My mistakes during virtual learning came back to haunt me as I sat in the Zoom meeting, constantly fumbling with the video and microphone settings. I had a few minutes before the scheduled time and while I knew everything was working perfectly, I couldn’t help but troubleshoot out of paranoia. I tested my microphone for the fifth time on top of adjusting my laptop’s volume. Heck, I even adjusted my laptop screen because I was afraid of having a bad angle. One minute early, the man of the hour arrived: Jason Talbot.
Talbot is the Managing Director of Program and Co-founder of Boston’s city-wide art program, Artists For Humanity. In the program, teen artists and designers are able to explore their creative abilities alongside mentors to help guide them in the right direction. AFH also helps intertwine creative abilities with professional skills as it encourages teens to collaborate with one another and grants them opportunities for commissions from outside businesses.
Before running the program, Talbot himself was one of the first teenagers to participate in AFH. Within the program, he had the space to explore his creative abilities and eventually went on to showcase his art in an art gallery located on Newbury Street, a place that he never thought would be available to him. The showcase itself made Talbot come to a realization: ”my life was important…I wasn’t going to lose my life to gang violence or to the criminal justice system. I was gonna make sure that I was safe and educated so that I can continue to make the art that I loved.” Talbot grew up as a Black man in Boston, the target of not only criminals but the justice system itself. Being driven into a corner, Talbot found it difficult to work towards a bright future, up until he found an interest in the arts through the murals he often saw as a child. “As a child, I loved the murals that I got to see on my bus ride home from school, it was super enriching, it really inspired me to take up art as a whole.” This would soon later lead to the founding of AFH and his decision to pursue the arts later in his life.
As Talbot described what he felt during his first showcase, I couldn’t help but resonate with him. The feeling of awe and accomplishment he described was similar to the feelings I had when I saw my first article published on the Teens in Print website, and it was one of the reasons why I have such confidence in myself to this day. However, this also made me realize that other teenagers like me unfortunately haven’t had these eye-opening experiences which are crucial to a youth’s development. Talbot believes that “when you have those accomplishments at a young age, it just makes you want more and more accomplishments. And that just helps you through your life to be a successful person.” By establishing a youth’s self-worth, their lives can be redirected and changed for the better. That’s why it’s so important for programs like AFH to exist and give youth a safe space to explore their creativity.
The first step towards a safe space is establishing a sense of community amongst youth. In AFH, Talbot prides himself in building teams that consist of young people from different backgrounds and cultures to add a variety of perspectives and ideas on projects. By encouraging youth to communicate with one another, it helps people develop social skills which are crucial later on when they’re entering into professional fields of work as well as maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family. Teens not only practice important professional skills with each other but they’re also placed into hands-on experiences with clients from many different businesses bringing projects to AFH’s teen artists. These projects not only offer professional development, but also give the opportunity for teens to touch in with their creative sides.
Exploring one’s creativity seems daunting at first, especially if you believe that you don’t have any ounce of creativity in you. Everybody has an imagination, but the first step to unlocking it is to jump right in. “Once you’ve taken the first step, then you have the option to take the second step,” says Talbot. “You can optionally quit altogether, but don’t just stare and think and get anxious about your next activity. Start somewhere, take a few, do a little sketch, do a little doodle first, start from a squiggle, find something that you think is beautiful and try to copy it. There’s a lot of different ways to start, but figure out what’s the best way to start the process for you so that you can start this process of practicing your art. Once you learn how to start, you can start self improvement, you can start a business, you can start a club or collaborative, it’s just all about figuring out how to get started.”
Even if you believe you aren’t able to produce artwork, everyone has it in them to learn and find their own styles. If you find yourself not enjoying painting, there are other mediums to explore like photography and digital design. Talbot believes that art is a skill that can be practiced and mastered, and encourages everybody to draw at least once because of how helpful art is as a tool of communication. People of different ethnicities who cannot interact with one another, whether it be language barriers or location restraints, have the space to comprehend one another because art is a universal language that can be understood by anybody. One example Talbot mentions is how “everything was drawn.” He describes how the furniture around us, the buildings we enter and leave through had all been drawn before being built. It goes to show that art can be found anywhere around us, whether we realize it or not.