The pandemic has hit KIND clients hard. KIND’s social services coordinators have seen the impact first-hand, and in Seattle they were able to provide clients with an outlet to express themselves creatively and build community with one another. KIND’s Social Services Coordinator in Seattle Jenna Knell describes the experience:
Throughout 2020, it quickly became apparent that many of our clients were experiencing heightened feelings of isolation and stress as they followed stay-at-home orders and witnessed the effect of the closures and the virus on their loved ones. My fellow social services coordinator Sarah and I were eager to find new ways to bring young people together and revitalize their creativity.
In spring 2020, Sarah and I began developing a partnership with a local agency called Art Corps. Art Corps is a youth arts education agency that addresses the race and income-based opportunity gap in access to arts education. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Art Corps worked primarily in South King County public schools, providing art education to young people through culturally engaging learning experiences.
With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, what started as a two-week “trial” virtual art course in summer of 2020 with nine clients quickly led to an eight-week virtual art course in the fall with about 10 client participants.
Art Corps went above and beyond to make the class as accessible as possible for our clients. Each participant received a package of art supplies that were sent to their home, and most tuned into class on Zoom using their personal devices.
At the beginning of class, some participants recognized each other from Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) programs, or from school. Many of them met each other for the first time through their phone screens.
Maria, the teaching artist who facilitated the sessions who is also an immigrant, introduced the group to different art mediums during the eight-week class. She taught the participants techniques for portraiture, graffiti lettering, watercolor, and stencil. She encouraged individual expression and dreaming through vision boards, poetry, and rap.
Maria spoke openly about her experience as an immigrant, a daughter, and an artist growing up in the United States; how she discovered art, and the happiness and healing it gave her. She had a remarkable way of making our clients feel like their stories were important too.
Shy at first, over time, the clients became more comfortable with each other, discussing current events, and sharing their art and anecdotes about their days. One participant often joined class while he was working in the kitchen at a restaurant. Some students jumped on right after ending their online school classes. Art class was often a space to laugh with each other, telling jokes and playing favorite songs through the speakers. Sometimes, it was a quiet space to get lost in your art and let your mind wander.
In the final weeks of class, everyone’s creative style became more unique and defined. Colorful stylized drawings of sneakers, bright, playful animals, dark and moody portraits, deep red sunsets, fast-paced rap, and poetry about home, love, and loss. The beauty of this program was the way it allowed space for the young people to define themselves and decide what art means to them.
This course was new and exciting for both of our agencies, serving as the longest in-house programming KIND has offered to our clients to date, as well as the first bilingual (taught primarily in Spanish) programming that Art Corps has offered.
To say that finishing off my Monday and Thursday afternoons in community with young people and Art Corps has made life brighter would be an understatement.