Spike Lee visits ArtWell!

ArtWell staff with Spike Lee, from left to right:  Meixun Li, Kris Smith, Shira Burcat, Susan Teegan-Case, Julia Terry

ArtWell staff with Spike Lee, from left to right:
Meixun Li, Kris Smith, Shira Burcat, Susan Teegen-Case, Julia Terry

“Hi, this is Spike. (Silence.) Why are you laughing?” said the voice on the phone.

It’s not every day that Spike Lee calls.  But, that’s exactly what happened to ArtWell’s program director, Julia Terry, earlier this month. She had received an email from his production company the day prior, and shrugged it off as spam. But when Spike Lee called her personally the next morning, she was completely surprised (hence, the laughing)…and a little curious.

Spike was interested in discussing the program Julia created and brought to ArtWell, the Art of Growing Up, and explained that he was working on something about local Philadelphian, Mo’Ne Davis .  “I was excited that Spike showed an interest in our program, and intrigued to think of what the connection could be between Mo’Ne Davis and the Art of Growing Up,” she explains.

The man moves fast.  After that phone call, he boarded a train, Philadelphia-bound, to speak with Julia in person.  By 4 pm, she was shaking his hand in the parking lot of ArtWell’s office building.  It was a meeting of great minds.  She learned that he was working on a documentary about Mo’Ne Davis entitled Throwing Like a Girl.  He wanted to shine a light on what Mo’Ne’s successes as a little league pitcher meant in the larger context of adolescent girls’ development and gender norms.  Julia’s program, the Art of Growing Up, was developed to celebrate and support young people at a critical transition from childhood to adulthood by providing tools for creative youth development.  One of the key goals of the program is the creation of a safe space where youth can be their authentic selves and are empowered to create, take risks, connect with others and grow in healthy and positive ways.

Julia created the program as her senior thesis at Hampshire College, after her experience studying in Africa. “In Ghana, I witnessed a community where art, celebration and ritual are a part of everyday lives, where it shapes young people and provides guidance as they transition into adulthood.  It provides them with tools and resources to navigate the unpredictable,” she explains.  Spike recognized that Julia’s expertise was what he was looking to capture, and two short days later, was back to film.

“It was intense to walk out to the courtyard with 2 chairs staring at each other, and nothing else.  But, Spike was amazing.  He told me to ignore the cameras and just focus on the two of us.  For some reason, one of the cameras wasn’t working, and he was jokingly yelling out jabs to the cameraman, ‘unacceptable!’ and ‘incompetent!’ which really broke the ice,” relayed Julia, laughing.

Upon watching the film she was thrilled that the themes she has so passionately made her life’s work, resonated in the finished piece.  “The most amazing thing about Mo’Ne Davis is how she carries herself.  At age 13, there is more pressure on her than there was at age 7 when she began playing.  But, she has this great confidence, and can be herself at an age where that is especially hard. Mo’Ne is an example of the potential we see in all of our students.  She shows us what all young people are capable of when you give them the support to explore and share their talents.  ArtWell interacts with remarkable kids, young leaders and role models every day whose stories inspire and teach us so much when we listen. Arts education is a powerful way to empower and amplify student’s voices,” states Julia.

From the entire staff at ArtWell, thank you to Spike Lee for shining a light on what’s possible for our youth, and sharing a dream that has been awakened with the world.

And thank you to the generous women who are IMPACT100, whose amazing grant allowed ArtWell to expand the Art of Growing Up into a yearlong program to nurture more young leaders like Mo’Ne Davis, and serve over 400 of Philadelphia’s children. Stay tuned for more about the Art of Growing Leaders!

Please consider a donation, which will help fund additional classes for Philadelphia’s youth.

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Mining For Treasures in Our Youth


Isn’t it great to get an insider’s look at what our youth are doing? If you read our last blog on the fantastic work Joe Brenman did with the 7th and 8th grade classes at Bache Martin, then this bit of news might also appeal to you.

