manager Krystal Johnson.

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