learn / 2016

MERGE: LA youth collaborating through spoken word & dance to build empathy, literacy and confidence.

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Say Word and 4C LAB

Together, Say Word and 4C LAB empower underserved youth to merge spoken word & dance to share original stories of identity, empathy & equality while sparking dialogue across diverse communities in LA.


Are any other organizations collaborating on this proposal?

Say Word and 4C LAB will work together to introduce creativity and literacy as integral parts of the path to self-discovery, and break the cycle of apathy by increasing access and education, culture, community and self-awareness for youth ages 14-24 in Los Angeles.

Please describe your project proposal.

Say Word and 4C LAB merge interdisciplinary arts for socio-emotional development in youth to create original work. ‘Merge’ engages our students to share, create and navigate through personal narrative to discover identity, empathy and equality in L.A. Through collaboration we will explore the landscape of Los Angeles and its freeway systems that connect and divide us interpreted and culminated through spoken word and dance in a public performance to create dialogue in surrounding communities.

Which of the learn metrics will your proposal impact?​

  • College completion
  • College matriculation rates
  • Proficiency in English and Language Arts and Math
  • Suspension and expulsion rates
  • Youth unemployment and underemployment

In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • South LA
  • Gateway Cities

Describe in greater detail how your proposal will make LA the best place to learn?

MERGE, a joint project of Say Word and 4C LAB, will make LA the best place to learn, connect and create by providing an opportunity for Los Angeles youth to share their cultural and personal experiences through movement and spoken word poetry as a means to creating meaningful dialogue. By crossing city borders that are too often divided, intersecting art forms and exposing youth to live theater, poetry, dance, and the history of LA, MERGE will create original work, build equity, and foster healing through arts education.

We know art changes lives. We witnessed this just recently, when the Say Word poets met the 4C LAB dancers for the first time. 4C LAB’s Marissa Herrera asked them to explain to a partner “an instance where art saved your life?” The room filled with the voices of young artists opening their hearts and sharing their stories with conviction and passion. Later, Say Word’s Kat Magill explained, “If you don’t document your story before it becomes history, someone else will define your legacy.” The only sound heard were the urgent scratches of pencils on paper.

MERGE will continue this work, bringing together 25 young adults, ages 14-24, over the course of 14 weeks. They will examine the landscape of LA freeways, from the 405 to the 57, exploring the communities torn and formed by their formation, understanding the local history alongside their own personal narratives of identity, and defining their civic and artistic role in the greater LA community. Informing their work will be field trips, guest speakers, and professional performances. Using a framework of artistic development, peer mentorship, and community activism, we will engage participants in a collaboration of movement and verse that digs deep to give voice to merging narratives, culminating in a public performance of original work.

Studies have shown: young people who receive arts instruction in high school are 55% more likely to attend college and 29% more likely to earn a 4-year degree (Arts Education and Positive Youth Development, Elpus, 2013). They perform better at school, show significant gains in self-confidence, tolerance and persistence and are more likely to obtain employment (The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth, Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies, National Endowment of the Arts, 2012).

Our work echoes that data. 100% of teachers working with Say Word see improvement in students’ social skills, teamwork, and vocabulary. 90% of participating students see a full letter grade improvement, and 90% go on to college. Of 4C LAB’s participants, all are in high school, or have graduated. Of the graduates, all are attending either a 2 or 4-year university. Nearly half have jobs in the creative or mentorship field, and the others are interested in careers in the creative economy.

MERGE will be a pilot program, but one we hope to develop into a joint program that happens every spring, serving 20-30 young people, and audiences of 200+, each year.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.​

We are basing our goals on the data in the studies mentioned above, namely:

  • Access: We would like to retain 20 participants in the project and perform to community audiences of at least 200.
  • Self-Discovery and Community/School Engagement: we would like to chart improvement in participant’s sense of self and engagement at school, home and in their community.
  • Self-Identity and Identity as Artist: we would like participants to emerge with an understanding of what it means to be artists, expanding their perceptions of possibly careers in the arts.

We will measure our progress via pre-, mid-, and post-program surveys, as well as video diaries, where we will include questions and prompts that ask participants to evaluate their willingness to share, both in school and within their community; to challenge their definitions of self; to examine their risk-taking and risk-management behaviors; and to understand art as something that belongs to them, where they are and who they are.

We will also gather information through group work, one-on-one discussions with participants, and ongoing informal evaluations.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money
  • Volunteers
  • Advisors/board members
  • Staff
  • Publicity/awareness
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Technical infrastructure (computers etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Network/relationship support
  • Quality improvement research