Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Dynamic of an Arts Mentoring Group in an Community Art Studio

Just three weeks ago we reopened the after school studio for the new school year. Behind our storefront windows, you’ll find 20 volunteer artist mentors and over 100 high school students trying new things, sharing ideas and getting to know each other.

Poetry could be expected to be the more serious, quiet art medium inside an interdisciplinary art studio where the live action film group replays slap stick comedy falls for the camera and the photography group blasts music in the darkroom as they develop city landscapes and fashion photo shoots.

Artist mentor Stacy Magner describes that was not her experience last year, “One of my favorite comments about the poetry mentoring group this past year was “you guys are so loud!” And one of my favorite things about New Urban Arts is, this was a compliment. It wasn’t said with disdain, annoyance. It was said because our group was lively, animated, funny. I have the students to thank for that.”

Last year, eight high school students met with Stacy twice a week after school over eight months. They connected over Saul Williams and Octavio Paz. They made journals using plain white computer paper and duct tape. They read their poetry to each other and spent hours reviewing intentions line by line. They collaborated on new works together, practicing poetry not as a solitary act but a community act. They created exhibition installations as a team, working for weeks to build a shared vision and cultivate distributed leadership. They dreamed up poetry presentations that pushed past the page, reinvented on mock television screens and other elaborate 3-D designs. They combated writer’s block together. They named themselves “Semi-colon and Super Friends.”

One of the group’s favorite writing activities was the “Five Senses” prompt. It is a concrete exercise for seasoned poets, new poets, and even non-poets. It works best in a group of at least 4-5. First, everyone writes down an adjective on a strip of paper like heavy, sad, etc. Then, these paper strips are folded up and put inside a hat. Everyone draws a piece of paper out (making sure no one has their own!). Then, each person has five minutes to write about that adjective from the point of view of the five different senses. Then, read them out loud! Below is an example of the activity, by Janessa Frias, age 17.


like a roman bath at midnight, rose petals floating at the top of the water

like a tea recipe that has been passed down for generations

like lying on a bed of cool green grass

like the doctor telling you that the dark mass wasn't a tumor after all.