ArtWell Awards 2015 honors Spike Lee, Lynne Horoschak, Jerron Corley

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Announcing the 2015 ArtWell Awards

Honoring Spike Lee, Lynne Horoschak, & Jerron Corley


Saturday, October 17th, 2015 at 6:00 pm

2424 East York Street, Philadelphia, PA 19125

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ArtWell inspires the dreamers, the creators, the artists, & the learners.


We see the passion to learn and the need for self-expression in our students every day. ArtWell programming reaches over 1500 youth a year giving young people the platform and vehicles that amplify their voices and help them realize their potential. Through writing, music, poetry, visual arts, storytelling, performance and spoken-word, and other art forms, students discuss personal and social issues, explore their emotions and identities, and develop deeper cultural understandings.

Please join us for this special evening in celebration to support ArtWell programming and celebrate visionary leaders who transform our world and inspire us through the arts.


“I was once told that I could never be a writer. That I could never stand in front of hundreds reciting this poem – but you didn’t know me. I write with my pen because my mind refuses to leave a sheet of paper blank.”

– Jerron Corley, ArtWell Student and ArtWell Awards 2015 Honoree

Saturday, October 17th, 2015 at 6:00 pm

2424 East York Street, Philadelphia, PA 19125

Tickets and Additional Information

Awards Banner for Post

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ArtWell Slam Cultivates Garden of Hope, Guts, and Growth

ArtWell Slam Team spring 2015

“She calls it her garden of hope.

Every day she watches over it to see if something will grow.”

-Kadijah, ArtWell Slam Team member

ArtWell has been honored to help plant our own seeds of hope by supporting young poets through an ArtWell Slam Team which competed this year through the PYPM’s Philadelphia city-wide Slam League.

Co-coaches Sara Graybeal and Noel Quiñones masterfully led our students through an exciting season culminating in a semi-finals competition.

ArtWell’s team of middle school students competed against high school students, blossoming in the process. Noel saw this firsthand, “The team grew not only as individuals but as writers, conquering fears of writing as well as stage fright. They learned to work together on group pieces and they showed that they could hold their own with high schoolers. The growth they exhibited is plain to see and I am so happy I got to be a part of that. “

Angelo, ArtWell Slam Team member, echoed this sentiment showing both guts and depth of emotion, “I grew over time going on stage in front of high schoolers. It helped me get over my fear of stage fright. When I did my poem, I was able to get over that. And I also danced on stage.  That experience taught me not to be scared to overcome your fear. “

The Slam competitions bring students from around the city together in a supportive environment. The energy in the room is one of excitement, emotion, and active encouragement. Students are able to take the risk of performance in a place that erupts with appreciation of cheers, positive calls, and applause in salute to their bravery. And these students are just that – brave. Their words speak to personal topics that have a global resonance.

Angelo’s poem, Dear Dad, is a powerful reminder that our youth deal with adult issues every day of their lives, and desperately need a platform to express and connect. His words burrow into your heart finding first sorrow but then overflowing with pride for this young man (Dear Dad can be found at the end of this post).

The slam league is a good reminder of how important it is to provide a platform for youth to express themselves, “They reminded me that I always have something new to learn and that even a 13 year old can teach me what it means to love an art form.” – Noel Quinones.

Need more inspiration? Check out some of PYPM’s performance archived videos (event titles are listed below each embedded video).

Highlights include:

PYPM Slam League East 3/20:

24.36 ArtWell team member Kadidja

35:00 Dance Break

PYPM Slam League East 3/31:

17:00 ArtWell team group piece:

35.58: ArtWell team member Kadidja

1:05:00: ArtWell team member Hakeem

Hungry for even more amazing spoken-word? Live performance this Sunday, May 31st at the ArtWell Festival. Join us as we celebrate our talented students, make joyful art and noise, and imagine a future where our youth find the support they need to grow in their own gardens of hope and blossom into the leaders of our future.

Dear Dad by ArtWell Slam Team member Angelo:

Why did you do that

Why did you steal

Why did you steal when you could buy it

When I was a kid you asked me

what did I want for my birthday

I said my family

But now, I can only see you on my own time.

