Transforming Lives and Communities Through Mentorship, Advocacy, and Art
Giving youth a nurturing space for collaboration and growth can help disrupt cycles of poverty and bring about social change. PlatteForum and Project VOYCE, both 501(c)3 non-profit organizations, are educating and mentoring Denver youth to help transform their lives and the communities in which they live.
Founded in 2002, PlatteForum offers collaborative and innovative arts programs that support working artists and underserved youth in metro Denver.
Through their Artist Resident program, PlatteForum offers time, space, funding, and community resources so professional artists can team with K-12 youth in Learning Labs to produce and exhibit issue-based new works. Applicants from around the world include visual artists, writers, and musicians.
Says Executive Director Kim McCarty, “We challenge artists and youth to create positive change in local communities. We ask: ‘What impact do you want to make with your art?’”
Another program, ArtLab, is a year-round paid internship for underserved high school students who are paired with local artists to create and present artistic works. The youth spend two to three years and over 350 hours a year at PlatteForum. Many are the first in their families to graduate and go to college. The graduation rate of ArtLab youth is near 100%.
A year ago PlatteForum moved from Riverfront Park to the Temple, an adaptive reuse of an 1880s synagogue now filled with artist spaces and creative businesses. PlatteForum’s neighbors include RedLine, where artists work with K-12 educators through the EPIC Arts program, Wonderbound, whose Art Squad program supports Denver at-risk youth, and residents in single-family and multifamily housing.
“PlatteForum is about cultivating ideas, taking chances, and going for it,” says Program Director Alexandria Jimenez. “That’s why this space exists—to encourage artists, youth, and people in the community to take action and see what happens when they participate in the creative process.”
Founded in 2006 by Candi CdeBaca, Project VOYCE (Voices of Youth Changing Education) trains underserved youth to become change agents and decision-makers at the school, district, state, and national level. The organization strives to build stronger schools and communities and lays a foundation for authentic youth engagement and empowerment.
Giving the community a voice has always been important to Candi. She graduated from Manual High School in Whittier, which serves a low-income minority population. She was the first in her family to graduate. While in college, she learned Manual was being shut down. “I felt passionate about keeping Manual open,” she says. “Project VOYCE was born out of that experience.”
For 10 years now, Project VOYCE youth have been plugged into the heartbeat of Denver. Their youth have participated in public policy conversations about education, school equity, racism, and community violence. Youth engage in debate by first learning the unspoken rules of a game they didn’t know they could play.
“We recruit diamonds in the rough, the ‘can but won’t kids,’ and help them manifest their potential,” says Candi. Through the VOYCE Academy, youth are certified in leadership development, action research, community change, and youth/adult partnerships. The youth then lead presentations and workshops at schools and organizations through the VOYCE Alliance. These youth advocates are paid for their work.
“Our youth are developing life skills that will prepare them for future careers,” says Candi. “I’m trying to recreate the things in my life that helped me succeed.”
Project VOYCE hopes to partner with a RiNo artist or business to further strengthen their youth-based efforts. PlatteForum, in turn, aims to expand its programming and build even deeper connections with the community.
VOYCE Academy and ArtLab are intensive, competitive programs. Denver youth are encouraged to apply. To learn more, visit projectvoyce.org and platteforum.org.
—Carolyn Daughters (RiNo Art District 2016 Spring/Summer Field Guide)