The Big Picture: Child trafficking TV project gives teens an opportunity to get real.

by Billy Miller

On a rainy Saturday in Caldera’s Teen Center, we’re talking with twelve high schoolers about child trafficking — a subject difficult for adults to discuss, let alone the young people whose iives this issue most affects. Joining us is filmmaker Libby Spears, whose documentary about the
subject Playground is showing to audiences around the world, having first gained the support of Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney.

Caldera, a youth arts and environmental education non-profit founded by Wieden + Kennedy’s Dan Wieden, uses all kinds of creativity to connect with Oregon’s young people. Both in the year-round program and at summer camp in Central Oregon, they respond to challenges in their lives with amazing art and resilience.

However, children enslaved in the sex trade is a horrific subject that’s in the news far too frequently. As Spears’ documentary points out, we might think these crimes are just overseas, but they are here in America, in communities where these kids come from.

The choice was clear when presenting Spears with a mini-residency. Her child trafficking work continues using Caldera’s digital filmmaking equipment to edit a segment of the FOX show, America’s Most Wanted.

Yet what was not at all clear, was how to gain youth perspective on such an intense subject.

What to do when it’s too dangerous for them to go on a shoot or hang up a ‘missing’ flyer? What of the emotions the content triggers? Is the subject just too severe? When watching the AMW rough cut at the Saturday event, one young lady who was all smiles earlier about getting straight-As for the first time in her life, leaves the room in tears.

But she does return. And facing this is the key to educating kids about the pimps and opportunists who use their ignorance to trap them. After hearing the filmmakers’ perspectives and viewing their work in progress, the assembled teens — diverse in race yet mostly challenged by socioeconomic status — are asked to thumb through stacks of donated stock photo books.

Where meaningful conversation proves daunting, they go right to work cutting out healthy and unhealthy images of sex and relationships. In pairs, they create collages of juxtaposing pictures, put in perspective with found words or ones they choose to add.

The resulting “mood boards,” work much like those that inspire an ad campaign. The girl who had to leave the room pits lurid images labeled “degrading one’s self,” against shots of a healthy woman, family and a smiling baby. “As women, we can be independent and we can love
ourselves,” she says on camera afterward. “And out of sex you can have kids and they can be one of the happiest things the world cherishes.”

What they make serves as their voice, staying on display where Spears and crew finish their important project. And after giving their free Saturday to staring down a difficult topic, these dozen extraordinary teens go home, hopefully, with a different perspective — and strength from their ability to fight fear with art.

For more: www.calderaarts.org and www.playgroundproject.org

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Setting the Table: The State of Teaching Artistry in Southern Arizona – By Michael B. Schwartz

The joy of being a Teaching Artist is that we get to work with so many amazing people. In Southern Arizona, perhaps out of necessity, students, parents, neighborhood leaders, businesses, schools, elders and long time residents collaborate with teaching artists and organizations to make arts education a reality. We are a tight knit community, helping one another find resources, promoting one anthers benefits and programs and developing new forms of collaboration.

This school year started with a chill in the hot desert air. Teachers and books have been banned launching federal investigations ( http://ktar.com/?sid=1333974&nid=6 ) On December 31, HB 2281 will become law, and all ethnic studies programs will be pushed “out of compliance”. Despite the great success ethnic studies have in closing the achievement gap, school districts that don’t comply will face harsh fines. A group of teachers have formed SaveEthnicStudies.org and pledge to resist HB 2281.

It’s within this environment that teaching artists are bringing music, dance, theater, painting, murals, writing and photography into schools, community centers and neighborhoods. The Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) is our primary organizing hub. There are about 85 artists on their Teaching Artist Roster.

We serve Pima County, with an estimated population (as of 7/1/09) of 1,018,012 people and numerous species of flora and fauna. Many artists travel throughout Southern Arizona providing much needed community arts education services. These projects include rural arts education initiatives such as the Southeastern Arizona Arts in Education programs, and groups developing border and immigration related themes such as Borderlands Theater .

Teaching artists here, as throughout the world, work individually and in collaboration with organizations. Community based arts education is the goal of the Tucson Arts Brigade , providing out of school time programs in more than 7 neighborhoods, and community wide arts engagement projects such as the Water Project. The Drawing Studio, Arts for All, WomanKraft and New ARTiculations provide high quality arts education in a variety of media for people of all ages. Opening Minds through the Arts, OMA, is one our largest initiatives in arts education, providing services to 15 Tucson schools. TPAC, despite massive cut backs continues to bring the River of Words project into schools in collaboration with the Pima County Natural Resources.

Budget cutbacks have forced teaching artists and organizations to innovative and collaborate. While serious deep gaps remain we are joining together as a community to find solutions. What we do know is that thousands of youth are going without any form of arts education, being deprived of the emotional, intellectual and academic skills that will prepare them for success in the new globalized workforce of the 21st Century.

Teaching artists are expanding their work to include community based cultural development projects that address complex social problems ranging from isolation, urban blight, literacy and crime to global climate change and sustainable job training and creation.

Over the coming months I will be highlighting the work of dedicated local Teaching Artists and organizations including those mentioned.