How many teenagers are willing to get up at 8 a.m. on Saturday?
Granted, these young adults are provided a free meal when they arrive but I don’t think that’s enough to make them give up a day to sleep in.
It’s because Casey Phillips, director of The Walls Project, doesn’t just offer a free meal. He offers Futures Fund, a program that focuses on preparing youth for their future.
The Walls Project creates public art installations but has different parts to its cultural redevelopment and reactivation plan, not just painting murals.
The art program consists of programs like Murals — where artists paint murals collectively with the community — and #10WordStoriesBR — where residents submit ten-word poems to be displayed in mural form throughout the city.
The Futures Fund program is a part of the educational portion. It creates digital, literary, visual, and performing art opportunities for the youth. It is expanding into Southern’s Business School and just launched this year in at BRCC Midcity. Phillips also said The Futures Fund goal by 2020 is to train “a thousand 12 to 18-year-olds in coding, another thousand in photography and literary arts, and another thousand in arts and music management as well as live recorded sounds.”
Phillips said that the program also teaches soft professional skills like how to interview.
The Walls Project began as a grassroots project in 2012 but Phillips knew he’d take his small project and turn it into something bigger, when he decided to include the youth in the game plan.
Phillips said that working with kids wasn’t his intention but that quickly changed.
“… By the third or fourth mural we had like 350 people show up to Community Paint Day on a really hot summer morning at 6:30, 7 o’clock in the morning and half of those were kids,” Phillips said. “It occurred to me that what we were doing meant more to kids than necessarily the adults. The more we started engaging young people, we saw it –Nobody is talking to these kids, especially young black men from 12-18.”
Phillips said that when he showed up in the neighborhoods people would look at him funny and watched what he was doing but eventually they’d reach out about signing up a young adult to help paint a mural.
The Walls Project partners with the Mayor’s office and allows companies to come in and hire the students. To name a few – Big Buddy, Starbucks, BRCC foundation, Southern lab foundation, and parts of the Industrial section have all reached out about being interested in some of The Walls Project’s students.
Students can take classes in spring, fall and summer. The program sees 350 students per year, Phillips said. Classes are held on Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon for 8 weeks with one enrichment day where specialized workshops can be chosen.
During the 10th week is the district showcase. The district showcase allows students to demonstrate what they’ve learned throughout the 8-week program to companies and joint organizations.
The Futures Fund is free for children who qualify as middle too little income.
As for the future of The Walls Project, Phillips said he hopes to grow more in north and Midcity Baton Rouge.
“I’m interested in expanding statewide but in all actuality we have so much work to do here,” he said. “I don’t want to go wider, I want to go deeper.”
(Pictured above (from left to right): The Futures Fund program manager, Luke St. John McKnight and The Walls Project director, Casey Phillips)
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