Performing a new piece on the trumpet, or completing the final brush stroke of a self-portrait is a moment of magic for teens when they get to share their mastery and self-expression with others. There is obvious joy in their melodies and evidence of pride in their creative accomplishments. When it is genuine and relevant to teens, art can be transformative, as it helps them navigate the anxieties and complexities of family or school life and develop the confidence to imagine—and create—the lives they’d like to live.
Surdna supports neighborhood and national organizations that understand artistic practice not solely as the pursuit of aesthetic excellence, but as the means to stimulate teens’ aspirations, build positive social skills, and cultivate empathy for others.
When the predominantly African American and Hispanic teens at RAW Art Works in Lynn, Mass., produce a high-quality video, the very act of capturing stories about bullying, love, school, or drug abuse becomes an effective tool through which their voices are heard and validated. RAW’s Kit Jenkins knows that individual attention and support help teens prove to themselves that they can concentrate, communicate, create and achieve their goals. She tells of young artists giving form to their aspirations by creating mobiles constructed with “seeds of hope”—tiny messages of things they want to grow in their lives.
Like RAW, the internationally renowned Lincoln Center Middle School Jazz Academy in New York City emphasizes the importance of teamwork, creativity and self-expression. The Academy’s tuition-free instrumental jazz instruction, offered by accomplished musicians, immerses students in a rigorous program that not only explores jazz, but encourages positive self-expression and explorations of cultural identity, and culminates with a public performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center. While some young performers will continue to study music, and even pursue careers, the rigorous training will instill in all of them a strong sense of self and discipline and imagination they’ll find useful regardless of whether they continue to play.