Arts in Bushwick High School fellows attend a 3D workshop on paper sculptures at 56 Bogart. Photo Courtesy of AiB Community Projects Group

While Bushwick Open Studios, and its mammoth showcase of more than 600 different gallery exhibitions, is usually what most people associate Arts in Bushwick with, the 10-person Community Projects arm of the group has quietly been developing programs and building partnerships with local organizations throughout the neighborhood, all in the aim of supporting the group’s larger mission of serving as a platform for creative accessibility. In addition to the group’s annual Community Day at Maria Hernandez Park on Saturday, they’ll also be debuting a group art show for its pilot-year AiB High School Fellows program.

To learn more about some of their upcoming projects for BOS 2014, I spoke to Lauren D. Smith, a Lead Organizer of AiB’s Community Projects team.

A visual artist and Bushwick resident since 2007, Lauren Smith co-leads the AiB’s Community Projects Team. Photo Courtesy of AiB.

Nekoro: Eight years in, what do you see as the central mission and core of AiB’s Community Projects team and its role in the Bushwick arts community?

Lauren: [We are] in a way a bit of a clearing house in that everybody can come, everybody’s welcome, and it really serves as a platform for creative accessibility. If you have an idea, we want to help make it happen and that’s why we have such a diversity of events that come up. It’s because somebody said “We should have an electronic music showcase” or “We should have a radio station” and then we all get together as a team and say: “Yes we definitely should, let’s make it happen!” The community itself is a wonderful resource as the creativity is all in the community and so if people have specialized interest areas or they’re an art educator they can really bring that to the table too so it really opens the doors for a lot of different things to take place.

Nekoro: Can you talk a little bit about the inaugural pilot year of the AiB High School Fellows program and how it came to be?

Lauren: We planned it through the spring of 2013 and the summer and we put the program into action last fall. We started it as a pilot program in January and it’s going to run through June, and then it will pick up again during the academic year so it’s really an academic residency for high school students. We have a core group of 15 students who meet two to three times a month and a team of mentors, volunteers from AiB who are arts educators, therapists, artists, community organizers who are experienced in working with youth. We meet with them and help them learn things about the art world that they wouldn’t necessarily have access to, which goes towards our mission of creative accessibility. Some of the knowledge in the field that you would only learn if you had an internship or something: How do you install a show? How do you write an Artists’ Statement? What is an artist’s identity? Things that are maybe conceptual and things that aren’t always taught in a class in high school, specific things like that.

The 2014 AiB Pilot High School Fellows discuss what it means to craft an artist’s statement. Photo Courtesy of AiB.

Nekoro: What are some of the successes and benefits you’ve seen coming out of the Fellows program thus far?

Lauren: What I think is awesome about [the Fellows program] is that we have students who range in age from Grades 9 through 12 so the students who stay in the program become mentors to the new kids coming in and eventually we want to create a scholarship for it as well, which would be wonderful to help students get those internships if they want to. Maybe they don’t want to go into an art field and that’s fine but if they want to apply for schools and apply for colleges, creating that sense of community in general and using art as a platform to do that creates such cohesion in the group, they keep coming and I think that that’s proof that it’s working. The whole conflict and struggle of adolescence is defining your voice and realizing that what you have to say is different from someone else and that  that’s wonderful and that’s ok. [The fellows] have the agency to speak up and know that their creativity and unique perspective matters. Giving everybody that space to do that in a way that’s respectful … that’s creative, I think it’s really unique to be able to offer that.

This year’s Community Day at Maria Hernandez park will feature interactive art, health demonstrations and more. Photo courtesy of AiB.

Nekoro: What is AiB really excited to be putting on in the scope of the Community Day happening this year?

Lauren: The theme of Community Day this year is environmental sustainability and social action through public art. We have kids performing spoken word, rap and dance and we also have a  [youth] theater group, Brooklyn Acts, performing. We have DJ jojoSoul and Robert Green who will be the emcees for the day and they’ll lead a percussion workshop. We have the Cocoon Project, which is an interactive performing arts piece, we have yoga, we have so much and on top of that we’ll also have organizations from the community present talking to the community about their programming.

Nekoro: How can people who are interested in working with AiB’s Community Projects team get involved after BOS 2014 has ended?

Lauren: Our projects definitely span throughout the year, I think that’s something that people maybe don’t know about AiB because there’s so much going on with [Bushwick] Open Studios … We’re working constantly with other organizations in the neighborhood, with youth and families, and building new partnerships wherever we can, trying to meet the needs of the community and being really creative with trying to use art as a platform. Anyone that wants to volunteer with us is welcome … Our meetings are open to the public and happen every other Monday at Tandem Bar. If anyone is interested [in volunteering] they can e-mail [email protected].

If you’re equally interested in attending the group art show for the AiB High School Fellows, they’ll be exhibiting their work at Express Yourself Barista Bar at 82 Central Avenue tonight at 6 PM. [contextly_auto_sidebar id=”bCzAgZgAYH9HGPo8TfIHPrM2o5ebOyJg”>