It is not unusual for one or two students to blossom in extraordinary ways after working with our skilled teaching artists. In fact we encourage our youth to try hard and risk failure in order to test their boundaries and find their strengths. This is the process of refining character. In our workshops, skill and talent take a back seat to this kind of learning. We are in the business of helping young minds become more ambitious and fearless in their creativity because we truly believe that our youth are at risk for greatness.

Joe discovered that one of his students at Bache Martin uniquely exhibited all of these skills and more. “Tehron stood out as an artist,” Joe said of his young apprentice. “He was very serious about the way he pursued the art things we did.” While working with Tehron, Joe discovered that the young man was passionate about the elective project, skilled at the mosaic making process and demonstrated leadership abilities that made the mural what it is today. Joe went on to say that Tehron, “had a very good design sense. He was really the one to lead everyone in designing the whole mural, and was polite even though he was very gifted.”

Joe wondered what Tehron would do with his gift and soon learned that he desired to keep working in the arts. For a while Tehron dreamt of becoming one of the youth to attend the Young Artist Workshop at Moore College of Art & Design, but tuition was difficult to make. Fortunately for Tehron, Joe knew that ArtWell board member, Natalie Payne, offers scholarships for students in the Philadelphia area to participate in the Young Artist Workshop. Recently she named one of the scholarships in honor of ArtWell. Joe recommended Tehron and he got the ArtWell scholarship and is now attending the 5 week long Young Artist Workshop at Moore.

It is an honor to see young minds like Tehron grow their wings and begin to take flight in our classes. Joe is very proud of him and wishes him well saying, “I hope he finds a way for doing his art and that he does it with his whole life.” You can see Tehron smiling above with Joe at his 8th grade graduation.

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Teaching & Working Artist: Sara Graybeal

chapbook.photo (1)

ArtWell is home to some of Philadelphia’s most diverse artists. These nonconventional thinkers are constantly living outside of the box and are the teachers we trust to deliver our key lessons in your classrooms.

Meet Sara Graybeal. Sara is a writer and a spoken word artist and the current leader of the Youth Leadership Council. The YLC is an honest depiction of how poetry and art influence the lives of young people here in Philadelphia.

Starting at Parkway West in 2012, teens who had participated in grant funded We The Poets workshops asked to continue generating poetry under a mentor. This volunteer after school program, provided for teens across Philadelphia has enabled young poets from all walks of life to perform live, workshop their pieces under critical eye, and build a community of wordsmiths.

Sara Graybeal has taken on the leadership of these ambitious young writers and brings with her a background of sculpting works in the genres of  fiction, memoir, and poetry. Every writer needs an editor, and to keep her writing fresh, Sara maintains a membership at the Backyard Writers fiction workshop group out of the Kelly Writers’ House.

Two poems based on her experiences as an educator are forthcoming in Apiary Online and the Asteroid Belt Almanac, both Philly-based publications. To find out more about her writing and her work with young poet groups, check out her recent poem “Heirloom.” Her work with YouthBuild Charter School students can be found here as well.

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Philadelphia’s New Poet Laureate

photo 5This morning Mayor Michael Nutter announced the second Poet Laureate to represent Philadelphia in the medium of poetry. In 2012 Sonia Sanchez became the first Poet Laureate to represent the city. Authoring over a dozen books and plays as well as children’s books, Sonia Sanchez is best known for her work in the black arts movement and received both the Pew Fellowship In the Arts and ArtWell’s own Visionary Leadership Award due to her dedication to youth leadership.

After much deliberation, the laureate panel of which our own Dr. Cathy Cohen participated, Frank Sherlock was officially given the title as Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate for the 2014-2016 period. The reading of an original poem was preceded by a reading from Siduri Beckman, who was named the first student Poet Laureate in 2013.

Self taught Frank Sherlock can attribute his inauguration to the familiar way he articulates Philadelphian life, the cities culture and its diverse citizens. Mayor Nutter called Sherlock “the most talented home-grown artist.”

