Friday, February 20, 2015

Meet Maria, Proud Parent of Aspiring Performer

Maria is the proud mother of two daughters, Carina and Ariel. Although Carina is too young to participate in the programs at the Cook Arts Center, her sister Ariel is quite involved. In fact, after living in this neighborhood for several years, Maria has reached out to the staff at the Cook Arts Center to express her high satisfaction level with the programs and services that they provide.

“Ariel has been through a lot in her little lifetime, and the Cook Arts Center makes her feel like she is doing something. The classes make her feel special and worthy. Those are important things to know as a child,” Maria reflected. “When I was young I felt like what I did didn’t matter, but Ariel looks forward to every day here. It pushes her to do better in everything she does.”

Maria cannot say enough good things about the staff at the Arts Center. “Everyone here is the best. I have seen them work with kids and it's nice to see people who care. When I was growing up people did not care about me. Back then it seemed like nobody cared. But here, they reach out to the kids, which makes me trust them. They are here for us.”

Ariel, a 7-year-old who attends Bursley Elementary School in Jenison Michigan, falls in the 85th percentile in school. Although she succeeds academically, her true passion lies in the arts including singing, acting, and dancing. At the Cook Arts Center, she attends piano, animal drawing, hip hop, and pottery classes.  She told her mom, “I don’t want to be a trash picker or someone who works at a desk all day long. Instead, I want to be a dancer and a performer for my career.” Ariel’s favorite celebrity is Jessie J.

Maria, who is originally from Texas, moved around a lot with her parents, who were migrant farm workers. She attended a variety of Grand Rapids Public Schools including Franklin, Cesar Chavez, and Burton. She also attended GRCC but then became pregnant with her second daughter, Carina. Although Maria needed to take time off to focus on raising her infant, she plans to go back to college.

For fun, the family enjoys attending Grand Rapids First Church, going to the movies, and attending ArtPrize. Their favorite activity when it’s warm is going to Grand Haven beach to walk on the pier. Maria plans to enroll Ariel in the Cook Library Center programs this summer and looks forward to continuing her relationship with the staff at the Cook Arts Center.

 “I tell Ariel that we must try hard in everything we do. We can’t just show up,” Maria said. “That way, at the end of the day, we can say we tried our best at everything we do.”

Ariel listening to her music instructor intently
Ariel playing the piano

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mary T., Avid Reader and Committee Member

Mary is a bright, unique fourth grader at Cesar Chavez elementary school. This ten-year-old’s favorite subjects are music, gym, and reading. Mary and her three siblings, who are ages four, six, and twelve, celebrate diversity in their family. Her mom, now a social worker, is originally from Africa. Mary’s father, who is from Guatemala, is an auto technician in Grand Rapids.

Mary started going to the Cook Library Center two years ago when she was in second grade. She thoroughly enjoys the myriad of activities offered there, including creative art activities and classes that expand her understanding of science. One of her favorite things about the Library is the field trips. She fondly recalls going to Calvin College for trick-or-treating in the dorms for Halloween.

Mary is also involved with The Cook Library Center D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) Group. In addition to the normal quilt-making activities that the students partake in leading up to Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities’ annual fundraiser, Día del Sol, this special children’s committee has been planning and creating additional items to auction off at the big event. As an integral part of this committee, Mary is responsible for making important decisions about what crafts to make and how to make them. Then, she and the rest of the committee bring their ideas to life.

One part of the craft required a field trip to Richmond Stamp Works in downtown Grand Rapids, where Mary and her team met owner and creative genius, Paul Newhof. While there, Paul showed them his unique work space and also the process of making rubber stamps. The kids particularly enjoyed the shop dog, seeing the stamp-making machine at work, and the candy that Paul so kindly shared as they departed.

In addition to the interactions that students at the Cook Library Center have with leaders, artists, and authors from the community, college students from Calvin College, GVSU, and GRCC often volunteer to tutor, help with homework, and lead  reading activities. Mary said that these students have helped her immensely with her homework, her reading comprehension, and her critical thinking.

Outside of school, Mary enjoys spending time with her friends. She enjoys having singing contests, building snowmen, playing with toy horses, watching SpongeBob SquarePants, playing with the family dogs, creating fake tattoos, reading comic books, and waking up her mother. Her favorite author is Dr. Seuss. When Mary grows up, she hopes to be famous stylist and actress.   

Mary, pictured on the left, with some of the other members of the Cook Library Center D.I.Y. Group


Richmond Stamp Works owner Paul Newhof shows Mary and Arianna how to cut our the rubber part of the stamp that was created by a machine at his workshop

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Aerial Tactic + GSM Creative = Success

Teen Leaders in the Arts is an exciting new program at GAAH’s Cook Arts Center. Inspired by the youth driven spaces model of programming practiced by The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, the Teen Leaders program engages neighborhood teens in programs that celebrate and encourage autonomy and decision-making about their activities.

The program was launched last summer when a committee of teens, under the guidance of program director Steffanie Rosalez, met to define four main areas on which the program would focus: creative expression, work experience, community service, and travel. One of the resultant creative projects was the production of a promotional video featuring GAAH’s award-winning breakdance crew, Aerial Tactic.

Aerial Tactic was formed in 2012 by three members of a Cook Arts Center breakdance class taught by Brian Urbane, head of the crew 61Syx Technique. Antonio, Ignacio, and Edgar were so taken with breakdancing that they began choreographing routines of their own. The boys soon decided to form their own crew. They chose a name, selected a logo, and recruited Carlos, Noe, and Danny to the group.

When the opportunity arose for a creative project through the Teen Leaders program, several members of Aerial Tactic decided on a promotional video. About this time GSM Creative directors Matthew Lohr and Steve Wygmans were looking for ways to expand their business. Steffanie facilitated a meeting between Aerial Tactic and GSM Creative to discuss the possibility of working together, and a creative project was born.

