play / 2021

Creative Acts - Art Attacks! : Civic Engagement in Juvenile Halls and Camps

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Creative Acts

Our Art Attacks! Program is designed to civically engage incarcerated youth through play. Using visual art, music, and theatre games, participants learn the value of their voice and their vote in local community organizing and engagement. They also forge relationships with students from the March For Our Lives anti-gun violence organization and those with lived experience of incarceration to make real change together in their communities as they return from prison. In 2020, 100% of our eligible students voted in the Presidential election!


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

  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

Often people who are incarcerated have had their access to play cut short by violence, trauma and gang involvement. A study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information describes how play activates the brain’s reward circuitry, which can facilitate attention and action. Through play, young people practice social interaction and build skills and interests to draw upon in the years to come, while also bringing down the barriers of gang affiliation and race that are so prevalent behind bars. This program inspires our students to raise their voices in their communities and become leaders in movements that create meaningful change, through play. We are firm believers that substantive, effective reform can only come from those who are impacted by the harms of systemic racism, a punitive justice system, poverty, and violence. Our students know what their communities need, and our program shows them how their participation and leadership can help achieve it.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

Art Attacks! is a civic engagement workshop for incarcerated youth that uses the arts and play as a means to teach students about the many paths they can take to community involvement and the value of their voices in the local and national conversation around political and social justice issues. A typical class may include theatre games, slam poetry writing, music, drawn art and open discussion centered around such topics as the history of peaceful activism, local government, community organizing, etc. Each teaching team consists of an artist, a formerly incarcerated teacher, and a youth representative from the March For Our Lives anti-gun violence organization. The inclusion of peer teachers and people who are formerly incarcerated is vital to showing our students how powerful their voices can be. In 2020, we brought the program into all 7 LA County camps and halls virtually, due to COVID, and 100% of our students voted in the Presidential Election, an unprecedented turnout. In addition, we made connections between our students and March for Our Lives, so that they could join their local chapters upon returning home. At the end of the session we took student-created protest signs and poetry to display in the community in order to amplify the voices of our youth and change public narratives about who they are.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

650
Direct impact
2,000
Indirect impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Our vision of Los Angeles County is one where the voices of those most impacted by systemic racism, the legal system, poverty, and gun violence are amplified and centered in the community dialogue and the passage of legislation that so deeply affects their lives. As witnessed in the 2020 election, the involvement of youth from the most underestimated communities in this country can completely transform the outcomes. The recent passage of Measure J in LA County is a good example of legislation actuated including voices of our systems-impacted youth. Art Attacks! is not only about education, but also empowerment. Often our youth have been confronted with low expectations, through play and access to the Arts, our program presents them with an alternative view of themselves which they rise to. We envision a Los Angeles County where they are involved in meaningful change that ultimately creates a safer, more equitable, inclusive, playful community for us all.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Each iteration of Art Attacks! has included pre and post anonymous surveys which have been created in partnership with a Mental Health Expert who specializes in the re-entry of incarcerated individuals. These surveys help us understand how the program has affected our students’ mindset and ultimately their potential re-entry success. The results have been astonishing. Our students have gone from answers like “How does my vote as a young, black, incarcerated woman matter as much as a white person’s?”, to answers like “We have community. We built something in this short time…my peers, my brothers, we’re all in this together.” Additionally we have been able to measure voter turnout amongst our students, which reached 100% in 2020. In future programs we will keep track of students who contact us or one of our partner organizations to join in engaging in their communities, as well as interview staff at the camps and halls about the impact on the students while they are inside.

Which of the play metrics will you impact?​

  • Prevalence of trauma and adverse childhood experiences
  • Crime rates
  • Gun-violence victims

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

  • LA is the best place to LEARN
  • LA is the best place to CREATE
  • LA is the best place to CONNECT
  • LA is the healthiest place to LIVE