Outpost Journal: “Transmitting Agency at AS220, The Steelyard, and New Urban Arts”

Outpost Journal showcases New Urban Arts’ Youth Mentorship in the Arts program.


[excerpt] Founded in 1997 as a free art program for public high school students, New Urban Arts stresses youth empowerment. It’s core project is the Youth Mentorship in the Arts program, in which students work with trained artist mentors twice a week throughout the school year—more so as collaborators than proteges. The sustained practice helps them acquire skills and knowledge in the arts, at the same time developing positive relationships with peers and non-parental adults.

A more structured approach to guidance, it still bears the stamp of consensus: after potential mentors apply through a rigorous process for a predetermined number of annual positions, the students together help choose the year’s final selections. And—as one teenager pointed out on s recent Friday afternoon—it’s not like there are offices. Desks, sure, but everyone works in the same room/

This may be what New Urban Arts, AS220 and the Steel Yard share most centrally the organizations cultivate individual agency through collaborative community. It takes a bottom-up approach to resource development, one in which mentorship is not a conditional property but an emergent one, and the voice of experience ever-shifts in context.

Earlier this year, when New Urban Arts’ no-clock policy posed a problem—students kept missing bus rides home—it was agreed a timepiece should be hung. The younger artists took design control, fixing fake dynamite to a typical schoolroom clock: a ticking time bomb. The object hangs just inside the studio’s front door—a playful reminder for heroes in the vicinity that there’s important action to be taken, vital work to be done.