I used to think that ankle bracelet was for sports

Green was you’re in shape, red was you’re too fat

But come to find out you’re on house arrest.

You are on house arrest for three years.

Now how am I supposed to see you?

How will you see me walk across the stage when i graduate middle school?

How will I take a picture with only my mom?

How does my uncle feel like my dad?

He’s the one who takes me to basketball games and gives me money for food

He lets me ride in the front seat, unlike you

Who puts your flesh and blood in the back and your homies in the front

I’m sorry, Dad

But you had your chance

You lost it.

Now it’s my time to grow up, be a man

And take care of my family.

I won’t mess up like you did.



image: ArtWell 2015 Slam Team

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ArtWell Students Explore Creative Solutions for Social Challenges


In today’s test-driven academic climate, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and collaboration often take a back seat to memorization and technical skills. Teachers have little time for flexibility and time exploration for students when the future of their schools and jobs is so closely tied to results from a bubble-test. This hotly debated issue continues to pop-up in daily articles and media links. In point, recently John Oliver had a major segment devoted to just this topic.

Huge changes are in order to re-focus and rebalance where and how kids learn. We know that through play and creativity students gain both emotional intelligence and the understanding of the importance of trial and error (failure) and that success can emerge from unexpected connections.

We’ve all heard Sir Isaac Newton’s story when he was inspired to investigate gravity while in an apple orchard, but there are so many other stories that site down-time, play, or art as the break-through moment. Inspiring stories such as the MacArthur Genius Grant winner, Erik Demaine, who uses origami and art to explore complex genetics and other scientific problems in new ways, highlight the need for art and play not as an extracurricular, but as the curricular (this great article in Seed further develops the connection between creative outlets and complex problem-solving).

It is society’s task to create a learning environment in which our students are just as inspired to experiment, inquire, investigate, and think critically.

ArtWell programs create safe spaces for students to be creative, take risks, dissect personal and public problems, and work collaboratively. This year ArtWell’s The Art of Growing Leaders classes focused on just that: these students were tasked with selecting a societal problem and given time to explore, through creative means, solutions and identify steps toward positive change. Each class chose an artistic platform as a tool for activism, advocacy, and leadership.

How do we create safer neighborhoods? How do we create successful schools? How can we tackle homelessness? These and other issues were explored through creative methods.

ArtWell Teaching Artists Dahlia and Adina’s Bache-Martin School students have chosen to investigate education. Each student has created a square representing their ideal classroom learning experience. The classrooms will be stitched together creating an entire school displaying their hopes for a safe, joyful, effective education and how they would change their classes to get there.

YESPhilly students realized that they didn’t have a place for students to relax, connect, unwind, and create. Their social action project will focus around creating a student lounge for their school, serving their class as well as future students.

Students from The U School feel the absence of that physical activity in their day and have created sculpture and jewelry inspired by exercise. They plan to sell these items to raise funds for an exercise program at their school.

Also at Uschool, Artwell Teaching artists Jay Beck and Youssef Kromah’s students have decided to design a new school logo to develop consciousness about respect and overcoming obstacles, and they hope to be able to print these on shirts and wear them at school.

At Lasalle Academy, the 7th and 8th grade boys class has been working on a series of political cartoons addressing the problem of racism in their neighborhoods. They hope to combine all the cartoons into a collective mural that could get hung in their school for future generations of students.

You can see these projects and help us celebrate our students while supporting their creative visions at the ArtWell Festival on May 31st. Students will have tables to present their creative action projects from 1 – 2 pm. Inspiration from the creative student projects can be directly channeled at 2 pm in the Philadelphia Imagining, in which we invite the public to join students and community partners in exploring the ideal educational environment for Philadelphia in the year 2034 (please RSVP for the Imagining here – you do not need to RSVP for the festival).

ArtWell_4435_150424We are profoundly grateful to Impact100 Philadelphia for awarding ArtWell a $100,000 grant that enabled us to create The Art of Growing Leaders and implement it in 14 classrooms this year. We are also thrilled to have just received a $50,000 grant from the Youth Arts Enrichment grant from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund to support this program in 7 classrooms next year.

