A group of students and their teachers film outside in the city.

Young Minds Open to the Sounds of Their City

Fourth in a new series featuring stories from Greater Boston arts organizations that received special funding to pursue an artistic risk.

The arts are always about taking risks. But funding for risk taking is often hard to come by. With new resources dedicated to artistic risk, seven organizations pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones. This story of what happened comes from Nick Tetrault, Music Clubhouse Coordinator at the West End House Boys and Girls Club.

When organizations like ours are looking for arts funding, it is easy to go with what is safe. For the Music Clubhouse at the West End House Boys and Girls Club in Boston, pianos are safe. So are guitars. Kids take lessons. Their parents like that they are learning an instrument. Kids put up with regular lessons because it makes their parents happy and they like the piano or the guitar. And, while there is nothing wrong with kids learning artistic skills they enjoy and are proud of, there is so much more we can do to activate their own creativity.

Our kids think of themselves as artists. That is something I work to encourage in them every day. When we had the opportunity to take a risk with funding from the Barr Foundation and Klarman Family Foundation, we wanted to show our kids that music is everywhere. We gave them audio recorders, headphones, and iPads. I challenged them to listen to their city. We watched the way their perception of the world around them changed as every object was now a potential sound source—the traffic on the streets, a metal light pole, the water rushing down a fountain. They discovered what they could do to manipulate these sounds, combine it with other sounds, and create beats from the sounds of their city. They were creating art and loving it. Being a part of that discovery process is one of the most rewarding parts of this work.

What you lose with safety you can gain in risk. If we are trying new things, we are gaining insights that are invaluable, that could be applied across all of our curriculum and programming. Tweet This

This kind of art is its own risk. You never know how the final product will turn out. But the bigger risk for us was putting time and resources into a program that might not capture the kids’ attention. We are a drop-in program. On any given day, our kids can show up or not show up. So, to go deep with a group of kids, our programming has to capture their imagination, engage their curiosity, and inspire commitment to themselves and to our program.

What became clear for us through this project is, what you lose with safety you can gain in risk. If we are trying new things, we are gaining insights that are invaluable, that could be applied across all our curriculum and programming.

Our kids take a risk every day when they allow themselves to explore new possibilities. We owe it to them to provide those adventures. In the truest sense, that is youth development.

We invite you to share this story of artistic risk-taking, and to join the conversation using #ArtisticRisk.

About the Barr-Klarman Arts Capacity Building Initiative and this video series:

The Barr-Klarman Arts Capacity Building Initiative was a five-year initiative to strengthen the long term financial health of a group of Boston area arts organizations. Throughout the Initiative, the partners grappled with the question: capitalization to what end? What’s the desired change for the organization and for our communities? First, the cohort explored what organizational risks could look like, and the kinds of capital needed. And in the last two years, the partners asked what taking risks in the art and curation looked like, and what kinds of support are needed for risk-taking. A fund was set up as part of the Initiative, with the goal of supporting projects that took organizations out of the comfort zone of their usual practice, potentially against standard field practice, and with the potential to change their organizational way of working.

These commissioned videos document the journey of the seven projects that were funded. Each video centers on one organization and, through the eyes of its leaders, gives a glimpse into their journey of artistic risk-taking. We hope that these leaders and projects will engage you in a conversation that deepens understanding and builds support for this exciting kind of work.

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Nick Tetrault

Guest Author Music Clubhouse Director West End House Boys and Girls Club