Last September Aerial Tactic spent an entire Saturday afternoon in the GSM Creative studio. After an hour of filming, the teens provided input and learned editing techniques. The group agrees that the biggest challenge was finding the right music for the project. Because each dancer has his own style, the team wanted to portray each person’s specific talent. They found inspiration in the idea of “glitching” between scenes to unify the piece.

The collaboration proved to be a unique, exciting, educational project for both the breakdancers and GSM Creative. The members of Aerial Tactic were inspired to improve their moves, and the video turned out to be far better than they could have imagined. One of the members of the crew summed it up this way: “GMS Creative took a cake and added frosting to it.”

Antonio, Ignacio, Edgar, Carlos, Noe, and Danny invite you to view their video:



The final product


Aerial Tactic + GSM Studios

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Teen Leaders Partner with GR Forward

On December 16, GAAH’s Teen Leaders in the Arts held a successful meeting in collaboration with GR Forward to engage neighborhood residents in developing a vision for Downtown and the Grand River.

Despite their previous efforts to involve the Grandville Avenue neighborhood (also known as the Roosevelt Park neighborhood) in the process, Jay Steffen, Assistant Planning Director at the City of Grand Rapids, said the turnout for the first meeting on December 2 was not what they had hoped. Our Teen Leaders saw this as an opportunity to inspire their peers, family and friends to be a part of the process.

Cook Arts Center Program Director Steffanie Rosalez, the Teen Leaders, and professionals from GR Forward collaborated to create an exciting buzz around the meeting and provide information-packed workshops and activities for residents of various ages from a variety of backgrounds. As a result, more than 120 people, including Cook Library Scholars, Achievers, students from Schools of Hope and their parents, filled the Cook Library Center that Tuesday. Library Director Sue Garza and her staff juggled people in groups throughout the packed facility, and consensus is that the event was a resounding success.

The main activity led by the teens was an invitation-making session. Children were asked to create informational flyers for their families written in both English and Spanish. To accomplish this, teens had to not only understand the purpose, scope and meaning behind the work of GR Forward, but also communicate that message to the children in order to engage them. They distributed the colorful invitations to their families in hopes that they would encourage an equal amount of participation at the next meeting on January 8. What’s more, the teens were invited to the city planning office to help shape the future conversation. This motivated them to spend many hours taking photographs, working on scripts for a WOODTV 8 story in which they were featured, writing an article for The Rapidian, and creating flyers. In this partnership, they will continue to be an integral part of the work done in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood.

During the same time as the youth workshops, an information session with the adults was led by multiple leaders from GR Forward. The meeting began with a short breakdance performance by three teens from Aerial Tactic, Antonio, Carlos, and Danny. The main material, translated by staff members Javier and Monica, touched on concepts such as attracting business, drawing talent, maximizing the asset of the Grand River, and creating jobs. The solution presented, to remove the dams to restore the river, was explained as a way to build recreational activities, improve the habitat, promote better water quality, enhance aesthetics, create economic opportunities, enrich underserved communities, and instill stewardship of the natural habitat within the citizens.

The presenter then showed a concept plan and asked for suggestions about how to connect the river with trails, create walkable streets, fix parking issues, and make the city a more livable, walkable place for all residents. Attendees were encouraged to remain involved in the conversation for the next seven months by attending public meetings, participating in surveys, and voicing their opinions. After the formal presentation, the families participated in visual activities gathering this feedback. Participants were eager to share their ideas and visions for downtown Grand Rapids.

As a result of this overwhelmingly positive experience with GR Forward, it is GAAH’s hope that the families in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood will continue to dialog about building a vision for the future of the city together. It is only with the participation of people from all parts of the city that groups like GR Forward can be sure to shape a more interconnected, inclusive, functional place for all residents to enjoy.

Cook Library students work on creating invitations to their families for the GR Forward meeting taking place on January 8
Teen Leaders Donny and Noemi help write the content of the invitations
GR Forward offers visual, interactive ways for the public to provide their feedback about the development of the city
City Planner Jay Steffen talks with a neighborhood resident

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Critical Thinking at the Cook Library Center

Through a variety of tried and true methods such as market research and psychographics, media outlets deliberately target their advertising to certain audiences. Although most adults are able to consume media with this in mind, it is typically a far different story for youth. In fact, child psychologist James McNeal has established that children are by far the most impressionable marketable age due to their inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

That is why one Thursday a month GAAH welcomes Jeff Smith, founder of Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), to speak to teens in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood about the important distinction between reality and what is portrayed in the wide array of media that is consumed on a daily basis.

Covering topics ranging from racism to brand loyalty to beauty standards, these workshops challenge the viewpoints of the teens who choose to attend. The 90-minute sessions are packed with information and live-viewing sessions of product placement, advertisement critiques, and more. And although the concepts are new to the students, this is an exciting topic to them and they have been catching on quickly, learning how to consume media with a more critical eye.

During one workshop, after discussing synergistic product placement within Universal Studios’ ET, the class proceeded to view similar instances in The Grinch, Men in Black, Transformers, and the Hunger Games. They examined placements from products such as Phillip Morris, Hostess, Chevy, Target, Budweiser, Beats by Dre, and more. There were discussions of physical placement of the ads on billboards and blimps, on sports fields, at certain heights in grocery stores, on buildings, and even on gas pumps. Several students even came up with examples of their own.  

At the December workshop Jeff recorded some of the teens summarizing what they had learned so far. He says that next semester they will be focusing on creating their own media rather than analyzing the media that already exists. All of the students in attendance said they are planning to return.


video