It truly takes a village to invest in the creative development of our young people. We hope you will also support these students by joining us at the #ArtWellFestival on May 31st to celebrate our students and their projects.

Hope to see you there!

Images: Top: LaSalle Academy 7th & 8th grade boys’ artwork; center: USchool student works on her creative action project.

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A Community of Sisters: The Art of Growing Leaders at Camp Sojourner

CampSojournerAGL2015CampSojournerAGL2015 Girl Laughing







Guest post by ArtWell teaching artists Ariel Eure & Kris Smith

Cricket silence and shy smiles – this was how we were greeted in January on our first day facilitating ArtWell’s The Art of Growing Leaders program at Camp Sojourner Girls’ Leadership Camp. Fortunately, by the end of our first three hour workshop, while our students weren’t exactly chattering away, each person demonstrated their bravery by offering ideas for our community guidelines and sharing stories about their lives growing up as girls in Philadelphia.

Fast forward four months and we, as facilitators barely have to do any talking. The young women in this program, “Sojourners” have really taken the lead in teaching and learning from each other—a process that is definitely helped by the differing experiences of these young women in the room.

One example of the Soujourners becoming a group of sisters who share and support each other came after they decided to focus on the challenges and issues surrounding primary and secondary education for their culminating creative social action project.

We organized a Cross the Line activity to gain some insight into the girls’ educational experiences. Shoulder to shoulder we stood silently in a line across the room. We read off a list of statements, stopping between each to invite the Sojourners—and ourselves—to cross an imaginary line if the prompt held true in our experiences.

Through prompts that started off as simple as “Cross the line if you are home-schooled” to deeper statements like “Cross the line if you ever felt like you wanted to change school,” we were all able to witness the disparities of experience within the room but also to stand in silent solidarity with each other.

As we moved into our debrief, a question surfaced about the existence of metal detectors in schools. Why do they exist? What was their purpose? As ideas bounced around the room, and the Sojourner sisters offered their own testimonies, we strove to reach a shared understanding. At the end, however, we did not. As we had learned many times before through our activities and discussions, we will not always agree and we will not have all the answers. But there is value in this process and the dialogue that follows. Our conversation on metal detectors in schools did light a fire within us to envision how things could be not just different, but better, and how what we regard as “better” should be defined by the youth who attend these schools each day.

We are honored to work with a group of such fierce and inquisitive young women. From the singing, to acting, to storytelling, the space that we’ve all been able to create together on Sundays has been both transformative and powerful.

We are excited to see the Sojourners present their creative social action project at the upcoming ArtWell Festival. Our Sojourner students’ project seeks to raise awareness about the importance of school funding and the critical need to invest in Philadelphia’s youth.

We hope that you will join us at the Festival on Sunday, May 31st when this group of Sojourner sisters and other youth across the city unveil their year-long process of devising creative ways to solve problems in their communities. Join us to see the final product of these students’ hard work. Click here for more information.

See you there!

images: ArtWell programming at Camp Sojourner 2015.

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Trauma & the Classroom: Discovering Artistic ways to create Sanctuary

AGL Threshold 2015 LaSalle

For over 40,000 years ago, humans have used art and creative expression to document their lives and make sense of the world around them. Painting, music, and storytelling are an innate part of humanity. Early cave dwellings from Europe to Indonesia are covered in murals of animals and hand-stencils creating a beautiful space that feels like a home and a sanctuary.

At ArtWell, we begin every new relationship with our students by exploring what sanctuary means to them. We help them to identify spaces where they feel safe and work with them to access peaceful places within themselves and in the outside world.

