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Susan Porter, Project Director at Cooperative Artists Institute, describes how the Peace Drum Project makes connections with community members through the arts.

The Peace Drum Project is an after school program that uses the arts and community service to forge positive relationships between elderly citizens and teens from five Boston neighborhoods. Created by Cooperative Artists Institute in 2000, Peace Drum is founded on two premises. The first is that adolescents, who often struggle with issues of identity and independence, and the elderly, who often fear the unfamiliar, both experience a sense of isolation from the larger community and can benefit from forming relationships with each other. The second is that young people, particularly those in underserved urban areas, need opportunities for leadership development and positive risk taking to offset the lure of gangs and other negative peer groups.

In Peace Drum, 20 high-risk urban teens spend 3 hours each week for 30 weeks in after school sessions at a local high school. The young people take part in a variety of arts enrichment activities, including music and drama workshops, creating personal maps, museum and art-school field trips, and calligraphy, illustration, and photography lessons. Teens develop storytelling skills, including interviewing and journal writing, and learn to communicate personal narratives in a variety of artistic media. Drawing on these skills, youth participants create their own drums, which they embellish with photographs, mottos, symbols, paintings, and written stories about their lives.

A youth participant's Peace Drum is displayed at an open house.

Connections with members of the broader community, including elders and local artists, are a critical component of the program. Youth partner with community elders, whom they interview about their experiences and life histories. Then, the teens use their artistic and narrative skills to tell the older generation's stories in the program's culminating project—a peace drum, symbolic of the program's ability to bridge generations through the art of self-expression.

Peace Drum aims to strengthen the connections between youth, the elderly, and the larger community through the arts. We do this by partnering with local artists, including painters, choreographers, photographers, and percussionists, who work with teens in the after school program and at their own studios. Knowledge and experiences gained from these partnerships help youth develop an understanding of the importance of teamwork as a part of self-expression. Projects such as collaborative banner-making encourage youth to practice design skills, create personal symbols, and transform their stories into visual products together.

Peace Drum also partners with a variety of arts-based organizations for in-kind support, including tickets to performances and shows in the Boston area. The end result of these diverse artistic connections is to help youth develop more positive ways to express themselves and prepare them to authentically translate the varied and profound stories of community elders into peace drums.

In addition, Peace Drum fosters linkages with other community-based institutions to sustain and enrich its program offerings. Partnerships with local health centers and public housing personnel help us to recruit youth whom affiliated social workers have identified as potential beneficiaries of Peace Drum. In addition, health center youth leaders offer peer-taught workshops on sex education and violence prevention to project participants. Perhaps the most critical community connection, however, is with local elders. Peace Drum staff work closely with resident advisors in senior housing facilities to recruit elders into the program, help coordinate the program's activities, and share the exhibition of the stories and peace drums with other elders and families in the community.

Peace Drum evaluates its success through formal and informal assessments. Youth complete self-assessment surveys at the beginning and end of each year, and staff measure teens' progress weekly in areas of self-esteem, interactions with peers and elders, leadership, respect, and artistic competence. Staff also assess youth in order to decide how to distribute several meritorious awards and stipends—which serve as strong incentives for many of the participantss—at the end of each year. In addition to changes in attitudes, Peace Drum tracks teen attendance, high school graduation rates, and postsecondary pursuits. These assessments indicate that project participants improve their self-esteem and leadership skills and often remain in high school even if they previously had planned to drop out.

Staff also communicate regularly with parents and elders to identify ways to improve the program and deepen its impact. One innovative evaluation technique used by Peace Drum is its annual scrapbook, which provides a visual representation of the teens' progress both individually and as a group. These evaluation mechanisms demonstrate the successful involvement of both teens and elders in quality arts experiences and show that the program has opened new avenues for self-expression for both groups.

Susan Porter
Project Director
Cooperative Artists Institute
311 Forest Hills Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-3605
Tel: 617-524-6378

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