Noemi thinks the Cook Arts Center provides students with a safe space where ”they can be whatever they want to be without having to fit into the boxes that we call the education system.” Her recognition of the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center’s work to create a place for Grandville Avenue youth is fitting in light of the recent development in the organization’s Teen Leaders in the Arts program.
After years of developing creative, safe, enriching programs for youth in Grandville Avenue neighborhood, the staff and leadership team at GAAH began to notice a lack of retention after a certain age. This issue of keeping teenagers interested was addressed by research conducted by Program Director Steffanie Rosalez. Steffanie visited The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, a pioneer in innovative youth programming, where she learned that the teen retention rates increase significantly if they are part of the decision-making process. She discovered that the key to retaining youth beyond elementary school is to simply ask them what they want to do and then make it possible for them do it.
The idea of autonomy became a crucial principle behind the development of this program. The program the teens helped to create included choosing an artistic discipline in which to receive private instruction, working at GAAH’s facilities to gain valuable work experience and earn real paychecks, creating and presenting materials about key neighborhood issues, planning and participating in engaging field trips to cultural institutions, and more.
Noemi’s particular choice for the arts component of the program was, of course, photography. After taking an entire summer of private lessons from a professional photographer from Bultman Studios, she is eager to utilize these skills to do a campaign of images to help promote important meetings with GR Forward in the neighborhood.
(More Story Matters pieces featuring neighborhood youth and their families can be found on The Rapidian’s website or on GAAH’s YouTube.)