AS220 Youth Studio
The young people who the AS220 Youth Studio targets have rarely had an easy time in life. Many come from impoverished neighborhoods; some have failed in school; others are in the care or custody of the state. But standing firmly on their side is this Providence-based organization that believes that the arts, and strong relationships, have the power to change the course of young people’s lives.
About a third of the 450 young people who the AS220 Youth serves each year are incarcerated at the Rhode Island Training School (RITS). Through this 10-year-old program—the longest-standing arts program in a U.S. juvenile detention facility—teaching artists offer workshops on such topics as creative writing, photography, hip-hop, and design to help youth discover new talents, while forming relationships with adult role models. The arts are “a way of connecting with very, very disconnected, hard-to-engage youth in a way that doesn’t feel like a program with adults telling them what to do,” Program Director Anne Kugler states.
Once the youth are released, AS220 encourages them to come to its downtown Providence studio to continue the projects and personal relationships begun at RITS. The studio’s two dozen free classes a week are also open to other young people from the community, including those in foster care and group homes. This location is a vibrant hub of activity: Youth are busy designing video games, developing dance moves, recording songs, and making beats. Focusing on the interests of the young people they are designed to serve, these classes simultaneously reinforce collaboration, hard work, and accountability.
AS220 Youth also offers classes at an accelerated middle school for students who have repeated a grade. Here, the arts help students catch up to their particular grade level, reducing drop-out risk. AS220’s task is not an easy one. “It takes a lot of heart to do the work we do,” Kugler admits, noting that despite its best efforts, AS220 can’t make a difference for everyone who comes through its doors. Yet, for many young people, AS220 is, as one young man put it, “a place like no other.” Another participant said of AS220’s supportive, inspiring environment: “I think it’s a family. I think it’s a movement. I think it’s a remedy.”
This program transforms the lives of young people in a meaningful way. AS220 is not only an arts organization, but it is also an agent for social change and social justice.Lynne McCormack, Director, City of Providence Department of Art, Culture, and Tourism