What happens when you put a microphone and camera in the hands of youth? When you guide them through an exploration of the senses and encourage their creative expression? When you make space for youth and adults to collaborate, using a model that works to disrupt power dynamics and involve young people in the shaping of the programming?
StoryCraft is a creative expression program developed through a collaboration involving Artéria Collective (formerly known as Asheville Writers In The Schools) and Blue Ridge Public Radio (BPR). StoryCraft was recognized with a 1st Place award in Community Impact for the 2022 award competition of the Radio TV and News Directors of the Carolinas Association.
“I’ll give some friendly advice — be yourself! You don’t have to change yourself for anybody, be yourself. If you have pain, let it out, share it with somebody. Or what I just did, write it out on paper. It makes you feel so much better.”Tori Stinson
During a summer 2020 community listening session convened by Blue Ridge Public Radio (BPR), participants called for more engagement with local youth. They asked BPR to use its platform to provide opportunities for young people to tell their own stories.
“If you want to remain vibrant and relevant, you really need to take your cue from the younger generation.”
“Let’s invite youth to the table. Let them teach us something. They got a lot to teach. They really do.”
“Train new talent, create a pipeline of younger people who can participate in this process.”
This listening session was one step in BPR’s commitment to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion to all aspects of the organization, including reaching audiences we don’t currently serve, asking communities what they need and partnering with organizations led by people of color.
“I want people to think about good times, when things were good, because that is what it is for me – music helps me be free, and it helps me have fun.”Antonio Stinson
BPR was drawn to the impressive work of Artéria Collective. Their innovative arts and culture initiatives are rooted in social justice and racial equity, providing Black and brown youth opportunities for creative self-expression that is amplified and celebrated, and creating living wage employment and consulting opportunities for Black and brown adults.
Conversations between the BPR and Artéria Collective began in March 2021. We started by getting to know each other and exploring what each of us could bring to a partnership. Artéria Collective has deep relationships with local youth, schools and community centers and a roster of talented artist mentors specializing in audio, photography and performance. BPR’s radio stations reach people across 14 counties in Western North Carolina, staff who are skilled in audio production and storytelling, and a commitment to make space for new voices on our platforms. We developed a plan for how we’d work together and brought together our teams to begin planning StoryCraft.
The foundational concept for this cycle of StoryCraft is rooted in an exercise that Artéria Collective has used for years in school and community settings. Inspired by the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon and the prompt “Who am I?”, participants are invited to fully engage their senses as a tool for painting a picture of identity and place that is unique to them.
Recognizing that creative personal expression can often be challenging for youth to approach, our intention was to invite participants to connect with their basic senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell as an accessible entry point for using words, sounds and images to craft unique personal stories honoring their sense of identity and place.
“I believe that thoughts are intricate and beautiful as the way stars are scattered through the sky.”Emily Jumpp
Artist mentors with Artéria Collective collaborated with BPR content producers in developing the introductory lesson plan for this inaugural cycle of StoryCraft taking place in partnership with the Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center, summer youth program from Asheville Parks & Recreation.
Our goal was to facilitate a genuine experience of identity exploration at a variety of levels through:
Simplicity — making sure their experiences and voices are captured without concerns of format, right or wrong.
Emotional engagement of the senses — allowing the inner landscape to be voiced through it.
Allowing students to ground on their past, present and future in exploring roots and wings.
We began with an experiential grounding in senses, each artist mentor guiding the youth through sensory stations designed to provoke their imaginations around sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. What words describe the skin of a kiwi? What comes to mind after tasting tamarind soda? What do the scents of wild orange, peppermint and lavender remind you of?
We moved to a group brainstorm, the youth using colored notecards to share what came to mind for each of the senses. Before long, the wall of the community center was filled with the vivid sensory details of their lives:
Sight: Blue Ridge, trees, light, water, birds, babies.
Smell: Rain, pine sap, lavender, cocoa butter, ice cream.
Taste: Fried chicken, white rice, crawfish, banana pie, me.
Sound: Babies crying, cars starting, sirens, laughing, crows calling.
Touch: Water, warm blankets, soft bunny fur, rocks, soapy smooth.
With our senses awakened, the next two sessions were devoted to writing. Colored notebooks and pens in hand, the youth eagerly dove into creative expression – some inspired by sights and smells, others by sounds and movement. Some filled page after page, others sketched out their reflections. And then, sitting in a circle on the auditorium stage, several bravely shared their pieces with the group. The poems were deep, resonant, creative and layered. Following claps and finger snaps in appreciation, the youth offered encouragement and candor: “It’s okay to be shy” “It’s hard talking in front of people.” “Look engaged, be respectful.”
One student said their poem took a lot, but “you all supported me.”
Those words sank in with another participant, quietly building their confidence as we continued to share and discuss. As we were about to transition to the session’s closing, they said “Wait – can I read my poem?” It was another powerful interpretation of “Who Am I?” that captivated the group. When asked why they decided to share their poem, the student pointed to their peer – saying it was their encouragement that made them feel safe to do something vulnerable.
I’m the youngest child and I make my mama proudClement Davidson
And I feel like I am the oldest child and I’m making myself proud
The final two sessions were dedicated to capturing the participants’ ideas, experiences and sentiments and handing them the tools to record each other. We set up a recording booth in a hallway, passed out audio recorders and handed over a DSLR camera. The confidence building over the previous weeks, through one-on-one coaching, group discussions and peer-to-peer support, readied the group (adults and youth alike) for this moment. The building became animated in the power of storytelling.
All of our sessions were grounded in participatory education – a model that works to disrupt power dynamics and involve young people in the shaping of the programming. We began each session with an ice breaker or warm up exercise. After trying a guided meditation, the youth requested we repeat it the next time. At the end of each session, the youth shared what they liked and didn’t like, and what they wanted next time. The artist mentors used that feedback to strengthen future sessions.
During one of the final sessions, we gathered in a circle outside. “What was your experience like during these storytelling workshops?” asked one of the artist mentors.
Without hesitation, one of the participants responded “For the first time I felt free.”
Thank you to the many talented and passionate people who came together to collaborate, learn and grow during the StoryCraft 2021 initiative, as well as the funders who recognized the vision and impact of this youth engagement project.
StoryCraft 2021 Talent
Liam, Age 13
Clement, Age 12
Anderson, Age 12
Lorelei, Age 13
Isaiah, Age 11
Davaughn, Age 13
Jaydin, Age 13
Azia, Age 14
Tamia, Age 14
Emily, Age 14
West, Age 13
Emillia, Age 14
Keiya, Age 13
Ahmaria, Age 12
Toni, Age 15
Tori, Age 15
Zaryah, Age 13
Payton, Age 13
StoryCraft 2021 Artist Mentors
CocoEva Soleil LuzGuerrero Alcazar
Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center Staff
Jessica Johnston, Facility Manager
Alic Wynn, Facility Supervisor
Khadeesha Crumbly, Summer Program Staff
Zuke Samon, Summer Program Staff
Cordel Floyd, Summer Program Staff
Artéria Collective Artist Residency Program
BPR’s McGuire Fund for Journalism
Asheville Area Arts Council Grassroots Arts Program
North Carolina Arts Council Arts Equity Project