Juliette Myers, Dr. Julie Thompson-Dobkin, and Save Our Youth (SOY) collaborated on a pilot project titled Empowering Artistic Voices for Social Justice on January 3-6, 2017 at SOY Center.
The project was funded through the Live It, Dream It Fund of Macalester College where Juliette is a student. Empowering Artistic Voices recruited ten Latino students, many of whom live in poverty, from SOY in Costa Mesa, CA to participate. The project involved group discussions about the societal issues these youth confront in their schools and communities, its impact upon their education, and their fears for the future. The students were asked to translate their shared experiences into a 3-panel mural which they independently designed and created. The goal of the project was to use art as a platform for these students to explore their identities, the issues confronting them, and to teach them how they can use art as their voice to address the social injustices in a peaceful, reflective manner.
Many of the students recruited are first-generation American citizens. They come from households where English is a second language or not spoken at all. Their parents struggle with multiple jobs to provide for the basic needs of their families. They face opportunity gaps in learning, racial discrimination in their schools and communities, and housing insecurity as a result of gentrification of their neighborhoods. The gap created by English proficiency issues, family situations, and race, have impacted their abilities to succeed academically, and impacted their sense of self-worth and confidence in their abilities.
Empowering Artistic Voices encouraged the students to transform their unique experiences and/or concerns into a collective work of art composed of their mosaic of stories. It is hoped that the public exhibition of the mural will raise awareness of the social injustices experienced by these youths in their local communities and schools, help to educate, foster community building, and to provide the students a sense of empowerment.
Studies have shown that minority and low-income youth who have access to the arts have better academic achievement are more likely to graduate and attend college, become more civically-engaged, and have improved self-confidence. Through this creative and educational project, Empowering Artistic Voices has empowered these students and taught them how they can use their art to connect with the world around them and how to direct their energy into something positive and productive. The skill set taught through creative problem solving, planning, collaboration, and innovation, is transferable as they pursue their future academic and career goals.
Post surveys conducted at the completion of the project were uniformly positive in supporting the role of the arts to become an active voice for social change, promoting community building and engagement, and allowing differences to become a unifying factor in the fight for equality in the schools and community.