A Hard Day's Work Paid Off: Griot Youth Program’s Summer Arts Intensive 2016

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As the summer quickly draws to an end, we have a lot of new and exciting things going on at Griot. For the past two months, Griot provided students within the Clarksdale community an opportunity to take part in its new Summer Arts Intensive Program. Since this program at Griot was new and my position began on the week it was ending, I was very curious to find out what made this summer program different than the ones before. In previous summers, Griot Youth Program has always offered a week long arts program for the students, but this year the program lasted a month. During July and the first week of August, any Clarksdale student could sign-up for a variety of intensive art class to hone their skills. The classes offered included vocals, ensemble, folk band, and theater.  Each class concluded with a performance at the new Cultural Arts Center where ticket sales were split between the student performers.  Students were thrilled to have performance and work opportunities!

This summer was also the kick-off for the new Meraki Artisan Collective program, Meraki paired with artisans around the community to create a program for those students interested in learning more about creating exceptional art to sell for a profit. In June, the students had the opportunity to take cooking and craft classes. The craft classes continued into July, and woodworking classes were also available. Through this program, the students were able to work under master artists and learn how to make quality products! We have been so lucky to have such wonderful instructors including, William Kozielski, Colleen Zamm, Maxene Harlow, and other community members who want to take part in our student’s lives. Through the creation of our new store on Etsy, the Clarksdale Farmer’s Market, and the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center, the students had the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in creating and selling their own products for which they received 60% of the profits while the other 40% goes directly back into Griot to buy supplies and keep the program running!

When they weren’t cooking, crafting, or woodworking, the students at Griot were tirelessly preparing for their end of the summer recital and play. On August 3rd,  we finally had the exciting opportunity to see just exactly what these talented individuals and their instructors have been working on. As a part of the Summer Arts Intensive program, students within the community were able to spend time in small groups with musical instructors Josue Atibalentja, PJ Walker and David Dunavent. With different musical backgrounds, the instructors were able to provide the students with lessons on vocals, drums, guitar, bass, and violin. By the time the recital rolled around, we had seven talented students that performed Wednesday evening at the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center. Sitting in the audience you couldn’t help but smile, sing, and dance along to the music the students were performing. Jesus was there radiating through them and it was contagious - especially with Byron Bays.

We cannot begin to say enough kind things about the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center and their new Director Chandra Williams. One of Clarksdale’s newest venues, located in the heart of downtown, the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center couldn’t be more perfect for our students here at Griot. It provides the students with a positive, beautiful and encouraging atmosphere, which makes it a wonderful and inviting place where students are always welcome to do what they love: perform.

My first crazy week at Griot came to a wonderful end with the weekend performance of the play You Can’t Take it With You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It was the last week of practice, and the students were rehearsing for hours everyday with their passionate director Erik
Allgood. Going into the play Friday night I’m not sure what I expected, I knew it would be good, but it was more than good- it was AMAZING. We were so blessed to have a great turnout and cannot thank the community enough. The students had worked so hard perfecting their lines and queues, and it couldn’t have been better; they were absolutely hilarious. Jesus truly blessed us. With the summer recital and play, the students could now perform and showcase their hard work, on a much larger scale and at a larger venue than in past summer programs.

While everyday at Griot is great, it’s especially great when we have our graduates return wanting to spend their summer helping out as interns. From the Griot class of 2015, Valenica Metcalf and Christopher McClenton spent Mondays in June helping teach our fun third annual Junior Griot Camp for elementary students. During this time, students in grades 2 through 4 had the opportunity to take part in dance, art, and music classes. We are also so grateful for the city of Clarksdale, without whose partnership, we wouldn’t have had the ability to pay our 16 through 21 year old high school and graduated students for all their hard work on the summer play and in the Griot building!

In just one week it has been so amazing to see how God is working within Griot, specifically through our older high school and graduated students. A long day's work is all worth it as we see our older Griot students evolve as leaders through their relationship with Christ and service to our community!

Caroline Malatesta -Griot Intern