Sneak Peek into the Classroom: La Salle Academy

la salle masks

An ArtWell first: two girls from La Salle successfully made masks on each other at the same time!

Treat others the way you wish to be treated.

This is one of the mantras behind the mask-making lesson, which is the heart of ArtWell’s Art of Growing Leaders program.

At La Salle Academy, over a dozen 7th and 8th-grade girls have gathered each week since October to talk with teaching artists Julia Terry and Kara Rutledge about how taking risks is how you discover what your strengths and weaknesses are, how you discover more about yourself, and how you learn and grow.  Taking risks involve having new experiences.  At this tender age, the girls are beginning their critically important transition into adulthood.  This is a turning point in their development.

To prepare them for the transition, Julia and Kara took each of the girls on a personal journey that involved risk-taking and self-discovery through mask-making.  But before they began crafting their masks, they started with a blank paper, pondering the qualities they admired in themselves and others, and also the qualities they wanted to possess in the future.  A safe space was created for each student to map out and design the person they wanted to become. They discussed how masks are powerful metaphors for so many things.  They can conceal or reveal who you are. The girls opened up and discussed the feelings, thoughts and fears they usually keep hidden.  They shared strengths and talents they are normally afraid to share because they don’t want to brag or be told that they don’t possess those qualities.  Julia and Kara reinforced that being a girl means that they can be anything.

For many of the girls, mask-making was an experience unlike anything they had ever participated in. The girls were hesitant at first.  But teaching artist Julia Terry harnessed the power of mentorship.  Some of the 8th grade girls had participated in the program last year and were comfortable with the mask-making process.  She paired a 7th grader up with an 8th grader to help guide them in a supportive way.  The mentorship angle paid off.  Over the next 2 weeks, Julia and Kara witnessed how the older students reached out and cared for the younger students, and how the act of helping each other created a model for how to treat others in a nurturing, kind way.  Each girl became completely absorbed with the exercise, smearing Vaseline and laying plaster gauze over her peer’s face carefully and intentionally – treating her with respect – with how she wished to be treated in return.

Next up:  Painting the masks!  Stay tuned next month to read about the next phase in the mask-making project!


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Philadelphia’s Visionary Leaders meet @ ArtWell

ArtWell_1968_029 (2)On November 12, Visionary Leaders from across Philadelphia gathered at ArtWell to be part of an important dialogue about how a collective group of leaders can mobilize to create change, specifically, within ArtWell’s classrooms.  ArtWell hand-selected the inspirational Visionary Leaders based of off their impressive personal achievements and great vision for our city.

ArtWell teachers and staff unveiled the exciting new program, the Art of Growing Leaders, funded by Impact100, and invited the leaders to be part of the program by either becoming a personal mentor to a student, or by developing a supplement to be taught in the classroom about what it takes to become a leader.  The response was overwhelming.  The presence, participation, vision and creativity made it a truly inspiring afternoon.
View photos from the event!

Opening Speech by ArtWell’s Executive Director,
Susan Teegen-Case:
30 Years ago: I am 1000% certain that I would not have envisioned being with all of you, and amazing and inspiring gathering of Visionary Leaders.  I was in graduate school at Princeton Theological Seminary at which time I was also experiencing a serious back injury and several unexpected losses that somehow were the perfect storm that made it IMPOSSIBLE for me to concentrate and to access my usual ways of coping. Totally Lost and ..Terrified both felt like radical understatements to my condition at the time. I knew I was incapable of meeting my esteemed institution’s expectations much less my own.  Because I was felt hopeless in the library trying to write papers and study for exams, I signed up for a watercolor class….and discovered a whole new world…NOT the world that the art teacher envisioned…but a new world for me, where I could have cared less about what she thought, as was completely amazed at the intensity and flow of the Cadmium Red across my whole paper as I heard the teacher gasp: Oh no, you just ruined that painting…and I knew that Oh Yes, this was a key to totally uncharted territory!

This experience repeated itself, as I found time and time again, that by showing up at a completely BLANK …totally EMPTY canvas…whole new worlds …feelings, images…and visions emerged. So much so, that I focused the rest of my graduate work on exploring artists and communities that had found meaning…and THRIVING amidst overwhelming challenges through a commitment to soulful artistic expression. This exploration was truly an anchor as my previously constructed self and world fell apart piece by piece…in order to emerge into a configuration that was in the end…TOTALLY beyond my wildest hopes and dreams.

30 Years ago, I had NO idea that Albert Einstein whose home I walked by every day in my efforts to literally put one foot in front of the next: actually was heard saying: I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be” I could NOT see what I see now: a room full of faces of extraordinary leaders who inspire me..and all of us at ArtWell with your courage…your vision…your tenacity to show up and take yet another step amidst incredible obstacles…your LOVE for this city..this region…for the vision of a city that can embody sisterly and brotherly love…for your investment not in the I of your knowing…but in the WE that is our true power. 30 years ago, I of course had no idea that I would be at my now annual participation in the Philanthropy Network where I was along with several of you yesterday. The focus was Sparking Solutions for Collective Impact…where Stacey Holland shared that she had the chance to talk with one of the last Freedom Riders, and they talked about We Can Solve anything…but Will We? Many things competing for our attention: the challenge is to pick something that you are really mad about…Get on that bus, and Stay on the bus until the issue is solved.  At ArtWell, our bus is our belief that arts education is civil right that all our kids …that means all kids are entitled too.

And for their full creative development we want them to know Visionary Leaders of all shapes, sizes, shades. Not only those who they read about in books..though those leaders too! We want them to know the Visionary Leaders in their own lives: the teachers, principals, grandmothers and fathers, leaders in our city of diverse callings…who face incredible obstacles and witness how they treat these obstacles as opportunities for change…and who channel their outrage into fuel for social change! who go deeper…are draw on connections to the LOVE…even in the midst of it all…are inspired by Love of Life, and by the Vision of our City and Region…the vision that we can have/ can be the city of true sisterly and brotherly love.

We know we are this…because of you with your extraordinary hearts, minds and lives at work…You who Never give up on Love. Love of the Visions that come in different shapes, sizes and shades of a realized Beloved Community, Love of the Creative Process that sparks the genius in everyone and in the collective…Love of the vision that all of our youth 2 deserve a free and fair public education, Love of the ending of racial inequities with Libraries and Learning for all.  Love of a city where all are safe and also respected …including for their beliefs…and Love for the belief that people of very different faiths and walks of life can work together for the common good. Love of peace and honor and resources for our elders… Love of a place where there are homes and jobs for all. Love of our earth…and the ability to live in awe and wonder and harmony with the natural world and all of our relations.  Love that calls us to lay down our egos, our greed, our guns and open our arms and hearts to what is most, so that all our youth know amidst the serious challenges…there are many many gifts and treasures…there is an abundance of vision, hope and love in our communities, and that we can work together to create the city and world that we all want to live in together.

You get the picture: you Know this picture…You are an essential part of this picture and we are so honored with your presence and the chance to honor you today…I also feel honored to share this time with others who I know as Visionary Leaders with ArtWell.

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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 (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 There are still limited sponsorship opportunities available, which you can learn more about by emailing 

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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