It’s a simple room populated with two tables, some basic art supplies and a cement floor tagged with graffiti art. But, for the participants of Art Beat, a support program based in Youth Outreach Services’
“Our primary goal for the group it to improve self control and build the strength to disengage from gangs, negative peers, substance abuse, academic struggles, whatever’s holding them back,” said Erica Badie, the YOS counselor who started Art Beat in 2010. “It’s about finding the ability to apply for a job or do your homework, things that are going to make you successful.”
Art and so much more
Art Beat combines art instruction, academic support and counseling for youth who have a YOS treatment plan as well as participants from the community. The program supports about 30 members and regularly sees 15 clients in the
Most participants deal with a lot of stress at home and at school. Instead of focusing solely on art like many other programs, Art Beat takes a holistic approach and integrates support for what’s going on in all areas of the artists’ lives. Participants can get help with school, work with a counselor, create art and connect with other teens in a supportive environment.
Studies support the approach. Resiliency researchers have found programs that make students feel known as individuals while helping them build confidence and cope with difficulties lower school dropout rates. Research also stresses the important of a supportive adult-student relationship as a successful preventative strategy.
At the beginning
Art Beat started when Counselor Erica Badie noticed that many of the kids in an alternative-to-suspension program also had an interest in art. In fact, many were in the program for tagging property with gang-related graffiti.
“The concept of gang-related art isn’t good, but I couldn’t help but notice it was very well drawn,” said Badie. “I wanted to tap into their artistic abilities in a more pro social, productive way and teach them that art can be a way of life, an income, a way to support themselves.”
What started as gang intervention quickly grew into a larger program once other counselors and community members saw the results. Now, Art Beat serves a variety of clients from the
According to Badie, “Art Beat is an easy program in which to add new people, especially kids with low self-esteem, mental issues or substance abuse problems. All the participants are very open and they don’t judge, criticize or tease.”
A family affair
Siblings Eduardo,19 and twins Eveline and Sandra, 16, were amongst the first members of Art Beat. Like many YOS families, their parents work multiple jobs and don’t necessarily see the value of arts.
For Eduardo, whose pencil drawings are heavily influenced by his Mexican heritage, the program “keeps him away from bad stuff in the neighborhood.” His cousin was recently shot and killed just a few blocks from the YOS office. Eduardo says Art Beat is a place to meet people of different backgrounds and work things out.
Eveline, a graffiti artist, concurs. “I feel good when I’m here and produce art. My dad doesn’t like the idea of what I do, but [Art Beat] made me see art is more than just something on the wall or on paper, it’s something positive.”
Long term impact
Access to art classes at school is usually not an option for YOS clients. Often, academic issues prevent them from taking electives.
Manuel Robles, an Youth Educational Support Case Manager who works with Art Beat, says he sees the program as a draw for clients who would otherwise not have access to an arts program.
“I see [the artists] working harder at school, working on grades and making an impact on their lives,” said Robles. “Our focus is helping them build skills to take with them after they leave YOS, it’s a link between adolescence and adulthood.”
Badie also sees Art Beat as an avenue for participants to address posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by depicting the struggle they face through art; be it painting, drawing, photography, dancing, performance art, poetry or rapping.
“The majority of kids I see have full-blown PTSD from gang and community violence,” said Badie. “A lot of them are forced to commit crimes. Sometimes even the smallest fight can cause posttraumatic responses like flashbacks, nightmares, depression and anxiety.”
Art Beat provides a safe haven to combine art and therapy. A typical day may find participants from five different gangs in the Art Beat room without incident. According to Badie, “hands-down they know if they are going to be in Art Beat, they leave the stuff outside the door. It’s never been a problem.”
Michael, 19, is “the shining star, through the roof example of the turnaround Art Beat can produce,” said Badie. Like most youth served by YOS, Michael struggled with family and anger management issues as well as depression, which eventually caused him to drop out of school.
Michael joined Art Beat about two years ago to focus on poetry. He quickly became active in Art Beat’s community outreach projects and participates regularly in in the program. He earned his GED, holds a job and is applying to college. He’s even become a community activist, working with the Maywood C.A.T.S (Community Action Teams) program.
When asked what Art Beat means to him, Michael, who greets every question with a smile, grows serious. “What does water mean to life? I can’t see myself without [Art Beat].”
The only limits on growing the Art Beat program are the need for more resources. Their wish list includes: more space so more youth can participate at one time, more supplies, more equipment - including a computer with music software. The Art Beat team recently produced a black and white, photocopied newsletter featuring artwork, poetry and photos from recent field trips. The group would like to be able to produce future issues in color. Art Beat has created a Wish List of the art supplies they would like to continue producing artwork.
Even with the success of the program, lots of teens are still struggling with substance abuse or gang involvement. But, Art Beat continues to be a safe place for them work out their issues.
“We still accept them even if they’re not making 100% progress in their treatment plans,” said Badie. “We’re that safe place they can rely on and hopefully some day something will click for them.”