At RAW there are NO MISTAKES, JUST ART! Our youngest artists come to RAW full of energy and lots questions about who they are, where they come from, and how to belong. Eager to share their dreams about their future, nervous about the violence they witness all too frequently, and often distrustful of people who look or act different from them, they soon discover that RAW is a place that lets them slow down, breathe, make friends, and be a kid. Many children come to us having been told that they have a learning disability or a behavioral disorder. These labels weigh heavily on such young children who regretfully tell us about all the things they can’t do. Our caring staff gives them lots of individual attention and support to help them prove that they can concentrate, communicate, create and achieve their goals. Mentored by teen RAW Chiefs, children commit to making good life choices. In a favorite Studio Time group project young artists created wire and fabric mobiles, into which they planted tiny “Seeds of Hope” messages representing the good things they hoped to grow in their lives. A project in the RAW Energy group explored the concepts of dark and light through an expressive art project addressing the question: “Who lights the way for you in times of darkness?” In another project, Lending a Hand, children worked in small groups to brainstorm what it meant to be helpful to someone in need. Their large and colorful three-dimensional paper hands, inscribed with words such as “Respect” and “Listening” were exhibited at the Lynn Museum.
Recognizing the need to help youth before they got into trouble, RAW Space was opened in Lynn in 1994 to serve at-risk youth, beginning with 16 teens from Lynn Alternative High School.
In 1997 the RAW Chief program was born. RAW Chiefs are high school students trained to work side by side with staff to lead teen art groups. Then the teens' younger siblings began showing up, pleading to join the group, too. So RAW launched middle school programming.
In 1998 eight and nine year olds were trying to sneak into the middle school program! So RAW created programming for elementary school children. By now 60 youth, age 6 to 18 are coming to RAW each week.
In 1999 California-based filmmaker Joanna Lipper visited RAW and was so impressed with what she saw that she provided seed funding for the Real to Reel Digital Film School.
In 2000 RAW won the Coming Up Taller Award of The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, as one of the top ten after-school programs for at-risk youth in the nation.
In 2002 RAW began to fulfill a crucial need for one-on-one college and career support by introducing Project Launch which matches high school juniors and seniors with mentors from the community. Today RAW alumni are students or graduates of colleges and universities including Babson College, Boston University, Brown University, Bucknell University, Harvard University, Massachusetts College of Art, New York University, Pratt Institute, Rhode Island School of Design, Savannah College of Art and Design, University of Southern California and UMass.
In 2005 Real to Reel filmmakers were commissioned by The Pernice Brothers, a Boston indie rock band, to create a music video for two of their songs. The videos air on MTV2. In 2005 RAW also received Bank of America's Neighborhood Excellence Award, which honors organizations nation-wide that are working to improve their communities, AND the Massachusetts Cultural Council's Commonwealth Award for Community.
In December 2006 RAW successfully completed a $1.2 million capital campaign and now owns the 4-story building it rented for over 10 years.
In 2008 RAW renovated the building and opened its gallery and film-screening space on the ground floor of 37 Central Square. Also in 2008 RAW’s Real to Reel Film School was named a Gold Star Project by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
In 2009 RAW was selected as a Social Innovator. RAW artist Thonah Ep won the state’s highest honor, the Commonwealth Award for Community Learning.
Currently RAW serves over 1,400 children and teens every year in over 40 FREE programs that include visual arts groups, single gender groups for middle and high school girls and boys, Real to Reel Film School, Good 2 Go community art, and summer programs like VanGo - RAW’s brightly painted van which brings art-making right into Lynn’s neighborhoods.
Children in Lynn face many challenges while growing up. The rates of poverty, crime, and school drop-out are among the highest in the state. RAW provides at-risk youth with: the consistent attention of caring adults committed to developing each young person’s talents and abilities; a community of peers that provides an alternative to gangs, drugs, violence and the life of the street; constructive ways for young people to express their feelings and deal with stress; and the opportunity to plan and carry out projects, while learning life-skills like problem-solving, effective communication, and conflict resolution. RAW Space, the studio in downtown Lynn, is open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and occasionally on weekends. Art groups meet once or twice weekly during the school year. In the summer “VanGo” takes art-making projects into kids’ neighborhoods so those who can’t afford camp can have fun!
Our specific 2009 goals for the Raw Artists program include:
Offer 6 ongoing weekly groups for 84 elementary and middle school children and Art Tag to 96 children at 8 Lynn schools
Offer VanGo in the summer
In pre- and post evaluations, 100% of respondents will report growth in art skills and life skills in the goal areas of belonging, identity, success, and community
In evaluations, all participants will report progress on their personal goals, which usually concern school performance, friendship, or getting along with their parents
With funds from the Esther Kahn Foundation, each group will have an outside enrichment activity (e.g., museum, performance, film)
RAW program staff brings a rich and scarce mix of skill and experience in both the arts and youth development, entwined with a sincere desire to engage deeply with at-risk youth and with the community to achieve positive outcomes. Executive Director Kit Jenkins, who is in her 19th year with RAW, leads the organization. Ms. Jenkins works closely with Mary Flannery, RAW’s founder. Organizational leadership is additionally provided by Jason Cruz, M.A., Art Therapist and Clinical Supervisor, at RAW since 1996. As a Latino male, he brings a unique perspective to working with the families and youth of Lynn. Jason tirelessly dedicates himself to helping kids resist the powerful current of street life. One teen simply stated; “Over half the kids in Lynn owe their lives to Jason.”
RAW's programs are primarily staffed by master's level arts therapists who are also professional artists. RAW also has a Clinical Supervisor who supports all program staff. This means that RAW can effectively serve kids who have serious clinical needs - needs that often do not surface until a young person has been attending RAW for several months and feels safe opening up. Almost no other youth art programs have the capability of addressing these kinds of needs in-house. Fifteen RAW Chief mentors support staff in groups for younger children.
RAW also offers kids exposure to the arts outside of Lynn, thoughtfully selected to align with themes presented in weekly groups. Past “field trips,” which can have a transformative impact on young artists, have included: “The Art of the Teapot,” a study of the beauty of everyday objects, and the “Origami Now!” exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum; a BCA theatre production of Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye"; a girls' group visit to the studios of women photographers to learn self-portraiture; attendance by film students at an Institute of Contemporary Art film screening of Francis Ford Coppola's latest film, followed by a Coppola-led Q & A session; and engagement by our boys' group in a discussion with Cornel West at a Harvard University lecture.
Doneeca, RAW Chief Mentor and Award-Winning Filmmaker
In 1991 at age five Thonah arrived in the US from war-torn Cambodia. Thonah’s earliest memories involve learning the traumatic history of his family and country. His father could only draw pictures while his mother provided the painful words. Growing up in Lynn presented Thonah with many challenges -- including 36 gangs trying to recruit kids like him. Thonah found that the power of art could save him. In 2000 Thonah walked through the doors of Raw Art Works (RAW), where he quickly excelled. Now he teaches art at RAW. In 2009 Thonah won the state’s highest honor in the arts and humanities, The Commonwealth Award. Beyond his immense talent, what distinguishes Thonah is his generosity as a mentor to other artists. On any given afternoon you can find him at RAW, in the studio with a palette in hand, or on a skateboard having a conversation with another artist about their most recent struggle with a piece of art or piece of their life. He lives the art of being grateful and will thank all who help him along the way. Thonah says, "I make art because every time I delve into the world of creativity, I feel more of what it means to be a human. Art, creativity, imagination, and connections force me to be alive and all I can do is just embrace all the possibilities. Art teaches me about life such as sensitivity, understanding, choice making, and forgiveness."
Thonah, Winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Award
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