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Youth in Arts and STEAM Learning

artist Phil Hansen

How can you make a paper rocket fly? How can you support the social emotional needs of students? How can limitations drive creativity?

political analyst and author Heather McGhee

These were some of the topics Youth in Arts staff explored at a STEAM conference held by the California Department of Education. Youth in Arts staff members Suzanne Joyal, Kelsey Rieger and Cathy Bowman attended the virtual conference, which was held Dec. 11-13.

Keynote speaker Phil Hansen was one of the highlights. After developing a tremor in his drawing hand and permanent nerve damage years ago doing detailed artwork, a doctor advised Hansen to “embrace the shake.” Hansen changed the way he works and has been inspiring audiences ever since (watch his TED talk here). 

Hansen discussed what he calls “systematic creativity,” and showed ways educators can inspire students to think outside the box. He also encouraged them to understand that limitations, such as working with unfamiliar and unexpected art tools, inspire creativity and encourage play.

Other engaging speakers included Heather McGhee, author of the soon-to-be published book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”  McGhee spoke about the hierarchy of human value and what is lost when discriminatory practices drive policy.

Breakout sessions included maker labs and different ways to engage and support students in STEAM learning.

One session from the Exploratorium in San Francisco focused on a “science snack” involving color, light and after images. Participants stared at a colored bird for 10 seconds, then looked at a white space and saw a bird of a different color as a ghost image. Why? Because of how the eye’s receptor cells (cones) work. 

“It was really helpful to spend the weekend looking and thinking about art through a science lens,” Cathy said. “I feel more confident finding ways to explore STEAM learning with my students, from building rockets to color experiments.”

Building a paper tower sculpture with a leftover painting

Austin and the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom

Austin working with the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom

The pandemic means more home time for all of us. For ´Til Dawn Director Austin Willacy, it’s provided an opportunity to connect with new singers and hone his engineering and production skills.

Austin just finished a Teen Lab with the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom–a nationwide organization dedicated to building trust and relationships between Muslim and Jewish women and girls.  In it, he supported them in composing a mission statement for their teen chapters, but not the way you think.  Their mission statement is a song!  We Are Many, We Are One was sourced, co-written and remotely recorded by 30 teens from SOSS chapters across the country. 

Austin co-facilitated the SOSS sessions with Sarah Brajtbord. Austin, Brajtbord and Micah Handler – founder of the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, are the founders of Raise Your Voice Labs, a creative culture transformation company that launched in mid-September.  

“The deep intention for healing and relationship building at the core of the Sisterhood set the stage for dialogues and processes that were their own beautiful journey, and these young women are so talented!” Austin said.  “The song that grew out of it is very moving, and you’d never know it was all recorded virtually.”

The singers and instrumentalists recorded their parts on their phones and sent them to Austin, who edited all the parts together to build the recording.

“Their mission is alive in a different way than a 2-3 sentence statement on a website.  It’s their words and their voices … and they can sing it,” he said.

Like in his work with ´Til Dawn, the Teen Lab centered community building and connection – and made everyone feel like they were part of a team even though they are in CA, NYC, PA, AZ, CT, and TX. 

We Are Many, We Are One is sung in English, Arabic and is beautiful to watch. The song, sung in English, Arabic and Hebrew, includes these lyrics:

We can’t rewrite history, but we can open our eyes

Creating our story, the ink never dries

We are many, we are one

Doesn’t matter where we’re from…

We are many we are one, different faces just one sun

In addition to his work with ‘Til Dawn and Raise Your Voice Labs, Austin is a solo recording artist and a member of The House Jacks.

“It was so cool to be doing this work and sharing with ‘Til Dawn about it the whole way through,” Austin said.  “When I showed them the video of the song, several of the members of ‘Til Dawn were moved to tears.”