One of the largest barriers in our work is the persistent trauma that is experienced by youth in our city. According to the 2013 National Survey of Children’s Health, almost half of U.S. youth ages 12-17 have experienced at least two types of “childhood adversity” that could affect their physical and mental health as adults. The percentage is undoubtedly higher in impoverished big cities (thenotebook) We know that safe spaces are vital for growth and learning and hope for the day when all schools are sanctuaries. ArtWell continues to explore what the role of youth-serving community partners, artists, educators, and leaders is in creating safe spaces for our students to thrive. All of our youth are at risk – at risk for greatness. It is our mission to support our young people so they can discover their own greatness.

ArtWell is excited to move forward in this area and strengthen our programming and pedagogy through formalizing partnerships with like-minded leaders and organizations such as Dr. Sandra Bloom and the Sanctuary Institute, The Health Federation, Turning Points for Children, Northeast Treatment Center, CHOP’s Violence Prevention Initiative, and leaders within the Philadelphia School District who recognize the importance and urgency to integrate trauma-informed practice into our education system through the arts.

The integration of trauma-informed practice not only serves the students, but also the providers. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future estimates one-third of all new teachers leave after 3 years, and 46% leave within 5 years; and the situation is bleakest within urban school districts. In response, ArtWell’s Professional Development has expanded in recent years to provide replenishing and reflective experiences for educators and youth-serving providers who are working to create sanctuaries in their own classrooms. We know ArtWell Professional Development fills a need that is otherwise unmet for our youth-serving adults. As one ArtWell PD participant stated, “There are very few innovative trainings out there that combine different disciplines. When I heard about ArtWell’s PD, I was excited because ArtWell’s approach is refreshing; it gives educators the tools to create something with their students, develop skills, and create a community.”

On Tuesday, May 5th, ArtWell is pleased to present Caregivers, a film created by Vic Compher, that spotlights personal experiences of secondary trauma and compassion fatigue and introduces models for caring for our caregivers. Please join us for the film screening and a conversation around this topic facilitated by experts in the field. RSVP and additional information can be found on Eventbright.

AGL Birds Threshold 2015 Taggart

Images: Student Threshold Projects: students create flags (top) and birds that display their wishes and needs for a safe space. Students use their thresholds to transform their classrooms into a sanctuaries for ArtWell classes.

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ArtWell Project Builds Community through Partnership with Al Aqsa, Mural Arts, & Area Partners

Al Aqsa Mosque Finished Full Building Photo


Philadelphia has a long rich history of diversity of people and origin. The city has recently seen a flurry of activity as Philly has been recognized as a top city in the world for art, food, shopping, and much more. But our city’s value lies not only in commerce, but in richness of culture. It is with emotional and cultural intelligence that Philadelphia will overcome and creatively solve challenges.

In the shadow of AFDI’s anti-Muslim ads running on SEPTA buses in April and as our world continues to shrink as we connect in greater ways, projects that build community and understanding in the face of differences are more important than ever. ArtWell is honored to be invited to partner for one such illuminating project to strengthen understanding and friendship in the South Kensington community.

In 2004 ArtWell and the Mural Arts Program initiated a powerful collaboration, which brought together youth and community from Al Aqsa Islamic Academy, La Salle Academy, and Moffett Elementary Schools as well as neighbors and volunteers from all over the city. This project created a safe space for participants to build bridges across faith and cultural boundaries in a post-9/11 environment. Through school-based and community arts workshops we together created a large-scale mosaic Doorways to Peace and painted mural, transforming Al Asqa and all who took part.

Now ten years later, Al Aqsa invited ArtWell, the Mural Arts Program, and the original school partners to engage again. A new project will enable us to deepen connections and understanding of our neighbors through continuing to create art and poetry together for another mural installation at Al Aqsa Islamic Society. The aim of this project is to activate the power of art to open doors to strengthened relationships and understanding.

Joe Brenman, ArtWell Artist in Residence and South Kensington resident, agrees, “Its really great to be working with Al Aqsa again. Creating art is such a fun and enjoyable way to bring people together and to help make connections with people from different backgrounds, and this work is especially important now when there are some people promoting hate and divisiveness.”

