Coordinator Lisa Smith looks back on 10 years of encouraging youth expression through art
After a decade and still going strong, the Clackamas County Arts Alliance’s Youth Arts for Change program confidently enters its next chapter of helping disadvantaged youth express themselves through art after celebrating its 10th anniversary in December. 2021.
From its beginnings in 2011 as a partnership with the Clackamas County Juvenile Department providing advice on theatrical expression, the program has since evolved into a multi-faceted learning and collaborative opportunity for members of local organizations. youth support to express themselves through a variety of mediums.
The program currently offers groups of eight to 14 members with mentorship in drawing, painting, photography, performing arts and more in partnership with the Department of Minors as well as Parrot Creek Child & Family Services in Oregon City and Todos Juntos, a community service provider offering the art program at its Sandy and Canby locations.
“The guiding principle has always been this idea of using the arts as a catalyst to promote positive expression and connect with the community,” said Lisa Smith, program coordinator.
Smith joined the Alliance in 2015 with a diverse professional background ranging from criminal prosecution to photography and arts education. She said her position has evolved over the years from simple coordination to hands-on training and supervision that has helped her better understand how the program can effectively accomplish its mission.
“There was never any doubt how beneficial these programs were for the kids, but there was a need for a little more clarification on what we’re doing,” Smith said.
Smith said she has discovered over the years that it is better to involve young people in artistic expression by fostering each child’s unique approach to exploring ideas and themes creatively rather than simply teach technical skills that can be interpreted as immutable rules.
“There’s no right or wrong way to do it,” Smith said. “Because if you say to a child, ‘This is not good’ or ‘This does not make sense,’ then you are simply devaluing their thinking process. What we need to do is encourage them to. be introspective.
“I hear all the time: ‘I’m not an artist, I don’t know how to draw.’ And I’m like, “That’s not the way it is. Let me explain why you can be an artist: do you have something to say? Do you want to say it? Let’s find a way to say it , and it doesn’t “doesn’t have to be perfect,” she added.
As the COVID-19 pandemic introduced broad health and safety mandates, temporarily halting Alliance in-person programming in early 2020, Smith said program organizers were able to address with success the sudden challenge of translating the program into virtual means, swiveling quickly to a remote control. format that was offered to participants by summer 2020.
“I think the most important thing is that we have learned that we can make art virtually and that it be interactive, that it be successful,” Smith said, adding that the period of time had allowed itself to her. yourself and the team to reflect on the previous years of the program and continue. develop ways to encourage the creativity of young people as effectively as possible.
Smith said the one-on-one virtual sessions were developed out of necessity due to some privacy concerns with their partner organizations meeting in remote groups, which allowed him to develop a closer relationship with each child and learn this that they wanted the program. .
“What really started to crystallize is that art is a form of positive expression for these kids, it’s more than just a positive expression… a visual way,” Smith said.
Continuing its online programming in late 2020 and early 2021, the Alliance was able to resume its activities in person by summer 2021 and now seeks to continue to expand the opportunities it offers to young people in the future.
Each program ends with a group showing where participants’ creations are displayed proudly on the program’s dedicated wall space in the County Utility Building in Oregon City.
“It’s amazing, when you’re 13 your artwork will be hung in this building where the decision-making people in the county come by every day. I think it’s really powerful,” Smith said.
Smith said the Alliance is looking to continue expanding Youth Arts for Change to reach more underserved youth in the county and that it will revamp its website in the coming days to reflect the additional opportunities available soon.
“Art can be very important for any group, especially for groups who may have obstacles and difficulties. “said Smith.
To learn more about Youth Arts for Change, click here.
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