Laugh Now, Cry Later


This session shares a range of media and theater exercises, including storytelling, scenes and interviews, to bring participants on a journey of emotional exploration, as seen through the lens of justice-involved youth. From witnessing the work of a youth artist and activist working with a grassroots theater company to understanding how the arts can address larger, statewide system change, this session focuses on the value of a creative youth development approach with system-impacted youth. Session participants will learn about the work of theater company Everett Company Stage and School and their collaborative approach to working with Massachusetts’ juvenile justice agency, the Department of Youth Services. Participants will explore methods of using the arts in addressing trauma histories, while simultaneously capitalizing on youth strengths and resiliency by providing avenues for youth to be agents of change in their own lives. Presenters also discuss the statewide arts initiative of Massachusetts DYS, where the arts contribute to systems change through a multi-tiered arts education approach including arts residencies, mentorships, public showcasing of youth success and engagement of adults and youth in arts-based, professional development across the juvenile justice spectrum. Participants will leave the session with a better understanding of how, even in highly controlled juvenile justice settings, the power of art can create a new space for healing.


Katie Cohn, Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS)
Prince Nwankwo, Artist, Director and Activist

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Author profile

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits