On Saturday, February 23rd Free Arts Arizona hosted a conference for their mentors, partner agencies and teaching artists. The conference was titled “Art+Mentors= Resilience.” Our Executive Director and Programs Manager were lucky enough to make a weekend trip out of it. On Friday the 22nd they were able to meet the wonderful staff and mentors at Free Arts AZ, see their programs in action, and get a tour of their new facility. Then, on Saturday they attended the conference alongside committed partners and volunteers. The weekend served as an exciting reminder of why we do this work and where Free Arts LA wants to take it. They wanted to share our gratitude and reflections with our community here in LA as we all strengthen our commitment to expanding our programs and our potential.
While Free Arts AZ does not have a court house program like Free Arts LA, they have a rich and expansive teaching artist program, mentor program, Free Arts Days, and summer camp programs. Their programs team balances so many moving pieces to bring meaningful art experiences to the children in their community who need it most.
One of the most inspiring parts of the weekend was their alumni program. Free Arts AZ has seen some of the same youth in their mentor program enroll in their summer camps- and then after attending a few summers of theatre or multicultural arts camp, some of these youth have joined the alumni network. In the alumni network they keep strong relationships with Free Arts staff and each other, and then they have the opportunity to become teaching artists and mentors themselves. The alumni who spoke at the conference expressed a strong sense of community, hope, and resilience. As they should be, they were given the respect of blossoming artists, and experts in effective trauma informed care. After spending time with them and the staff at Free Arts AZ, Free Arts LA is making a commitment to stay grounded in the following lessons with our programs work here:
Our greatest teachers, evaluators, and role models should always be the children we serve. They show us what resilience and hope mean every day.
The art is already there. In our mentors, our partner agencies, and our communities. We are always among amazing and talented painters, dancers, dramateurs, etc. we just have to make the space for full expression.
Our work is deeply personal. Our staff, volunteers, and mentors should feel safe and empowered to share with each other and their mentors what brings them into this work and what restores their own resilience.
Our work is deeply political. The children that we serve experience traumas that are not disconnected from the social and political climates that they live in. Advocating for these children also means addressing the violence of poverty, homelessness, racism, homophobia, and gender based violence.
Relationships with partners, artists, and youth are everything! We are trying to teach children how to have healthy and sustained relationships with adults- we have to model this in our daily work.
It is better to be an inch wide and a mile deep than a mile wide and an inch deep. Ensuring that the work we currently do is effective is more important than rapidly expanding and losing the quality work we pride ourselves in.
Surely, there are more lessons to come- but we are eager to get back to our programs with newfound inspiration! Huge thank you to Free Arts AZ and everyone we met at the conference for welcoming our team with such warmth and for sharing your stories, passions, and excitement with us. Also a huge thank you to our LA community for your support as we work towards becoming the most compassionate and fierce mentors, artists, and advocates we can be.