By: Christiana Castillo

This summer, the Muskegon Juvenile Transition Center (MJTC) became a space for healing and transformation in collaboration with Youth Arts Alliance. For the first time ever, YAA facilitated their healing centered arts education to youth at the Muskegon Juvenile Transition Center. With the help of Founding Director Heather Martin and Teaching Artists Yusuf Lateef, Jordan Hamilton, Ben Cohen, and Seth Bernard, space was created for youth to connect with creative expression through music creation and creating a mural. 

For many of the youth artists at MJTC it was their first time engaging in music and mural creation. Despite this, the youth were brave and dove into trying new mediums and being art collaborators. Youth Arts Alliance teaching artists bring their authentic selves into the workshop space which in turn invites youth artists they are meeting for the first time to be their authentic selves and experiment with mediums that might be unfamiliar or new to them.

From day one, the youth took ownership of their creative work and the youth at Muskegon were intentional in investing in reciprocity with YAA teaching artists. Not only did YAA Teaching Artists work to establish trust with the youth, but the youth also established trust with themselves and each other as artists and creators. YAA Teaching Artists saw youth artists collaborate with each other and bond on a further level due to the dynamic programming the youth engaged in. 

Teaching Artists Yusuf Lateef and Founding Director Heather Martin held space with youth to create a mural where they saw youth artists transform their emotions and self expression into color. Not only did youth have the opportunity to focus on creating and breaking patterns with paint for the mural, but youth also had the opportunity to investigate patterns in their own lives, and freedom dream about what their creative futures may hold. 

The Mural Created by YAA participants at the Muskegon Juvenile Transition Center. 
Image description: An image of a  large colorful mural with various shapes in different shades of blues, green, pink, yellow, white, and orange under a tall metal chain link fence.

Teaching Artists Jordan Hamilton, Seth Bernard, and Ben Cohen saw joy spark in the music studio they created when youth wrote songs, poets, and experimented with playing different instruments. They saw youth pour their emotions into songs. Teaching Artist Jordan Hamilton that the joy he saw was from seeing youth see how they could change the music they are creating, and on another level, this helped them identify other change they can create in their lives. By the end of the residency, the youth artists created two fully produced songs with the guidance of YAA Teaching Artists. 

The youth who had the opportunity to create the mural and music said that it was an opportunity for them to express themselves creatively, and they found the experience of being outside and creating the mural to be fun and enjoyable. Youth artist A shared “During the week [of the residency] I felt creative. Usually I don’t feel creative like that.” All youth artists shared that they would be excited to create a mural and music again in the future if they were given the opportunity. Many of the youth artists entered the residency without ever creating art and finished the residency with the goal to keep creating art, whether it be art rooted in music or the visual arts.