Riverzedge Arts’ mission is to improve lives and places through art, design, and creative problem solving.
At first, this mission meant changing the lives of a small number of Woonsocket teens by teaching them art and design skills in a safe and nurturing environment. Later, it meant changing the lives of dozens of teens by employing them in our art- and design-based micro-enterprise studios. In 2009, our Mobile Studio brought the Riverzedge Arts experience to hundreds of K-12 students across the state of Rhode Island.
The core concept behind our youth development work is that by bringing underserved, under-resourced youth into a professional, high-expectations environment that modeled a lifestyle of creative expression, disciplined practice and self-reliance, they could envision themselves leading this lifestyle and discover pathways to reach it. We helped them see that these pathways would necessarily require high school graduation and almost always college. And then we gave them the tools and, more importantly, the support, to make it happen.
Our youth development programs focus on building the full range of 21st century skills encompassed in the acronym STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math). These same subjects might lack appeal in the classroom, but at Riverzedge Arts, they become the tools that let our youth express their creativity and design their own futures.
With the introduction of Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) Woonsocket in 2011, education became the medium to which we began applying creative techniques, opening alternative pathways to academic success for over 100 Woonsocket teens annually. In 2012, our instance of the renowned Parent Leadership Training Initiative (PLTI) enlisted focused, motivated parents in transforming education in Woonsocket.
The watchword here is “empowerment.” Youth conceptualize and design the ELOs and then build a case to convince their teachers that it is worthy of high school credit. For many, simply having their ELO approved represents the greatest independent achievement of their lives. And successful completion becomes a platform for continued growth. Similarly, PLTI teaches parents specific techniques to influence public school administrators to change policies and approaches to better serve their children.
Already, these programs have created significant, beneficial change within the Woonsocket Education Department, and both programs continue to expand. We expect to have more than 200 ELO participants at the middle and high school level in calendar year 2014.
Community and Economic Development
Through our years-long collaborations with community partners and Woonsocket municipal government, the city itself has become our canvas. We play a leading role in major placemaking and economic development initiatives, always putting the arts and creativity in the center of transformational process as well as the transformed product.
Ever-true to our vision of making everything art, we have introduced a new practice to this sometimes stuffy field of practice: youth charettes. Our first youth charettes for the Main Street-Riverfront Initiative’s wayfinding master plan produced remarkable and brilliant results simply because these youth almost never drive. By navigating on foot, bicycle or public transit, the delivered insights that none of the professionals ever could.
Riverzedge Arts continues to seek new opportunities and new arenas in which to empower marginalized populations to transform their communities and their lives. Always, through art.