At IdeaLab, making art, losing the fear

More than 40 youths showed up for the recent IdeaLab at Denver's Youth on Record. They got real-world advice on art-making, hands-on instruction, and a chance to show off what they learned.
Encouraging young people to take the risks needed to make art requires three things: inspiration, hands-on training and a bit of applause.

At least that’s how it worked out at the recent IdeaLab held at Denver’s Youth on Record. More than 40 youths, ages 14-20, signed up for the event, all of them artists in development but few of them knowing exactly what to expect of the afternoon.  

What they got was a crash course on self-confidence, in-person coaching from local pros who make music, dance, art and poetry, and, at the end of the session, a stage to show off what they learned.

Aja Black and Big Samir, who perform as The ReMINDers, taught a session. Photos by Ray Mark Rinaldi

The event followed Youth on Record’s practice of pairing young people who have creative aspirations with working artists who can show them what’s possible. And it started with a panel discussion featuring four speakers“under 30 who are crushing it in the art scene in Denver,” as musician and moderator Mona Magno put it.

Magno prodded the panelists with questions, and their answers were all about dropping the fear of creative self-expression, being yourself, and exposing what you have inside.

Recognize the things that hold you back, said poet and writer Franklin Cruz, and that can be a lot of things for young people making their way through the pressures of school work, physical changes and unfamiliar social interactions.

“Everybody has struggles. Everybody has problems,” he said. "Just be who you are. Love yourself and love the energy people give you.”

Local pros taught at the poetry workshop. Students wrote poems and performed them at the end of the day.

Art-making can be a way of letting the world know about all those things inside your head, a way of proclaiming “I am” when the world is ignoring you, according to panelist and singer Michelle Rocqet.

“My art aims to say, first and foremost, that I’m here,” she said.

Art can also be safe way of dealing with the stress of teen years.“ At the end of the day, we all have mad thoughts,” said Mace Windu.

“Theres a healthy way of projecting that onto the world and an unhealthy way of communicating that with the world.” He expresses himself as an MC, producer and visual artist.

All of the panelists urged the audience to look to other artists for a way forward. “Find somebody who inspires you and just roll with it,” said Denver-based Kid Cruz, who competes in b-boy dance competitions across the country.

B-boy dancer Kid Cruz gave up-close instruction to students.

One of Kid Cruz’s inspirations: the older folks in his neighborhood who taught him moves. Another: his mother, who believed in his talents.

There was plenty of inspiration available at IdeaLab, which was organized by Confluence Denver and Creative Exchange, and supported by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.

It took the form of extended sessions where the teens broke into groups and worked directly with local professionals.

Some students went across the alley to Art Street, which offers visual arts programs. They learned a few things about what it takes to make a piece of public art today — from budgets to promotion to proposals — and then made buttons to announce whatever message they wanted to send out for the day.

Others jumped into a poetry workshop where they weaved their answers to questions like “If you were a tree, what tree would you be,” into personalized literary works.

A few hung out with Kid Cruz, who helped them develop some new dance moves.

In the visual arts workshop, students learned about budgets and proposals and then made buttons.

The remaining group headed into Youth on Record’s music room to create beats with husband-wife, hip-hop duo Aja Black and Big Samir, who perform as The ReMINDers.

“All of your ideas have a right to their lives,” Black told her students, encouraging them to let ideas flow freely at the beginning the creative process and worry abut fitting the pieces together later.

Of course, any day of workshops on performing has to end with actual performances and this one did in fine and supportive form. Youth on Record set up its outdoor stage on Osage Street and invited students to show their skills.

They read some poems, did moves, explained their art and made music. It was a chance to see how their talents went over with a live crowd.

Moses Bagley was one of the first students to perform.

Some ran up on stage, other plodded up reluctantly and found their energy as they demonstrated, talked, made their art public. In front of them they had a supportive audience who clapped, waved their hands high and sang along, and In the back of their minds, they had this advice from poet Franklin Cruz earlier in the day:

“Forget about that doubt. Forget about that fear. And go in.”

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