Adab Ibrahim, Community Organizer, ArtWell Board Member, and project liaison worked on the original project in 2004 and is again offering her talents to the second phase, “I love the idea of reconnecting with the community and school partners over 10 years later! I believe we planted the seeds of creativity, friendship, and art-making and now we will continue to cultivate them. These opportunities enable individuals to reach across various boundaries i.e., cultural/racial/religious boundaries to discover the humanity in each of us. What is even more amazing is that Artwell is a neighbor, and not just a community partner this time! Clearly, this entire project demonstrates the power and beauty of relationship building through the arts.”

Dr. Cathy Cohen, ArtWell Education Director has brought together many of the same artists and community organizers to spearhead the next phase of this project. She continues to feel the impact of the original project and looks forward to using art and poetry once again to strengthen the community, “The seeds we planted are blossoming into a garden that bears the fruit of our friendship, understanding and common need for a healthy, growing community!”

Love this project? Be a part by painting a tile at the ArtWell Festival on Sunday, May 31st!


Photos: Top: Al Aqsa Islamic Society after 2004 Doorways to Peace.

Bottom: Al Aqsa Islamic Society before and after the project.

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ArtWell Festival

ArtWell_Festival_Postcard_2015_wPTSSD_Logo FINALSunday, May 31, 1-5 p.m.
Celebrating young artists!

Participate. Create.  Connect.  Dream.
Join us for a day filled with music, live performances, poetry readings, art reception, make-and-take art activities, tasty food trucks, and much more—as we celebrate the students, leaders and community members who are a part of the ArtWell family and make Philadelphia a better place.  All ages are welcome.  FREE!

Student’s arts-based social action projects from ArtWell’s Art of Growing Leaders sites will be on view.  Tour their incredible works, hear from the students themselves, and participate in free art, poetry, drumming and dance activities for all ages, led by talented, professional teaching artists!

Woven throughout the festival, guests will also have the opportunity to be part of a completely one-of-a-kind, arts-infused gathering of Philadelphians as we collectively join together and create a vision for our community’s future. Through art, performance and dialogue, we will create a vision for what education in Philadelphia could look like in our most hopeful future, and map ways to get there.

Add the event to your calendar!

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A Critical Time to Support our Youth

Bache Martin Mosaic Installation 2014 MasterPeace Acceptance Calm Success Family TilesBy: Alyson Giantisco – ArtWell staff

Philadelphia has emerged as one of the top cities in the world for the arts, entertainment, and culture. You may have heard the buzz as our city continues to top major Best of Lists including: Bicycling magazine’s Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities, Bleacher Report’s Best City to be a Sports Fan, Travel + Leisure calling Philly “America’s next great food city”, SAVEUR Magazine declaring Philadelphia America’s Best Sandwich City, ranking #2 on Conde Nast’s Best Shopping Cities in the World, and #3 on Places to Go in 2015 by The New York Times.

However, Philadelphia still has a long way to go in order to lift up and provide real opportunity for every member of our community. In Philadelphia, over half of the adult population—an estimated 550,000 individuals—are considered low literate. At this level, they would struggle to fill out a form such as a job application or follow written instructions.* Additionally, over 200,000 adults in Philadelphia do not have a high school diploma. As a result, they are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty as an individual with a secondary school credential.**

The Philadelphia School District continues to face real challenges in meeting the needs of the students in our city. At the beginning of the school year, Math, English, and Spanish classes at Central High School had 50-70 kids due to cuts in teachers and staffing. And with a $71 million budget deficit looming over the district for 2015-16, Principal Tim McKenna says everybody should brace themselves for another round of cuts next school year.***

It is clear that the work ArtWell does is more important than ever. Our programs support Philadelphia classrooms and their teachers: building literacy and school engagement by inviting students to participate in reflective projects designed for the success of all students regardless of background or reading level. We may ask students to create a poem about what it feels like when they are listened to, or how they create sanctuary and safe places in their lives. Students of all levels can complete these assignments, and through these assignments, they learn that they can create poetry, story, art, and music that they feel proud of.

Stay tuned for examples of lessons and experiences for building literacy through poetry in the coming months.

Read how teaching artist Cathy Cohen is volunteering her time to make sure every child is on the same reading level.

