Mindfulness is noticing your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in the present moment without judgement in as many moments in your life as possible. Mindfulness practices have been integrated in YAA workshops since our founding in 2013; in the last few years, YAA has deepened mindfulness practices, and widening our trauma-informed lens through intensive training to our cohort of teaching artists. In 2020, YAA began offering Arts + Mindfulness workshops to families that are court-involved recognizing the immediate and long standing consequences of incarceration on everyone in the family; mindfulness and healing arts practices are catalysts for post-traumatic growth and relational healing.
Youth artists write poetry, plays, biographic pieces, short stories and expressive journal entries. Writing is a foundational part of nearly all YAA workshops. All youth are given the opportunity to share their work voluntarily within the safe and supportive environment of the workshop, cultivated by teaching artists. We celebrate a long held partnership with Pongo Teen Writing, a trauma-informed poetry organization based in Seattle, Washington. YAA believes in building up the next generation of teaching artists who specialize in creative writing. In partnership with UM Creative Writing faculty, Sara Messer and her students we collaboratively explore critical pedagogy of teaching creative writing to young people in carceral settings. Youth writers who participate in these workshops receive additional high school credit for their commitment to their writing, editing of and performance of their work.
Expressive Visual Art
Authentic expression is cultivated through continued practice; the myriad of mediums and processes for 2-D visual works are deeply healing and welcome creative flow. Youth artists speak often of the meditative space they enter while creating in this genre. YAA celebrates the endless talents of teaching artists who invite youth artists into printmaking, drawing, screenprinting, comix, zine making, altered book art, illustrations and more! Our offerings of expressive visual art workshops are reflective of youths expressing interest and teaching artists’ passion for sharing practices in community.
Youth artists are eager to create public art in their communities, including in the facilities where they’re incarcerated, neighborhood centers near their homes and in exhibition spaces. Thousands of square feet of public art have been created since 2014. Our approach to public art is collaborative and connective; youth artists share the skills and techniques they gain in workshops and teach their parents, siblings, loved ones, legislators, judges, police officers, mentors and teachers; other community members and organizations collaborate in the creation of each public work. For youth artists exiting incarceration, involvement in community-based public art projects and workshops is a paid opportunity and each hour dedicated to these opportunities is counted as double toward their community service requirements.
YAA welcomed Pinhole Photography workshops and residencies in 2018 under the expert guidance of teaching artist Isaac Wingfield; these workshops introduce youth to the basics of film photography. Each youth artist builds their own camera, captures their own images and develops them in pop-up darkrooms. In locked residential settings, YAA converts youth cells into darkrooms. Upon completion of these workshops and residencies, youth artists have original collections of their photographic work and a photobook of selected works created project wide.
In 2016, teaching artist and horticulturist Emily Griswold began horticulture workshops at the Jackson County Youth Center. Emily’s curriculum centers mindfulness, horticultural learning, soil to table food experiences and artistic practices like natural dying, seed mandalas and sharing each season’s bounty with youth artists’ supportive circles. Hundreds of pounds of produce have been generated from the ever-expanding garden in Jackson, and participating youth earn additional high school science credits for their leadership and maintenance of the garden throughout the growing season each year.
YAA music programming began in partnership with Radiant City Arts in 2014, youth musicians explore writing original lyrics, musical form, beat making and audio engineering bringing their musical visions through full production of original tracks with the support of long time teaching artists Ben Cohen, Akili Jackson and Yusuf Lateef. Youth musicians’ enthusiasm for these experiences led to the creation of the state of the art music and recording studio at Parkridge Community Center in Ypsilanti; youth participate in YAA workshops with teaching artists and open studio time supported by dedicated, local audio engineers.
The tactile and sensory benefits of ceramics practices are well-evidenced, and youth artists love exploring the endless possibilities. YAA ceramics workshops explore handbuilding techniques, a variety of clay tools and their uses, glazes, kiln and raku firing. Youth artists’ work is celebrated in exhibitions and while youth artists keep their original ceramic pieces, over and over they give their original works to loved ones.
Theatre games and improv activities abound in YAA workshops; inviting imaginative play, team building, collaborative visioning and exploring character development. In intensive theatre workshops, youth artists often write original scripts and monologues inspired by their lived experiences. Over the years, youth artists have had opportunities in experimental theatre practices, shadow puppetry, performance art and devised theatre inspired by Shakespeare’s works. Youth artists are celebrated by an audience of their families, loved ones, mentors and other community members as they perform the culmination of their works from theatre workshops.
Youth artists explore luminary sculpture practices and techniques taking their on paper visions to large scale, illuminated sculptural works. Youth artists collaborated on imaginative animals with special features from animals in the natural world, a collective of luminaries for large scale installation and luminary works to carry in local parades and processions.
In collaboration with juvenile justice facilities, YAA programming illuminates the challenges of arts materials and tools deemed contraband. We prioritize safety in our creative processes while understanding that when youth artists are given the best tools for a practice and materials that require safety measures – they respect and acknowledge the importance of collective well being. In partnership with teaching artist Gail Christofferson, Animal House Glass, we have offered mosaic experiences to thousands of youth artists, families and community members. The results of these workshops have been individual pieces proudly displayed in homes across Michigan and hundreds of feet of public mosaic murals and sculptures.
A zine is a catch-all term for a DIY-style, self published booklet, focusing on any topic or theme the author desires. Zines are an empowering medium for self expression, and have a rich history in being used as tools of education, an approach to sharing art through anti-capitalist means, and being radically accessible. Youth artists have made zines about their lives, fictitious characters and stories, and their political beliefs.