Ever wonder what would happen in a room full of teenagers if they were given a creative project, minimal instructions and left to their own devices? This summer, thanks to Houston Grand Opera’s involvement with the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center, I got to find out – and the results were unbelievable!

I had the pleasure of acting as lead artist in an eight-week program, which introduced art in its many forms to a group of about 15 teens. One of our goals was to give these kids tools that they could use for self-awareness and self-expression. We asked them, “who are you, and what do you mean to the community around you?” Throughout the course of the weekly, two-hour sessions, teens worked with one of Houston’s finest Mariachi musicians, a Poetry Slam champion, a mixed-media master artist, and a videographer to help them document all their work. They were given about half an hour of actual instruction per session, then sent on their way with a few supplies, a Flip Camera, and minimal guidance from any adults – and that was only when it was requested.

The end product exceeded any and every possible expectation! They wrote poems…but not just any poems. These weren’t the senseless limericks you might have expected: they were deep sentiments about their homes, backgrounds, families, and communities. They were glances at each child’s past, and their hope of a future. They made collages…again, not the ones you remember from Kindergarten with macaroni and glue. These were works of art that made a statement. The images they gathered became an enigmatic retelling of each child’s life and background.

They brainstormed together to create a Word Wall – a collection of words with particular meaning to them. Before long I struggled to keep up with the speed at which they were throwing out words. We started off with words that described their community. Positive words led to negative descriptions, which in turn led to stronger words about the negative influences and problems they encounter daily. We came full circle when they reached words that described the solutions to these problems.

They conducted filmed interviews of adults working or volunteering for the center. Their poignant and thoughtful questions allowed the adults to reach for the deeper answer instead of the sound byte.

Over eight weeks, in only sixteen hours, this group of teenagers explored, created, and inspired. So what happens when you give a room full of teens full artistic liberty? Wonderful things happen!

You can see a film created by these teenagers here.

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JULY 18, 2012

Home + Place

Houston, TX