We are excited and honored to be a part of a movement to expand and deepen youth poetry in Philadelphia; a city so dedicated to poetry and the arts.


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The ArtWell Awards

ArtWell presents for the first time The ArtWell Awards
Thursday November 7th, 2013 we will be honoring our visionary leaders at World Cafe Life from 6:30-9:00pm to honor the individuals who inspire hope in our communities and work to build the world we want to live in together. We celebrate the dreamers, creators, believers, achievers and learners. We honor the individuals who inspire us to find these attributes within us all.

2013 Awardees Include:

  • Visionaries At Large – Sonia Sanchez & Siduri Beckman
  • Student Award – Safi Aziz
  • ArtWell Artistic Leadership – Marcy Francis & Jan Jeffries

Register for tickets and learn more about the event

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Unleashing Imaginations

My Name

My name is what you feel
when reading a funny book at the beach.
It brings a beautiful beaming light
into a dark corner in a room.
You want to fly like a bird in the bright sky
and balance on a cloud.
My name wipes the baffled look off your face
and makes you a pot brimming to the top
with happiness.
I know I am the jumping bean
because this name belongs to me.

 – Basimah C., grade 5

Basimah speaks to heart of what we do at ArtWell: Unleashing imaginations and awakening dreams. In a time of uncertainty and severely diminished resources and support in Philadelphia’s schools and communities, we work each day with youth in reflection and creative expression to discover and honor their strengths and those of others.

The vitality and creativity of the ArtWell community will be in full bloom as we come together on Thursday, November 7 at World Cafe Live for our first ArtWell Awards. The ArtWell Awards will honor creative visionaries who inspire hope in our communities and work to build the world we want to live in together. More than 300 individuals from Philadelphia’s creative circles and communities will come together to honor these visionaries, including Sonia Sanchez, Philadelphia’s first ever poet laureate. 

ArtWell Award tickets are now available at http://etouches.com/artwellawards. There are still limited sponsorship opportunities available, which you can learn more about by emailing shira@theartwell.org. 

We hope that you will be able to join us on November 7 as we celebrate the creativity of our city! 

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A True Community Effort

We are on fire to help save our schools. Due to the staggering budget cuts, many in-school art classes are taking a hit. We are proud to help where we can by offering many of our Philadelphia schools access to our creative and transformative programs. We are not the only ones with solutions though. In a real “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” effort, the Greater Center City Neighborhood School Coalition is implementing a fundraising agenda that gets local businesses involved and invested in school outcomes.

The Weekly Press writes an encouraging article about these relationships, stating that they are asking businesses to help them raise funds to make up for the budget deficits. What’s most important is that the funds that are being raised are allocated for enrichment activities like arts programming, and “can’t be used to pay for a math teacher.” To find out more about their fundraising model, the people involved and the changes they are bringing forward, read the full article here: Greater Center City Neighborhood School Coalition continues to fight for its Good Public Schools.


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Pursuing Peace Through Art and Wellness

Intuitively, many of us know that art can heal and make humanity well. The question then becomes: how does art specifically promote peace, international collectivity, and social justice? At ArtWell, we utilize the transformative power of art for individual wellness to create peace across communities and across boundaries.

On December 2, ArtWell participated in an event called “Peace Around the World: Passport to Cultures” at the Penn Museum in order to celebrate the holidays. During this event, attendants were able to visit different galleries where International Classroom speakers spoke about holiday traditions in their home countries. Additionally, students from ArtWell performed poems they wrote about peace, and children visiting the museum had the opportunity to write and share their own poems.

Speaking and having a voice in poetry allows individuals to address the many forms of devastation affecting the world, as during the “100 Thousand Poets for Change” event held at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania on September 29. ArtWell teaching artist Angel Hogan and ArtWell alumni Samuel Felli both performed in the “100 Thousand Poets for Change.”

