Youth Studies students 4, 5, and 6 came together to write about this powerful day: 

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Image retrieved from Museo De Arts Contemporaneo De Bogota

Our early morning began with a visit to the Institute of Family Well-Being (ICBF), a temporary care facility for alternative youth that provides protective services for youth ages 6 to 17. Housing is provided for one hundred girls and thirty boys who reside there for a minimum of twenty days to as long as three months depending on the circumstances of their individual cases. Youth are entitled to parental visits once per week. The Colombia school system operates under two different calendars (one from January-December and the other from July-June), and depending on the school calendar, some participants have the option to continue going to school whereas others can’t since it’s the middle of the school year.

ICBF partners with Ayara, an NGO artistic foundation run by Afro and Mestizo Colombians that provide social, artistic, educational and productive activities stemming from the Hip Hop culture.  Ayara’s methodology (Ayara High Impact), focuses on strengthening the life skills of youth so that they can be able to better function in society. This methodology focuses on rap, break dancing, capoeira, fashion making and graffiti.

During our visit, Ayara facilitated three workshops where we all had an opportunity to join, and we immersed ourselves in the activity as participants. We all had the option of creating a rap, muralism and graffiti, and break-dancing. This inclusive experience provided the opportunity to work alongside recognized artists as they delivered services to this vulnerable youth population plagued by issues such as abuse and abandonment. Furthermore, these workshops allowed participants to let go of the negativity that we harbor in order to connect to our creativity. The message was that whatever happens in your life doesn’t have to remain as such. It all depends on how you look at it, and it can always be changed.  Participants had an opportunity to express what they were feeling and challenged themselves and their thinking to try different things, thus letting go of their inhibitions, and expressing themselves in a confident manner. Despite their situations, the empowerment received from the Ayara staff encouraged participants to be free, creative, motivated and engaged.

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The afternoon session with Jose Miguel Sanchez, Popular Educator and Political Science professor, and Marcel Marcentes, Graphic Design Street Artist moderated by Olga Lucia Olaya provided a historical overview of different forms of youth leadership through art and culture in current contexts. These conversations stressed the importance of using graffiti (free art form/spontaneous expression) as a medium of youth development.  Graffiti provides many options for youth in Bogota and is connected to not only the transformation of cities but the reflection of current and ongoing social and political issues.  According to Marcel, “I want youth to keep using the street as a stage.  Each piece of artwork is a political tilt.”

From our conversations we learned that similar to the United States, arts programming is the first to be removed from our school systems, although it is a necessary and powerful vehicle that enables youth to express themselves. In a Eurocentric society, youth from marginalized communities are able to use graffiti and other forms of art to change their narrative. According to one of the Ayara facilitators “You can live as an artist. Art saves lives.”

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