* Excel Philadelphia, “Help Wanted”, 2009
** U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey
*** NPR Ed, November 2014

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Fostering Young Poets


CathyTeaching_at_Temple_IndonesianStudentsA crowd of students rush down the hallway towards teaching artist Cathy Cohen, knocking into each other as they wrap her in a big group hug, breathlessly asking her,  “Are you coming to our classroom today?”

When Cathy smiles, her eyes sparkle.  It is easy to see why her students love her.  She has a gentle voice, and warmth about her that invites people in.  She knew she wanted to be a teacher at the age of 15 when she started tutoring.   45 years later, with a doctorate in learning differences from Northwestern University, and thousands of teaching hours under her belt, Cathy still feels the calling to inspire and mentor children.   Cathy joined ArtWell in our third year and the match was magical.  She brought a wealth of expertise in poetry and teaching, as well as amazing relationships with partners of diverse faiths and cultures.

“I became a poet in the 5th grade.  I had a fantastic teacher who loved poetry and encouraged those of us who were shy and introverted to come out of their shell.  Being given the time to explore changed my life.  You don’t see that as much today.  Kids have such busy schedules with so much they are responsible for, not enough time is being given to exploring their strengths and expressing themselves through writing, thinking, reading and practice,” she relays.

Cathy makes it a point to give her students the space to discover themselves by simplifying the lessons which helps make poetry accessible to kids at all levels.

“I have learned that if a child has missed something or is experiencing a problem that may be particularly challenging, there is always another way to learn it.  I started out studying special education, where we learned to break tasks down to create a simplified, step-by-step approach to learning. By breaking down tasks, we can more easily assess their strengths,” she reflects.

In one of Cathy’s current ArtWell classes, this is making a profound difference with a class of 27 third graders.   “We were working on an exercise that was a creative introduction to metaphor. The children told vivid verbal descriptions but when it came time to write them down, they didn’t feel comfortable with spelling or grammar. They had so much to say but their poems didn’t reflect that.  I talked to their teachers, who are all great teachers, who had the same observations about their students.  With classes today being so large, with a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time, only so much could be done.  I felt so close to these children…and wanted to help.  I thought ‘if only they could be more comfortable reading or writing, they could accomplish so much more.’”

In response, Cathy  began volunteering to tutor several students every Tuesday and Friday, and enlisted three other adults to help. Together, they have created an intimate support system where the kids feel comfortable sharing, exploring, making mistakes, and learning. She developed guidelines for the group that foster kindness, and encourage the students to take risks within the safety of the group.

The results have exceeded her expectations.

“I had one little guy who used to sleep in class all the time; he always put his head down.  You see that a lot.  I saw him in fights with other kids, and I really worried about him.  I spoke with his teacher who agreed that he was so smart, but didn’t feel comfortable with his writing or sharing with the group.  We knew he needed more 1-1 time in order to learn how to apply his talent.  Since we have been working with him more regularly, I have seen him open up.  He volunteers to help out more, and feels more comfortable writing and sharing his poetry with the group,” she says.

Many of these students are now coming closer to reading at grade level and are inspired by their growing lives as budding poets and writers.  ArtWell’s mission connects teachers to their passion and opens the doors to students curiosity and creativity that is waiting to be tapped.

If you’d like to learn how you can volunteer your time to help ArtWell in a variety of capacities, contact us today!


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Open Call: Join the ArtWell Poetry Slam Team!

If you or someone you know is in Grade 8-12, interested in writing, rapping or singing, consider joining ArtWell’s Poetry  Slam Team, part of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement Slam League!  ArtWell teaching artists Noel Quiñones and Sara Graybeal will provide students with expert coaching and the opportunity to become immersed in Philadelphia’s spoken word slam poetry scene.  This is a wonderful chance for high schoolers to become part of a supportive team of their peers who share a passion for creative expression!  Sign up today!

Workshops:   Saturdays in February | 10:30 am – 12 noon
Painted Bride Art Center

Performances:  Fridays in February | 4:30 – 6:30 pm
Freedom Theatre

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