Last week the 2018 ArtsWave Community Campaign wrapped up with Chairman Jim Henning’s announcement that, for the fifth consecutive year, Cincinnati raised more than $12 million for the arts.
In all, ArtsWave will award campaign grants to more than 100 organizations this year, including some that are less well known than others.
In fact, you might dismiss some grant recipients on the basis of their names, judging the proverbial books by their cover. Let’s take another look at two: the Cincinnati Boychoir and Elementz.
The Boychoir faces stereotypes all the time, like being an activity for boys who can’t compete as athletes. It also defends its home in the urban core, resisting pulls to relocate to a quieter Cincinnati suburb.
Over the last several years, interpreting ArtsWave’s Blueprint for Collective Action, the Boychoir has developed a framework it calls a “cultural curriculum” built on the core values of community impact, personal growth for its members (the boys) and travel. Last year they journeyed to Selma, Alabama, and retraced the road to equal voting rights for Black Americans. This summer, 32 boys will go all the way to South Africa in a continuing quest for understanding the manifestations of racial oppression and, in this case, Apartheid.
“There is a lot more to travel than just going someplace,” says the choir’s Executive Director Chris Eanes. “Our boys are experiencing history and the world through music.”
An example of how unexpectedly challenging the Boychoir experience is for young men is one South African gospel song they recently rehearsed, only to learn later that it was published by an Afrikaner. Should they continue to include it in their song-list, given that its originators may face exploitation through disingenuous distribution? They decided to wait until they reached Soweto, and then discuss it with South African audiences themselves. They intend to listen, to understand how best to take a stand for equality in this foreign country.
Their music-based experience is preparing these boys to be future world leaders.
Next year, the Boychoir cultural curriculum shifts from civil rights in America and Apartheid in South Africa, to the timely issue of immigration by Hispanics to the United States. More travel is planned, as are collaborations with the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Immigration was also a subject recently tackled by artists at Elementz, Cincinnati’s urban arts center. Last Friday, a local teen’s spoken-word performance won the Indy competition of the Louder Than A Bomb poetry slam, run by Elementz in partnership with the University of Cincinnati. “The 10 things I felt when I won the lottery,” was the connective tissue throughout a three-minute poem written and performed by Essenam Lamewona of Walnut Hills. The “lottery” was a metaphor for the “luck of the draw:” this young, African American woman called herself “lucky” in comparison with other minority youth simply because her parents were born U.S. citizens and could not be deported.
In addition to immigration, last week’s poetry slam included teens’ original poems around the tough realities of addiction, suicide, foster care, police brutality, marginalization, and discrimination. It’s easy to become disheartened in the face of the heavy burdens of kids today.
Yet Elementz focuses on the positive, with an array of instructional programs including digital media. “Less than three percent of creative industry jobs in Cincinnati and nationally are held by African Americans,” says co-director Tom Kent. “But far more than three percent of Cincinnati’s African Americans are creative.”
Elementz is working urgently to guide kids from under-resourced homes and schools into the creative world and the workforce. It even schedules time for teens to shadow employees inside local creative agencies like LPK, as one important stepping stone to what’s possible.
On the surface, these two ArtsWave-funded organizations couldn’t be more different. One comes from the tradition of western-European choral music, the other is rooted in the “American native” culture of hip hop and street art. But, both are re-wiring the consciousness of the youth they serve and the audiences around them and, in the process, illuminating hope for a brighter future.