As Told by Teaching Artist Mari Shibuya
It’s 4:30, an incredible, eclectic group of young people are gathered around the table in the studio of Urban ArtWorks. Each day, a different member of our community leads a check in. Each young person has the opportunity to share about their day, answer a couple of different questions that we as a group have generated – and be witnessed and celebrated for their answer. Questions are as diverse as our group, ranging from what would you do if you were shrunk down to the size of an ant to where do you find your motivation? What are your core values and goals? and if you could have one super power, what would it be?
Urban Artworks creates a truly unique space for young people to come, experience supportive community, cultivate leadership and experience their own creativity and its impact on the greater Seattle community. These young people arrive from different circumstances and varying levels of privilege. What connects us: a culture of kindness and care, and a deep disbelief and reverence that we are getting paid to hang out and make art!
I had the honor of holding down the teaching artist position for the winter session of 2019. During the winter session we completed four different projects ranging from a tiny wall in an apartment complex with eight folks dancing around each other, paint brushes in hand, to a 300 foot scrim covered with spray painted mountains and delicate fan line work to surround a construction site in the International District.
My favorite project we completed was for the Hepatitis Education Project (HEP). For the HEP project, the young people got to exercise creative control in each phase of the process. From the site visit where we sat down with the client and heard about the vision and mission of the organization in order to make artwork aligned with the values of the organization, to the actual painting of the whole piece. It was an immersive experience of creating large scale artwork with a specific vision. What struck me the most: the heart these youth brought to the work and the visible pride that completing the project brought them. I work with numerous youth programs in the city there is something deeply impactful about the recipe Urban ArtWorks has.
Telescope back. These young people were almost predominately youth of color. Some of these young people are coming from the juvenile justice system and participating in the program as a work readiness training program, other young people are volunteering because of the passion they have for art and the desire to bring their art to the next level. The space of Urban ArtWorks became a safe welcoming space for these youth where they could contribute and express themselves while having the experience of being valued as a contribution and compensated for their time.
It was such a safe space that the youth would bring their family and friends to experience our community and paint with us. A father of one of my young people said “If only I had a space like this when I was young, my life would have turned out differently”. Another youth brought a friend who came back to work with us multiple times because he found the environment so special. Talk about an incredible program that offers avenues to build esteem, confidence and see new opportunities for yourself in a system that is not designed for youth experiencing an opportunity gap.
Alright, zooming back in. We close each day with an attitude of gratitude. The young people have an opportunity to share gratitude about anything in their life. 9 out of 10 times, the gratitude of each young person was for this space, for the people in the space, and for the opportunity to work with Urban Artworks. In a similar manner, I close this out with gratitude. I am grateful for the opportunity to be enlivened and deeply impacted by this group of young people and this organization. The strength, resilience, heart and beauty of each one of them will stay imprinted in a deep part of my being where I store the most important memories that make me who I am. It was a transformative experience, for all involved and I cannot proclaim enough, how much the youth need spaces like these to express and connect! I have a wealth of love and respect for this organization, and I encourage anyone who has the space and desire to connect with these youth and this work to come, check us out, get messy and experience this community.