“Will the youth be passionate about their art?” I ask myself this question whenever I workshop with them. Some participate in their chosen craft just ‘cause their parent said so. Others, I hope, have their sights set on mastering their craft. Between January and February this 2022 year, I instructed, “More Than A Statement” a three-part writing workshop series that helped high school youth who were a part of Artwestchester’s Young Adult Leadership Council write Artist and Personal Statements to apply for scholarships, get into dream universities and even carve out paths to become professional artists. And to my surprise, I was floored by their enthusiasm.
Due to increased COVID-19 outbreaks in and around the Westchester area, I along with Artsweschester ended up running one virtual and two in-person workshops. My position is and was safety over everything. Regardless, the youth would have the material to carve out their chosen statements. In our only virtual workshop via Zoom, the 12-15 youth turned aspiring artists all had their cameras on and were attentive as I showed them slides about, “When Do You Use and Need Each Statement” and a writing prompt that asked, “What do you hope to convey through your art?”
To build on the slides and that particular writing prompt, in only a handful of minutes, each youth-inspired artist read what they jotted down or pasted it into the zoom chatbox. (Did I mention they also had a professional artist statement from an artist whose work was displayed in a Brooklyn Museum and a personal statement I used for a residency to work off of?) Afterward, I shared with them an “Artist Statement Flow Chart” and a “Five-Step Personal Statement” so that whichever statement they chose to create was broken down into manageable parts. They left the workshop charged with working on a draft to bring to our next class.
The next class, which was held at the White Plains City Center, to go alongside the youths’ rough drafts, I brought my personal statement that was part of the application that won me a Fulbright Scholarship, a grant for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs. With it, I won enough money to live an academic year in Barbados to pursue and write about my Caribbean lineage in a forthcoming manuscript. Besides having the youth-inspired artists read my personal statement, they had to answer questions like, “How many drafts do you think was done before the final version?” And “What stood out about my personal statement that you could emulate in your own?”
Between two tables full of youth inspired artists wrongly guessing three drafts and happily chatting in person with each other, something clicked inside most if not all of them that said, “It was okay to bring their own identities into their particular crafts” just like I, an African-American, who infused my newly uncovered Bajan identity into my own writing.
In the final session, I partnered with Charisse A. Brown, a theatre artist, who along with myself provided popcorn-style feedback to the youth-inspired artists. After each one was nudged to read their artist or personal statement out loud, we took turns sharing what worked well and where there might be opportunities to improve in our respective fields. For each youthful artist, I jotted down notes to respond to their words. (Charisse responded to their voice and body language.) One piece of my feedback highlighted how a youth weaved her desire to paint alongside her Chinese heritage and in general connecting oneself to an organization or college could help decisions makers understand the value in the pending artistic partnership. On the other hand, I pushed back against many of them sharing “too many lists.”
Still, I couldn’t have asked for more from the youth. I was able to work with youth, no, artists who were passionate like me and utilized some of my own work as a writing artist to inspire future painters, visual, and writing artists to stay the artistic course. Unlike myself as a youth who was unaware of an artistic course to follow, each of them are tapped into a community of artists who like myself can show them a path as we still carve out our own creative direction.
Rashaun J. Allen is an Instructor of English at Westchester Community College and the author of several independently published poetry collections, including “The Blues Cry For A Revolution,” which was an Amazon Kindle Best Seller in African American Poetry. Find @rashaunjallen on Twitter and more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com.