I am fond of telling artists that complain that there are no opportunities for them, to go choose the worst neighborhood in their community and transform it. Most just goggle at me in disbelief.
Its a tough thing to transform a neighborhood. It really takes a community working together to do so. But using art as the catalyst for that change can yield amazing results.
I was recently given the opportunity to see this in action at the New Orleans YaYa Arts Center. This amazing facility is dedicated to teaching kids how and what it means to be an artist.
Their are many arts districts in my home of New Orleans. Museums, galleries, art related organizations cluster together and form a new hub for the arts. YaYa's new facility is about as far from our arts districts as is possible. The neighborhood surrounding it (which I am proud to say I also live in), is a mix of poor to medium incomes and predominantly black residents. Until recently the area was composed of the sprawling Magnolia projects, which were rundown, crime ridden and towards the end mostly abandoned.
In an effort to change this, the city demolished the old standing structures and replaced them with an array of new homes priced to allow low income folks to still remain in the neighborhood but with a much improved way of life. YaYa came in and plunked right down in the midst of this area and built magic.
The clean magnificent facility contains a glass blowing and pottery area as well as studio space for students to create and gallery space to show their work. All in an area that has seen its share of hardships over the years. This is no "high class art snobs" only facility. It is a grass roots effort to bring the arts directly to the people that need it the most.
You know from previous articles that I've written how much importance I place on teaching the arts. It agonized me growing up that most schools placed an emphasis on sports far above any emphasis on the arts. Those of us who needed art in our lives basically found it in our own imagination rather than through caring teachers who wanted to encourage us to make as much of our gifts as we could.
I can only imagine an art hub growing out of YaYa's geographical position, but one that offers and encourages the arts to kids that so desperately need it.
So I say again to all the artists out there that complain that their work never gets seen and how few opportunities there are. Step out of the center of the art world for your city and find the place that has absolutely the least amount of art within it. Begin changing it. Encourage other artists to do the same. You want your work to count for something? This is where it begins.
I teach LGBT students in my studio. I am a firm believer that it is no longer the responsibility of the senior members of LGBT culture to help the young come out of the closet. They are doing that on their own now. But I am a firm believer that we do not do enough to encourage the young once they make the decision to come out. We let them slip into the drug and night club scene and they do little to foster their own growth. The same exact thing happens in underprivileged societies whether gay, straight, black or white. If we begin encouraging our youth instead of letting them fall, then we can truly change society for the better.
So to all my artist friends, think on this and think of what you might have become if you had had more encouragement in the arts as a child. Or if you had that encouragement what did it do for you that turned you into what you are today? Make your life resemble your art, beautiful and complex, with the chance that you can teach another something new in what you do.