Arts Connect for court-involved girls
From 2004 - 2011, I was fortunate to partner with Pierce County Juvenile Court to develop and run the Arts Connect program for girls on probation and diversion in Pierce County, WA. I named the program Arts Connect to describe the connection to community that learning through the arts - as individuals and as teams - invariably leads to. In 2009, I had the opportunity to transfer the program from its original home at Museum of Glass to Tacoma's Hilltop Artists, an organization centered on advocacy and support for youth at-risk that operates nine arts-based youth development programs serving over 500 youth in and out of school. From 2003 - 2010, I also taught weekly creative writing and visual arts classes in the girls detention unit at Pierce County Juvenile Court, as part of Arts Connect and the Remann Hall Women's Project.
Arts Connect operates year-round, with 10-12-week community sessions in glass, ceramics, photography and other arts at community sites. Program staff and professional teaching artists lead these weekly, three-hour classes, with support from probation officers, volunteers and a dedicated intern, to create a 1:3 adult-to-girl ratio. Hands-on projects (individual and collaborative) follow a restorative approach and are generated from discussions and writing activities about identity, society and healthy lifestyles. A family-style dinner is served at each class and girls can arrive up to 45 minutes early for homework help or to talk with mentors about the week’s ups and downs. Built into every project session is a community giving project that empowers girls to collectively choose a community issue to learn about and address through a collaborative art project. At the completion of the session, family, friends, judges, probation officers and the public are invited to a showcase event in which girls exhibit their personal artwork and read their writings; they also educate the audience about their chosen issue and auction or sell their group art project to raise money for a community organization working to address it. As incentives, $30 Target gift cards are awarded to girls with perfect attendance. Some probation officers refer their girls to Arts Connect for more than one project session; other girls continue by their own choice.