MACLA: Youth + media tools = cultural innovation

Arts / Article

By Anjee Helstrup-Alvarez, MACLA

At MACLA (Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana), we see youth as cultural innovators on their own terms.   They are the next generation and the voice of the future.  We have an awesome responsibility to construct a safe space for them to gather and create.  Perhaps most importantly, we offer a platform to promote their world view.

Located at the intersection of downtown San Jose’s SoFA Arts and Culture district and the William/Reed Corridor – a diverse immigrant neighborhood adjacent to San Jose State University, MACLA is a contemporary arts center whose work transcends our walls.  Bringing people together for community dialogue through the very best of contemporary Latino art is what we’ve done for the past two decades.  Two years ago, we partnered with the Adobe Foundation, the Entertainment Industry Foundation and the Black Eyed Peas Foundation to create the Peapod Adobe Youth Voices Academy at MACLA.  We converted a vacant Mercado (market) space in our building into a media lab with a sound recording studio, video production area, open classroom and storefront gallery.  On the day we opened the Academy, Fergie inspired the crowd, affirming that the Academy will be a “safe space for you to be who you want to be” and how important it is for the Black Eyed Peas and other successful groups to give back to next generation of artists.

The Academy is now a hub for teens ages 13-18.  They gather at the Academy everyday afterschool.  Our approach is simple, but what results is profound.  At MACLA teens learn how to create a video, write a poem, take a photo, record music and choreograph a dance.  Besides digital literacy and technical skills, they also learn about team work, project management, public speaking, setting goals and doing your best, all while being supported by culturally competent media mentors.

Here are two projects that showcase the work of MACLA’s youth and are recipients of the 2103 Adobe Youth Voices Aspire Awards.  Rhythm of a Refugee is a transnational collaboration between MACLA’s Academy and the Adobe Youth Voices program in the Caribbean island of Bonaire.  Via social media and email this project developed organically.  Footage shot in downtown San Jose’s urban environment is a stark contrast to the ocean views of the Bonaire capital Kralendijk.  With a catchy riff, Antonette Paviera sings about reaching your goals while running to catch your dreams. With migration and changing demographics occurring at accelerated rates here in California and across the nation, Rhythm of a Refugee has the makings of a theme song for the next generation, by the next generation.

The personal becomes political with Polaroids & Films.  Grounded in the concerns of teenage girls everywhere, Polaroids & Films addresses issues of body image, the pressure to follow societal norms and our own reflection in a media saturated world.  Luz Campuzano, a first year participant in the Academy and the 16 year-old protagonist in the video, hones her poetry and rapping skills as she speaks about her world.

These videos are concrete examples of what happens when you support youth to be cultural innovators on their own terms, “who they want to be.”  Imagine what is next!

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