Monday, January 23, 2012

Living Arts Outreach Update

One of our core programs is our Cultural Engagement Program, where our key objectives include:
(1) integrating LACM’s leadership programming with an enhanced arts enrichment initiative to provide comprehensive services to high school youth;

(2) mobilizing the Lao community to achieve higher levels of educational and artistic attainment;

(3) improving access to academic and artistic support services;

(4) and creating lifelong linkages between the arts and civic, academic and professional development.

We are midway through the year, and there have been both great successes and some modifications to the process.

Bryan Thao Worra has been serving as our Arts Director for this program, and he has been engaging youth drawn from Twin Cities Metropolitan Regional Area high schools, and with parental supervision, younger students as well. We currently have 40 of these youth regularly participating in face-to-face activities and 63 in total who are participating in special sessions or through online mentoring, consultation and support.

A key element for this year was our innovative Arts Focus Seminars. We have convened 2 of the 3 planned so far.

We held our Literary and Performance Arts Seminar in June, 2011 at the Loft Literary Center. This seminar brought the students together with several of our teaching artists including Bryan Thao Worra (NEA Fellow), Saymoukda Vongsay (Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans and winner of the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word), and Catzie Vilayphonh (Of the spoken word duo, Yellow Rage, the first Asian American spoken word act on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on HBO).

We helped the youth develop, analyze and appreciate original material and performance skills. Channapha Khamvongsa of Legacies of War also came in to speak with the youth to demonstrate how art by refugees their age helped raise awareness of the war in Laos and bring an end to the secret bombing campaign. She demonstrated how it was connected to a worldwide movement to ban the use of cluster bombs that resulted in a United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions that went into effect a year ago. The students were deeply impressed and many of the writers have continued to be in contact with the youth, providing guidance and connecting them to other literary arts organizations. This also includes creating opportunities for them to keep creative and to keep getting published. This is also enhancing their scholastic performance.

In July, we were scheduled to hold our Film and Video Production seminar, however, our lead teachers have currently been in film production this year and we are anticipating a face to face session with them in early 2012 with support from local independent film and television makers. Our youth will emerge with a group film and beginning production skills. We are in the process of preparing them by watching the films of local and national Lao American film-makers like Thavisouk Phrasavath, the Emmy-winning director of Nerakhoon.

Our August session went as planned, focused on visual arts, dance and activism. They worked with local award-winning visual artist Mali Kouanchao, the subject of the children's book Mali Under the Night Sky who was instrumental in developing the Legacies of War visual arts exhibit, and looked at the work of NEA Heritage fellow Bounxou Chanthraphone of Brooklyn Park, as well as that of Nor Sanavongsay of Naw Design, a multimedia company developing the first animated Lao folktales.  Our youth have become significantly more interested in the traditional arts now, as well as the visual arts and have asked us for more support and to show them how to put together an exhibition in the future.

Additionally, this year, we screened the award-winning documentary films Bomb Harvest and Bombies about unexploded ordnance in Laos for the youth at the Hennepin County Library System’s Brooklyn Park branch, and held a community forum to discuss the topic. This helped them develop their public speaking and debate skills.

We have secured a date in mid-March, 2012 to coordinate the exhibit installation of traditional textiles and cultural objects, as well as visual art by local advanced and emerging Lao American visual artists and photographers at Intermedia Arts. We are continuing to develop marketing materials and conduct outreach to ca. 120 local non-profits, businesses and community members, as well as to arrange tours and transport for those with limited mobility.

We have applied a social justice and service-learning model to conduct pre-training and post-training sessions with participants to help them engage with their community history, challenges and opportunities. The students reflected on what they learned and what they feel are the next areas they would like to develop as artists and community members.

Staff are taking responses from the surveys, focus groups and additional feedback to make recommendations for continuations and adjustments of the program.

Again, we thank everyone for your support, and we look forward to presenting even more positive results from the rest of our program year with you and the rest of our community.