City empowers youth through arts

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Photo by Zeenat Mansoor.

For the second year running, a New Haven nonprofit is working to empower the city’s high schoolers through the arts.

On Saturday, the New Haven Citywide Youth Coalition will hold its second annual Youth Arts Celebration, a showcase of original visual art and performances by New Haven high school students. Though the celebration focuses on the arts, organizers said they hope that the event will be a step toward a larger goal of helping the city’s youth realize its potential.

“If you look at the mainstream media, and how they represent inner-city kids, it’s usually in terms of problems or deficits,” Youth Coalition Executive Director Rachel Heerema said. “We want to make sure that in the conversation about young people in our own community, people experience how talented, how well-spoken, how creative and how eloquent they are.”

Drawing on the talents of students from local high schools and arts centers including the Amity Teen Center, Hamden High School and Elm City High School, the Youth Arts Celebration will feature performances by 13 music, dance and poetry groups. In addition, a large display of student photography, drawings and paintings will be on display at Koffee on Audobon, a coffee shop in downtown New Haven, through the end of the month.

Miriam Johnson, the event’s volunteer talent manager, said that the recruiting process for this year’s event was much easier than last year’s. She said that the publicity the even t received last year, combined with getting an earlier start on the planning process, allowed the event to be better advertised to the public. With earlier notification, students who did not have the time to participate last year were able to this year, she said.

But Heerema said the goal of the event reaches beyond the arts. Whether or not students’ primary interest is in the arts, she said she hopes youth in New Haven will be inspired to pursue their potential in whatever it is they choose to study.

“This is just one way to do it,” Heerema said. “The focus is on emphasizing the youth, not the art.”

Frank Brady, a poetry and creative writing teacher at Elm City High School, said he believes the recognition students gain from participation in the event encourages student achievement even outside the realm of artistic pursuits. Brady said that helping students realize they have a voice in the community is an important byproduct of the event.

“Kids need to know that people will listen,” he said.

The performance art portion of the Youth Arts Celebration will take place tomorrow from 3–5 p.m. at New Haven’s Neighborhood Music School on Audobon Street.

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