According to the Coalition for the Homeless, in November 2013, there were an estimated 53,270 homeless people in New York City; 22,625 were children. In order to cater to these children and provide them with an opportunity to direct their energy towards something more positive helping them develop more disciplined personalities local teaching artists and educators donate their time and guidance to nurture their creativity and talents as a part of the non-profit Art Start. Art Start came into existence in 1991 when a handful of artists came together and decided to work with homeless teenager to create works of art in New York, since then this organization has reached over 22,000 youths and enlisted over 11,500 volunteer teaching artists. Most of the children Art Start works with are kids who live in shelters, on the streets, are involved in court cases, or are surviving with parents in crisis. “The more we worked with the families, the more I was impressed by their strength and determination to provide their children as much normalcy and consistency as possible in a challenging situation,” says Johanna De Los, executive director of Art Start for the last seven years.
Art Start provide these kids with four programmes. One is the Homeless Youth OutReach program, conducted in partnership with city-run and non-profit shelters where volunteers set up creative workshops giving each student the space to learn choreography, song writing, recording, and other forms of artistic expression. Second is the Youth Offender Outreach which provides those students with a creative outlet that are fighting open court cases. Furthermore, the Across Borders Concept uses existing technologies to help connect students with others in different states and countries increasing the community of support. Lastly, the Emerging Artist in Residency (EAR) program is a six month program that challenges these students with a demanding schedule of coursework developing their management, leadership and social skills through project management, entertainment showcasing, and internships. “Art Start has bettered my life. It actually helped me be free, and free my own mind,” stated Prince Akeem, a student of the EAR Masters program.
The teaching is completely student-centered and designed to instill confidence in the kids so that they can learn to see further than their circumstances and can set more constructive goals. “A lot of times, our students are getting into situations because they don’t have places, outlets. Creative expression is a healthy tool to allow them to get some of that angst out,” says Spirit, an EAR instructor and music producer.