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By Svetlana Marshall
What started as a simple gesture to provide children and parents alike with education-based information, at a time when schools were forced to close their doors globally due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic has turned into a growing phenomenon where children have a safe space to express themselves through art regardless of their location.
Andrea Wilson – a US-based Guyanese Educator – was giving birth to the Young Artists Group when she started sharing critical information via her Facebook page in April 2020 to help children, in particular, cope during the pandemic.
“As a mom and educator, I truly understood the state of panic that was unfolding around us. I also understood that our children were in this with us,” Wilson told the Village Voice Newspaper.
It was not long after she started posting on her Facebook that an old friend, Candacy Bristol, reached out, and requested that a Google Classroom be established to facilitate easier access to the information, particularly for her daughter, Janae Bristol, who had developed a keen interest in the information being shared.
“I knew that I needed to present more than the run of the mill content for the kids. I wanted them to be able to engage with content that would permit them to share their thoughts and feelings about the pandemic. Importantly, I wanted to ensure a space for connection and support,” Wilson explained.
With little hesitation the Creative Expressions Group was established on April 15, 2020, and enlisted as its first member was Janae Bristol, who encouraged Wilson to share the content with other children.
“She wanted us to make the group one that would be a positive place for young people like herself to share deep thoughts about big topics and to be allowed to use the Arts for expression.
“The group then expanded to Facebook for there was a need to not only reach the children but their parents/families. In less than a week, my niece, Nikisha Elexey utilized her Facebook network, and the group grew in leaps and bounds,” she recalled.
The Young Artists Group evolved as well. As the other Young Artists joined, we were inspired by all the ways that they were willing to share their art and expressions with each other and the world,” Wilson said.
The US-based Guyanese said the response was simply heartwarming with members drawn from Guyana (Linden and Georgetown), Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and the US.
Two years after, the group remains a brave and beautiful space, where countless conversations have unfolded powered by the willingness of its members to be vulnerable, bold, and insightful about any and everything worth discussing.
It was explained that the Young Artists group’s focus is guided by the needs and interests of the Young Artists.
“…it also focuses on the many ways the arts can be used for expression and empowerment as our Young Artists strengthen their voices around critical issues occurring in our world,” Wilson added.
As such, monthly sessions are conducted to promote among other things reading habits among our Young Artists and discussions on major issues such as mental health among teens, the environment; body shaming, racism and animal protection.
“Janae, for example, has facilitated sessions on self-care for both our Young Artists and their parents. She also guided the group during our first book club session. All of our Young Artists have created and shared exemplary pieces of art as well as presentations about their role models, pop stars, and explored issues such as racism and women and girls in society,” Wilson told the Village Voice Newspaper.
This year, the theme is ‘Art for a Cause.’
The Young Artists have been introduced to artists who use their artform for advocacy. In the March Young Artists session, they sat in virtual conversation with Nate The Mime.
“Nate is a professional mime in the US. He is a veteran who was once homeless and who is now an international performer, author and advocate. The Young Artists were able to listen to him tell his story, ask questions and see a recorded performance,” Wilson explained.
To mark its second anniversary, the Young Artists Group is planning a fundraiser.
“Over the past year, one of the moms in our adult group lost her battle to cancer. Our Young Artists will produce original works of art that will be curated into a collection. The pieces in the collection will be sold to generate funds. All proceeds from the fundraiser will be donated to her children of the mom who lost her battle with cancer,” Wilson shared.
Importantly, the group is also working to establish a spin off entity the Creative Empowerment Organization (CEO) as an international non-profit which would be geared at supporting children and youth through expressive arts.
“I am forever grateful to all of the members of our groups Creative Expressions and Young Artists,” Wilson told this newspaper.