March 1, 2013

Youth Reach project blends art, community advocacy
By Allison Chisolm

Alex Dunn put two lumps of gray clay in the middle of a table at the Worcester Art Museum (WAM). Two high school students immediately picked them up and started playing with them. Four others wouldn't touch the stuff.

"These two are tactile learners," said Dunn, WAM's outreach coordinator, explaining to the group that some acquire knowledge first through their hands. Others learn visually, or through logic, music or movement. They discussed the concept of multiple intelligences and different learning styles.

Then the youth, ages 14 to 22, tackled the day's mission. How could the group help elementary school students learn to care about trash in the neighborhood? Through visual materials like flyers or a video, or... how about a skit where second graders become recycled materials?

Cleaning up trash was the issue the youth chose to focus on after undertaking several community walks around the Worcester Youth Center's neighborhood last fall. They observed what was there, and more importantly, what wasn't. They didn't find much community pride. Instead, they saw a lot of trash.

Facilitating those weekly discussions was Esayas Wureta, a second-year graduate student in Clark's International Development and Social Change program, who selected the 15 youth, after reviewing their applications for the year-long Youth Reach project. Part of the Youth Center's Urban Community Action Planning for Teens, or UCAPT initiative, the collaboration between WAM and the Youth Center was funded for two years through a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant. The program will repeat with a new group in the 2011-12 school year.

Program participants also spent eight two-hour sessions at WAM last fall meeting artists and exploring different art forms, including cartooning, watercolors, sculpture and print making. They visited an exhibit on art as social change at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and closer to home, a photography exhibit at the NuCafe.

To respond to their community concerns through art, they elected to create a sculpture made of cigarette butts. They will also decorate new trash cans, once they receive the funding and city authorization for their inclusion in the trash collection schedule, to encourage people to keep the trash off the street. The group's artwork and a chronicle of their year's efforts will be exhibited at the Worcester Public Library in September.

"What I like about the program is it's all about the youth," said Esayas. "They are engaged. There are no set ideas, just a framework and they determine the end goal...I'm just following them and facilitating."

Worcester Youth Center Winter 2011 Newsletter