Developing Perspective Through the Arts

Perspective – the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

– Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

 We all have our own perspectives through which we view the world.  Our perspective on any given issue is influenced by our upbringing, our education, the people we encounter, the advantages we’re born with and the stumbling blocks we face as we grow. During adolescence, we begin to consciously develop our own perspectives, as we learn about moral complexity and encounter the often conflicting views of those around us.

The more isolated we are, geographically, economically and socially, the less likely it is that we will be exposed to – and learn from — perspectives different from our own.  Yet this exposure is a critical part of growing up.

At the recent Carsey Institute conference on Coos Youth at White Mountains Community College, a session was dedicated to the importance of out-of-school experiences for young people in Coos County.  The data from the Coos Youth Development Study shows that involvement in structured activities outside of the classroom — from clubs to extended learning classes, outdoor excursions to volunteering — is a key indicator for success beyond high school. This finding seems to me to be directly connected to the importance of diverse experiences as opportunities to gain new perspective.

With this idea in mind, the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire is launching a new regional youth arts initiative.  The goal of this program is to help students find their voice – and their views. Arts education, as Matt D’Arigo, founder of A Reason to Survive (ARTS) recently put it, is the perfect place to “[help] youth express themselves and to find their voice in creative ways…the art instruction comes secondarily and intrinsically as youth strive to hone their voice by learning a chosen medium and wanting to express themselves.”

Our pilot youth arts project in July was a partnership with “Girls of Summer” in Lincoln. This wonderful program, which brings middle- and high-school girls together to hike, read and write, was broadened this year through an Extended Learning for Youth grant from the NH State Council on the Arts to include time with a photographer, painters, a poet and an eco-artist.

When we interviewed “Girls of Summer” participants on the culminating day of their program, they reflected on the benefit of connecting outdoor experiences with the arts. The resounding theme of their conversations was, in fact, “perspective.” One girl said that photographer John Anderson “gave me new perspective…taking pictures or out in nature,” and another mentioned that each of the “different artists had different perspectives… different views than our teachers had.” A third student talked about how something simple, like a rock, that most people would overlook, could become a really important focal point for an artist — it “made you look at something way different than you would” ordinarily. Each student was able to see the land around her in a different light, framing the world through the perspectives modeled by the artists, combined with her own individual interpretation and flair.

As one participant explained, “One of the big things we learned was how your perspective changes [depending on] what you’re doing. We were accustomed to just hiking and writing. When you’re writing, you’re given a prompt, and then you find your perspective, and what you want to connect that to, whereas in painting you have this much smaller picture: You already have a focus and you’re adding in your characters and other things… And then in photography you’re given this landscape, this big beautiful picture and you slowly start taking things away to come to a much smaller focus — but it turns out to be actually much bigger! So we learned how to look through the world and the woods in these three different perspectives that each of our different teachers and hikes taught us.”

We can all benefit from experiences that offer us a different lens through which to view our surroundings.  Learning through nature and the arts offers youth perspectives – both literal and metaphorical – that expand their horizons and make them think about the world in fresh new ways and share their discoveries through paintings, poems, photographs, sculpture, music, dance, and more. We are excited about offering youth throughout northern New Hampshire the opportunity to learn from respected professional artists and also to provide community service through volunteering for local cultural organizations. I hope you’ll send youth interested in the arts (from Coos and the rest of northern NH) our way to get involved during the upcoming school year.

What opportunities do you see in your own communities? Where do you see the greatest need for youth arts in northern NH?  What partnerships should we pursue?

We’re looking for a few students from each high school in the region, as well as adult advisors, mentors and volunteers. You can contact us at programs@aannh.org with names, ideas or suggestions, or learn more about the program here.

Note: a version of this post recently appeared in the Coos Networks site. 

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