Thursday, March 5, 2009
As concerned community members, parents and artists, and in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, we opened Youth Arts Collective nine years ago, in downtown Monterey.
YAC, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, is an after-school visual art studio for 14-22 year olds, open five days a week, four hours a day, year round. Our support comes from private donors and local foundations. Our motto, mission and rules are: DO ART. BE KIND.
At YAC, guided by their own creative ideas, young visual artists are given the space, tools, supplies and training to develop their skills and talents in drawing, painting, airbrush, photography, video, fabric, sculpture and design.
YAC provides a safe, diverse and loving community of equals for each of our members. YACsters are of every race, gender, nationality and economic background. Many have learning difficulties and emotional and mental health challenges. Some are struggling students, others valedictorians. They all work happily side by side on their art, and as they do, their self esteem rises and their sense of connection deepens. We mentor them artistically, emotionally and socially for the long term through high school, college and beyond.
We provide them with a bridge to adulthood.
“YAC has made me an artist, a thinker and someone passionate about making my community better. It creates so much more than good art. It creates good people,” says Elisabeth Donley, YACster for seven years and a UC Berkeley senior.
Youth Arts Collective encourages and empowers each young individual to dream, and then to act on who and what they want to become. We have served 300 kids so far. More than 90 percent go to college, often with scholarships based on their art.
We have hosted and participated in 95 shows in our community. YACsters often sell their art. They are also granted internships, art awards and hired for part time jobs in local art related businesses. YAC prepares them for college and for the art profession. Many of our college graduate alumni have chosen some form of visual art and/or teaching for their careers. Learning to think creatively benefits any profession they choose. In addition, YAC’s positive environment is a model they can recreate in their own lives.
Creativity is the core of our economy and the center of our cultural well-being. There is great need for places like Youth Arts Collective that foster and nurture creative confidence in our young. Last spring Rep. Sam Farr brought Dana Gioia, then chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, to YAC for a visit. Farr introduced us by saying: “This the safest place in Monterey County for kids. Don’t you think there should be a YAC in every city in America?” After spending an hour with us, Gioia agreed, saying it makes more fiscal sense to invest in good community art projects like YAC than to rebuild all the arts programs that no longer exist in the public schools, due to budget cuts. New York Times and Business Week best-selling author Daniel Pink believes our economy is going to be dependent on “Creatives” and “Caregivers.”
According to his predictions, what we are doing at YAC is right in line with training our young community members to be prepared to contribute to this new economy.
Places like YAC should be duplicated all over this country. Unfortunately, there are very few.
But there is one in our community, thanks to the insight and generosity of local individuals and foundations.
We have an inherent responsibility to pass on what we have learned to our young. Apprenticeships, internships, jobs, and organizations like YAC do just that. We can make the choice to invest in programs like YAC or end up paying far more in the end for mental health care and juvenile detention for our community’s disengaged youth.
Knowing now after nine years that this creative experiment is bearing fruit way beyond our wildest dreams, we feel absolutely confident in its value. Yet, at this juncture, we are fighting to keep our doors open and our program alive. We need local saints and angels to help us continue to provide this program for local teens. Please help if you are able.
Our first Alumni and Mentor Show (featuring art and statements by 21 of our YACsters, over the age of 22), will open on March 27 and run through the end of May. This show will be wonderful proof of the long-term positive influence of YAC on our young members. Please come see for yourself. The Youth Arts Collective is located at 472 Calle Principal, open 3-7pm Tuesday – Friday and noon-4pm Saturday. Our web site is www.yacstudios.org