“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.