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NeON Arts: Transforming Lives

NeON Arts—a bold new initiative of New York City’s Department of Probation (DOP), created in partnership with Carnegie Hall—builds on the DOP’s successful efforts to advance public safety by engaging people on probation as well as community members in the arts. Made possible through a collaboration between private and public sectors, NeON Arts funds local arts education projects in the DOP’s Neighborhood Opportunity Networks (NeONs), community centers that help connect people on probation with opportunities, resources, and services. Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, an ongoing arts partner of the DOP, provides support and facilitation, helping to bring other arts organizations into the program and sharing its experience from previous community work in similar settings.

NeON Playbill 01

This spring, NeON Arts will serve seven communities in the five boroughs of New York City that are home to large numbers of people on probation. Artists and program participants collaborate on projects in a variety of disciplines, including dance, music, theater, visual art, poetry, and digital media. In addition to creating meaningful arts projects that will benefit their local community, participants learn important new skills and develop positive peer relationships.

An integral part of the development of NeON Arts has been hands-on participation by local community members. Recently, 11 arts organizations from across New York City were selected by the communities they will serve—including people on probation, DOP staff, and local business and cultural leaders—to create a range of programming this spring.

“I am very excited about NeON Arts because there is no question that the arts can transform lives, particularly the lives of people who have faced life challenges. Through NeON Arts, our clients will be able to find a public voice and develop an important new identity—that of artist and creator.” —Ana Bermudez, commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation

Thomas Cabaniss writes music for opera, theater, dance, film, and the concert stage. When not composing, he helps others write their own music, often those with no musical training. He is a longtime collaborator with the Weill Music Institute and most recently has been part of the team designing the implementation of NeON Arts.
What excites you about NeON Arts?
NeON Arts is a terrific opportunity for Carnegie Hall because it allows us to support a constellation of other area arts organizations of all artistic disciplines as they embark on collaborations with young probation clients and their communities.
What shape will NeON Arts take and what impact will it have on the communities?
We don’t know exactly what the impact will be, but arts organizations have already collaborated with the NeONs on public projects, such as murals and theatrical performances of original plays. The Weill Music Institute has produced three songwriting projects, resulting in more than 30 new songs as well as performances at venues in Harlem and the South Bronx, and a special invitation to perform at Gracie Mansion. The arts are already creating new spaces for young people to connect to their communities.
What is your favorite memory from this project so far?
This past December, one of our young songwriters at a NeON was despondent and anxious about performing his song. We weren’t sure why, since he had been terrifically confident in rehearsal, but we discovered that it was because his family had not yet shown up to the concert. We all watched as he bravely began his song, still a little nervous and rattled. As his family entered the auditorium, everyone could feel his energy soar, and the song took off. It was a great reminder of how much audiences matter.

NeON Playbill 02

NeON Arts is a program of the NYC Department of Probation in partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.

Funding provided by the Open Society Foundations through a grant to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City in support of the NYC Young Men’s Initiative.

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