Michael Rothenberg, Co-Founder of the “100 Thousand Poets for Change,” stated, “We are in a world where it isn’t just one issue that needs to be addressed. A common ground is built through this global compilation of local stories, which is how we create a true narrative for discourse to inform the future.” Topics that poets addressed at the “100 Thousand Poets for Change” included homelessness, racism, ecocide, censorship, and more.

Last weekend, ArtWell participated in the Heschel-King Festival, dedicated to exploring the partnership between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in their struggle for civil rights, social justice, and peace. ArtWell’s percussion teaching artists Jan Jeffries and Marcy Francis led an inspiring children’s workshop, that youth and adults alike enjoyed.

Through events such as these, we see the power of the arts to make a change beyond just the individual; the power to heal the world.  The following poem illustrates the many beautiful ways the arts and peace are inseparable partners on the path to change:

Peace sounds like the ocean

Peace looks like sun streaming through clouds

Peace feels like a hug

My peaceful memory,

floating on gentle waves in warm ocean water.

 -youth participant from Peace Around the World


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Responding to Loss: When Words Aren’t Enough

In the wake of the recent Newtown tragedy, we hold the the victims and their community in our thoughts and prayers. Our hearts are also with children and teachers across the country, especially those whom we work so closely with each week. We recognize the increased fear, tension and stress in our local schools among both students and staff.  All of us at ArtWell want to offer our support, as allies, neighbors and fellow educators. Attached are some lessons that we have found especially helpful in working with youth to unpack emotions, facilitate difficult dialogues, and encourage self expression through creativity when words are too hard to find or simply not enough.

Heart Art and Poetry

This lesson provides a helpful way for students to process their feelings and thoughts through drawing and writing poems. We adapted it from the work of Georgia Heard to help our students process whatever is going on in their lives.

heart map lesson

Powerful Art: Healing and Loss 

This lesson explores the ways in which people and cultures use the arts to respond to and heal from loss. Inspired by Ethiopian Medicine Scrolls and Tibetan Sand Mandalas, students create art that reflects on their individual and collective healing, hopes and strengths.

Powerful Art

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Teacher Feature: Nourishment and Social Change with Jesse White

Jesse White is one of ArtWell’s wonderful teaching artists. She is currently teaching 3rd and 4th graders in the We the Poets Program at LaSalle Academy. She focuses on creating and teaching art as a means of social change. She recently completed a show for the A-Space Community Center in West Philadelphia.

"streetlampdancer" by Jesse White (50"x50" oil on canvas painting)

What is your connection to ArtWell?

I am a teaching artist for ArtWell, currently facilitating the We the Poets curriculum and am also trained in the Art of Growing Up program.

How long have you worked with ArtWell?

I am new to the ArtWell team. However, I am not new to creating or teaching art for social change. I’ve been involved in similar work for about 15 years.

What is your background in art and writing?

I started journaling when I was nine and writing poetry came soon thereafter. In middle school and high school, writing poetry was a means of self-expression, and introspection. It was also a way for me to have a dialogue with God. Writing poetry continues to nourish and sustain me. My undergraduate education culminated in a BA in Psychology and Integrative Studies: Creative and Spiritual Process. I have worked as an art therapist for many years, with a focus on the healing and transformative creative process. I have found that art-making is a safe world, within which, we can take creative and personal risks. Taking these kinds of risks is essential to making important changes in our lives, and developing wisdom.

Tell me more about your personal art.

I am an Expressionist artist and poet. I want my work to stir your senses and invite you to feel deeply. I am an oil painter, mixed-media artist, and altered book creator with recent experiences in photography and encaustic painting.

Do you have any upcoming projects or readings?

I just completed a show at the A-Space Community Center.  I am giving myself the winter season to just create.

Why do you work with youth?

Too often, the words of the young are met with unfair opinions or are ignored. I work with youth because I know that they have important stories to tell, and stories that would teach me greater truth. I also believe that some of us discover our courage and power on the page, or on the canvas.

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