Reaching Vulnerable Youth Through Art On The Street

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Since 2006, the MultiCare Youth Foundation, based in downtown Kingston, has been conducting the Art on the Street programme. Every Saturday morning, approximately 30 children from Parade Gardens and surrounding inner-city communities across Kingston can be spotted on the roadside participating in art classes in locations including Fletchers Land, Franklin Town, Rae Town, Olympic Gardens, and Gold Street.

Participants are led by visual arts Coordinator at the Foundation, Stanford Watson, and are taught:

– Screen printing from design to production

– Block printing

– Basketry, using various mediums

– Fine arts

– Painting

– Jewellery making

– Fashion designing

– Ceramics and other three-dimensional areas

– Photography

Currently, four age groups are able to access the programme:

– Ages 5-8

– Ages 9-11

– Ages 12-14

– Ages 15-18

The programme was conceived with the intention of finding the good that exists in these communities and using various art forms to highlight these positive elements so that youth living within these communities can use it as an encouraging reference point.

At the same time, it was envisaged that the programme would allow for the creation of a creative space where specifically targeted youth within these communities could learn and express themselves. Within this framework, participants would learn important skills, but more important, they would assist in creating the aesthetic that would better define themselves and their communities. For those who have shown clear artistic talent, they are expected to create at a level where they can become competent in their specialised area. They can even take it a step further and use their art to embark on their own entrepreneurial/professional path. Already, some of the art that is produced in the programme is sold through the Foundation.

Art on the Street is part of The MultiCare Youth Foundation’s Visual Arts programme, which also includes the provision of training workshops and guided practice for teachers and students in a variety of art forms, with emphasis on the value of art for creative expression and as a career option.

The benefits of using art to positively influence vulnerable youth are many. International studies have shown that students who participate in not only visual arts, but also performing arts, are significantly less likely than non-participants to drop out of school, be arrested, use drugs, or engage in binge drinking. Other studies are finding correlations between arts education and improvements in academic performance and standardised test scores, increases in student attendance, and decreases in school dropout rates.

Specifically, the arts and other related disciplines provide critical tools for children and youth as they move through various developmental stages. Preschool children, before they are fluent in language, are powerfully affected by music, visual arts, and dance. Preschoolers can paint, colour, mould clay, sing songs, and dance in order to convey feelings and ideas. These activities encourage young children to express themselves and learn through the use of non-verbal symbols.

Teenagers, on the other hand, tend to struggle with issues of identity, independence, competency, and social role. The arts help to mediate this confusion, while providing a means to express pain and unfulfilled longings during an important phase of growth. The arts simultaneously engage the competent, hopeful, and healthy aspects of the adolescents’ being.

In the near future, the goal is to introduce Art on the Street to more inner-city communities across Kingston. Given the high incidence of criminal activity among our youth, it is hoped that these and other art programmes will allow this negative focus to be channelled into other areas, ultimately leading to the development of well-rounded and productive adults.

n New Employment Opportunities for Youth in Jamaica is part of the regional programme, New Employment Opportunities for Youth (NEO). NEO seeks to improve human capital and the employability of one million vulnerable youth across Latin America and the Caribbean by 2022 and is s being executed in Jamaica by Youth Upliftment Through Employment (YUTE). Email: kareenc@icdgroup.net

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