Where I Live is an interactive sound installation featuring the voices of teens of The Urbano Project, a Boston based youth not-for profit arts organization. Under the guidance of Alison Kotin, the aim of this installation is to “promote civic engagement through works of art that address issues of our time.”
The installation does address pressing issues in our society. It addresses the crime and violence that are plaguing our streets and taking the lives of innocent citizens on a daily basis. In an indirect way, it also addresses the lack of attention paid by local officials to peripheral urban areas and the teens and adults that inhabit these.
Using motion tracking software and an overhead camera, the participant in this installation is confined to a square demarcated by four columns in the center of the gallery and black tape on the floor. It is within this space that we as participants begin to experience the effects that growing up in an urban environment have had on the teens behind Where I Live. More than anything, I believe the installation stresses the importance of arts education in lending a voice to those without political power or political awareness in our communities.
“We all need to support the arts” says Former U.S Attorney General Janet Reno in a report sponsored by the United States Department of Justice. “In doing so, we are telling America’s youth that we believe in them and value what they can be.” Consistently throughout our educational history, arts education, in particular in public schools has been neglected and frowned upon.
Art classes offered in urban schools are seen as a waste of tax payers’ dollars, often leading to the partial or complete elimination of art programs in many of our nation’s schools. As a result of budget cuts, small community based youth arts organizations like The Urbano Project have taken on the role of bringing art education to inner city young adults, performing the work that schools, in my opinion, must do to better our society.
Studies sponsored by the United States Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, American for the Arts and other highly respected cultural policy and arts advocacy organizations, have demonstrated that community collaboration through the arts has had a more far-reaching effect on youth at risk than any other youth programs in the United States. These studies have consistently emphasized that participation in the arts by young people, in particular those living in poverty stricken inner city neighborhoods, brighten up communities and inspire and equip young people with the tools needed to make positive change happen in the world.
Organizations like The Urbano Project most often include participants who have never had any formal training in the arts and also come from families who have never been exposed to cultural institutions and related arts activities growing up. This is the case for most students who attend the Boston Public School systems as I did. Because most of these organizations are founded with the mission of serving inner city youth and other underserved populations in major cities, their impact extends far and beyond their participants, an impact that is often difficult to quantify for policy makers.
The gallery in which Where I Live is installed doubles as an office and reception space, detracting from the intensity and even more powerful impact that this interactive sound work could have had on participants who experience it.
Where I live is a perfect example where communities engage in the process of creating social change through art making. This installation demonstrates that kids are the heart and soul of organizations like The Urbano Project; they identify the problems in their communities and bond together to make change happen. This is exactly what Where I live has achieved. It has given a voice to teens “not heard or heeded by adult policymakers.”