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You know the feeling you get when you’re being creative. You’re gardening, cooking, installing a shelf, or wrapping presents; your thoughts are absorbed in the present; you’re learning; you’re creating your world and yourself, and you’re filled with a sense of accomplishment.
For Providence public school students, that feeling is increasingly rare. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of art teachers in the Providence School District declined from 155 to 72; we went from one teacher for every 178 students to one for every 327 students.
At New Urban Arts, we believe that feeling isn’t some optional nicety; it’s a human right, vital to our development as people. Regardless of background, we all have the right to engage deeply with the world around us, and to express that engagement creatively. So I hope you’ll donate to New Urban Arts now to instill that feeling in hundreds of youth who might not otherwise get a chance to be creative.
Something happened in our studio recently that I think illustrates what you make possible by supporting our work:
Ava is a freshman, and it was her second day at New Urban Arts. I saw her looking around uncertainly and asked, “What are you working on?”
“I want to make prints of this drawing I did yesterday.”
“Let’s check the board and see if any of our screen print mentors are here today.” They weren’t, but Vuthy, a senior who’s been here for three years, overheard and picked up on Ava’s disappointment.
“You need help printing?” he asked. Ava nodded. “Have you coated a screen?” Ava looked more confused. “I don’t have time right now, but Tremell doesn’t look busy; maybe he can show you.” Vuthy turned and yelled across the room, “Hey Tremell!”
Tremell, another senior, who had been hanging out with friends in the lounge area, joined us. Vuthy explained the situation, and Tremell and Ava got to work. Two hours later, she had her first set of prints and two new friends.
Collaborative problem solving, empathy, compassion, teaching, leadership, trust, risk-taking, seeing others’ abilities–these are just a few of the skills that Ava, Vuthy and Tremell practiced that day. This is what can happen when you give young people freedom, a safe space, and a push in the right direction. This is what happens when you don’t impose rules about who can use resources, who instructs, how to learn, or what to learn.
In today’s educational climate, a youth-led space that values open-ended inquiry, messy tinkering, and collaboration is radical. Limited funding forces poor districts like Providence to cut the arts, and afterschool funders are increasingly prescriptive.They want youth programs to align with school standards; they ask us to focus on goals like Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) or workforce readiness. New Urban Arts helps young people develop these skills, but our values dictate that we don’t succeed by forcing anything upon our students.
…Tremell doesn’t look busy…
What if we required youth to “look busy” at all times? Would Ava have learned anything? Would Tremell have gained the deep understanding you get from teaching someone else? What if we were the kind of space that valued “productivity” over relationships?
That’s where YOU come in! Give now to protect the integrity of our mission and allow youth in need to have remarkable arts learning experiences. The NEA reports that low-income and minority youth, who compose the vast majority of our students, now have half as much access to arts education as in 1982. Help us continue to reverse that trend.