The End Of The Beginning | YAJI Day Five

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It’s the end of the beginning for eight Co-Op High School students becoming arts and culture reporters—which means that after this week, you’ll be seeing them outside of the classroom, and in the field with their notepads, phones, and maybe even some podcasting equipment. 

Friday marked the end the first five-day intensive of the Youth Arts Journalism Initiative, a new project through the Arts Paper and The Arts Council of Greater New Haven. All week, staff members Stephen Urchick and Lucy Gellman have been working with a team of budding journalists, traveling around the city for engaged arts experiences that double as early fieldwork. For the next seven weeks, students will meet for weekly pitch meetings, and then produce four articles in the field.  

Sites have included Co-Op, the Yale Repertory Theatre, Yale University Art Gallery, Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT), and Baobab Tree Studios. To read more about YAJI click here; to read more about days one through four, click here, here and here.  

Friday found the group at Baobab Tree Studios, . As the group shook off sleepiness what coffee and breakfast, Reverend Kevin Ewing gathered students in a large, sun-soaked room, and unraveled his life story, from the pews of a St. Louis church to a cowering space on Orange Street that became a tech hub. 

Students leaned in to listen, following a life that started in Missouri, traveled to the U.S. Military, made a pit stop in Ferguson’s policing efforts of the 1990s, then Florida and New York, and finally Hartford and New Haven. His hope, he said, was to show the power that a nonlinear narrative can have on one’s life. 

“What exploration!” exclaimed Adia Sakura-Lemassey at one point.

That’s still fundamental to his career now said Ewing. Motioning for students to follow hm to a large monitor in the corner, he queued up samples from the burgeoning New Haven Story Project, a sort of oral history of New Haven. From a black, shoebox-sized speaker boomed the voice of a lifelong resident of New Haven’s Hill neighborhood. Students scribbled notes as she spoke. Then they got a crash course in how to do it. 

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Ewing ushered them over to a table packed with equipment, from podcast mics that plugged into USB ports to fancy handheld kits, with wiring and extension cords for individual mics. Then he motioned to the soundproofed recording studio on the other side of his space. 

A few students squealed with excitement. Others, like Naama Gorham, stuck at the board, watching Ewing walk through a series of levers that pushed the volume up and down on individual mics. Before him, audio squiggles appeared like heartbeats on a screen.    

As they did, musicians Paul Bryant Hudson, Jeremiah Fuller, Stephen Gritz King and Maxx  Spinelli rolled in for an afternoon of performing  As they warned up, students trickled out of the studio, and watched the band through a layer of soundproof glass. 

 "The way capitalism works, it's not made with us in mind," Hudson said. "Folks like to assign value to art without asking the question ... how much is it worth to the artist?" 

"The way capitalism works, it's not made with us in mind," Hudson said. "Folks like to assign value to art without asking the question ... how much is it worth to the artist?" 

They didn’t have long to wait. After lunch, group kicked off the afternoon session off with a set that Hudson introduced as exploring “the tiers and tears of my personality,” as a Black man, a New Havener, a musician, and now an outspoken critic of the corporate world. As he started on on a flourish of keys, students brought out their phones and audio recording apps, some going on Facebook live as he launched into “John,” a ballad memorializing John Henry. As he continued, he rolled out songs on what being a creative has meant for him in New Haven.

"The way capitalism works, it's not made with us in mind," he said. "Folks like to assign value to art without asking the question ... how much is it worth to the artist?" 

It was a jumping off point for a n evening filled with artist interviews, the second mock assignment of the week. Check out some of the music at the top of this post, and stay tuned for student work coming to the blog and artspaper.org in the next two weeks!  

What we’re reading/listening to:

Podcast: Storycorps 499: An Experiment, Youth journalists on Beychella   
Learning opportunities for audio: National Public Radio (NPR) reporters on the transition from print to storytelling; KOUW’s RadioActive Youth Media program
Reading: New York Times on Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer, Gritz Serves Up Breakfast in the New Haven Independent, a recap of January’s Sofar Sounds performance.    

Arts Council