Gone are the long summer days that these youth spend in front of a television, instead of watching television, youth across San Jose are creating their own digital arts media on the other side of the television set. Dozens of underserved students are learning the art of digital media and receiving a chance to learn skills in photography, music, and film production at the digital arts program ran by the city’s Department of Recreation and Neighborhood Services (PRNS) at three city community centers.
“The whole goal is create with purpose, so that there is meaning and message behind the projects, it depends on the art that they are interested in, it could be a song, it could be just producing a beat, photography, short films, we do a lot of spoken word and performance drills,” said PRSN supervisor Phillip Solis. “These students come from at-risk backgrounds and they have powerful stories and it’s just really inspiring to see them be successful in art.”
After success with students in the 13-18 age range, the program launched a youth summer camp pilot program to serve elementary age students. The program has also expanded to serve an older crowd, seniors, to help teach them to create digital memoirs to share with their family. Solis said the centers digital media is open to serve the community, though the focus is youth.
“This program is life changing for not only the mentees but the mentors, you learn more when you teach and when you learn what someone teaches, that amount of growth is not just beneficial for our city but everyone around us, it’s very liberating to our spirit a a community,” added Albert Lutz-Paap, music media mentor.
The program launched in 2011 has already produced success stories. Andrew Vicente, better known as Amplified, got his start at Seven Trees Community Center. Hip-hop artist Vicente toured this summer in the 2014 Vans Warped Tour, across 44 cities. “Students even come in with ideas for songs, or they come in with nothing, just an interest in music. We show them different aspects that are available to them and we just expose them to everything possible and we’ll let them decide,” said Ronnie Patania, a music studio director for the program.
Other Seven Trees success, comes for student Yvan Gonzalez. Gonzalez created the music video, “Patience,” as a homage to his late older brother. The video won first place in Adobe’s nationwide Youth Voices competition.
“We didn’t know what we were creating. We didn’t know it was suddenly going to become a global sensation, that would be the first project that I cherished,” said creative director Marlo Custodio. Custodio said through the program adult community members have the opportunity to see “what they deal with at home, what they deal with in the foster care system, see what they deal with in the everyday struggle of their lives.”
With a small team of five, serving sometimes more than 500 students across Seven Trees, Roosevelt and Mayfair community centers, Solis said program funding is an issue. “Our biggest issue is some type of sustainable funding source, since the city has gone through so many cutbacks in the last few years. We’ve taken the biggest hit on the operational side, and so we’re really looking to collaborate with other agencies or other corporate sponsorships.” The cutbacks were almost half of PRNS operational budget for the next ten years.
For the future, the program hopes to become a feeder program for local media and arts programs at universities.