The VALUE of ART BASED work-readiness PROGRAMS

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In 2010 Mayor Mike McGinn held a town-hall at Seattle Pacific University. On the stage the Mayor was joined by the director of the Office of Arts & Culture along with several students from local high schools. The evening was a celebration of arts in the city and a call for Seattle residents to support upcoming levies aimed at funding arts in schools.

As one young lady from Ballard High School finished reading an original poem, she thanked the Mayor for the workshop which helped build her confidence and improve her writing. Mayor McGinn responded graciously and then asked if there were any questions from the audience. A young man stepped to the microphone and inquired what the student’s planned to do with her newfound talent, and will the audience be able to see her work in print someday. The young woman shrugged, “I don’t know, I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Students prepare lights for photo session.

It was at that time a small group of artists from West Seattle began the conversation about work-preparedness, networking opportunities, and educational direction for students involved in city-funded art programs. They asked the question, should the city require any arts program that receives grant money be required to add a career component to their class? The same group from West Seattle began to engage Mayor McGinn at various events around town, as well as the Office of Arts & Culture and the Arts Commission; eventually providing a 8-week pilot program built around event management, specifically a youth fashion show. What made this runway extravaganza special was that it was designed, planned, and delivered by a group of middle and high school students.

On stage were 20 aspiring models wearing nearly 60 custom outfits provided by MAC Fashion House. Behind the scenes were youth ages 13-18 that planned, designed, and delivered the 1-hour program. The students had received specialized training in one of four areas; Facilities/Stage Set-Up, Sound & Lighting Engineering, Photo & Video Production, or Stage Management (Models/Runway), with all students receiving training in Promotions/PR/Marketing which included graphic design and basic computer training.

But what the pilot program architects were most proud of was providing their students with career tracks, networking opportunities, and educational direction beyond the culminating event. Additionally, each student received public speaking training, learned to create a resume, participated in mock interviews, and learned the who/what/where’s about event management as a career.

“… it wasn’t until I took the fashion class that I was able to focus my energy and see a clear path of what I was capable of…” – Jarrett Salazar (Fashion Designer)

Students of the Work-Readiness in the Arts program

In 2011 the city heard the call and Mayor McGinn launched the Work-Readiness-in-the-Arts-Program (WRAP) which provided funding for community partners who added a career direction component to their classes. Classes in canoe building, mural designs, music production, and fashion & runway all produced amazing curriculums and welcomed a diverse array of students; often partnering with youth & family services, SYVPI violence-prevention caseworkers, and special needs advocates in order to make the programs available to underserved communities.

Fashion Designer Jarrett Salazar

Jarrett Salazar was a fashion & runway student in 2013 who began a design apprenticeship after finishing the (WRAP) program. Today Jarrett makes clothing for high-end customers and provided a number of outfits for the West Seattle youth fashion show which took place last August.

Jarrett credits his experience with the event management class as giving him new direction in life and ultimately a new career. “I always had a creative side to me,” said Jarrett. “But it wasn’t until I took the fashion class that I was able to focus my energy and see a clear path of what I was capable of doing. I wish that all kids could experience the program like I did.”

Sadly, in 2016 (then) Mayor Ed Murray defunded Mike McGinn’s WRAP program. Many have called for the program to be reinstated, with one such supporter asking current Mayor Jenny Durkan to consider it while she took questions during a visit to the West Seattle senior center in early 2018. Her reply seemed to show an openness to the idea, but there has been no movement as of yet.

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