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Opportunity Now Programs Pivot for a Pandemic

With innovative adaptations, Opportunity Now arts work experiences retained their creative and practical value for Nashville youth.

Participants in Opportunity Now, Nashville's youth employment initiative providing Davidson County youth with access to employment, are no strangers to hard work. As the facilitators for Opportunity Now (ON) programs for Nashville arts and culture organizations, Metro Arts staff have seen firsthand the creativity and innovation these organizations and their students are capable of. So it was no surprise that our eight ON site partners for summer 2020 found unique and inspiring ways to pivot in the face of COVID-19 closures and restrictions. Although the programs looked a little different this year, the students still gained invaluable experience in the arts and culture field.

At the King’s Daughters Child Development Center’s program, student employees worked virtually on creating interactive, engaging lessons for the KDCDC children, based on one particular art form each week. Along the way, the students developed an appreciation for the importance of extracurricular, hands-on activities in curriculum.

KDCDC Opportunity Now students gather on the final day of their work experience. From top left: Erandi Lugo, Rondrick Briley, Kendra Smith, Alyssia Jenkins, Tibyaan Lodhi, Saraaja Hunt, Quinn Fowler, Esperance Ndayizere and Lead Artist Erin Hall (tiny top right square) 7/17/2020. Photo credit: Erin Hall.

Turnip Green Creative Reuse students created artwork from reuse materials and curated their own gallery shows through a hybrid virtual and in-person experience. Turnip Green staffer Ally Miller said, “Students began to see themselves as artists. Many students at the end of the summer identified as experienced gallery artists.”

Turnip Green student Samara shows off her artwork. Photo credit: Ally Miller.

Students in From the Heart’s "Music for Life" program remained in-person for their Opportunity Now experiences, adhering to COVID-19 protocols of masks and social distancing. Students learned to play new instruments, created their own bands, and hosted an end-of-summer showcase.

A From the Heart student independently rehearses. Photo credit: K. Green.

Youth enrolled in Notes for Notes program, “The Journey of a Song,” met virtually in teams, using an online digital recording platform to cover and produce one song and to create and produce two original tracks with accompanying visual content and “behind the scenes” interviews.

A Notes for Notes youth team collaborates to finalize their second original song, "Never Knew You," as the band The Fourth Sphere. From top left: Natalie, James, Lee, Josh, Nived (Program Director), & Alex (Program Director).

The Women of Color Collaborative employed virtual meetings to allow their students to work in teams, incorporating technological, writing and film composition skills to create original documentaries surrounding social justice issues.

Prado Studio made use of a hybrid model for their public art project, working on a set of two mosaic-covered, throne-size chairs for the Martha O’Bryan Center. The Prados offered training on creating public art, developing professional resumes, and the concept of “Ikigai” identity mapping via Zoom. Then, the students came together (masked and distanced) in the studio to piece together the mosaics.

At Prado Studio, Bimala Rai adds the finishing touches to a mosaic composition. Photo credit: Harriet McSurdy.

"I was so proud when one participant applied the Ikigai identity-mapping exercise we had learned on day one to frame his question to our guest artist about her personal 'reason for being' on day three," said artist Jairo Prado.

Through Global Education Center’s virtual program, “A Home For All of Us: Music and Murals,” program managers adapted the original, pre-COVID project (a student-created mural) to a virtual tour of Nashville murals and mural artists, which inspired individual music compositions developed by each student.

Global Education Center youth created artworks in response to prompts. Left: a drawing representing a student's favorite song (by Abby, student). Right: needlework representing quarantine (by Manar, student).

Students learned more about the neighborhoods in which each mural was created, both through their own research and creativity as well as that of their peers, each of whom explored a different mural,” said Global Education Center Director Ellen Gilbert. “They also learned about how a particular neighborhood influenced the artists in both their selection of the subject of their mural but also the emotions expressed in those murals. Several students had their parents drive them to see the mural they had chosen, and several students commented on how proud they were of the way their culture or neighborhood was presented in certain murals.”

Southern Word took their Summer Studios poetry and music project completely virtual, engaging youth in workshops, group collaboration, and production processes. Students also engaged in a professional arts administration workshop series to develop soft skills, as well as the skills necessary to navigate the business side of art.

Southern Word student Marie Fields performs a poem during the "Circus of Art" virtual showcase.

On the day of the virtual performance showcase, ‘Circus of Art’, I was amazed at how prepared, professional, and passionate the youth were,” said Metro Arts program coordinator Nichole Robinson. “One youth commented on her ‘apprenticeship’ as being life-changing.”

To learn more about youth work experience programs throughout the year and for summer 2021, visit the Opportunity Now website.

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