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NeON Arts: Transforming Futures

“I’d never really taken any art classes. The schools I have been in never have any,” said Juana, a 16-year-old from Brownsville in Brooklyn. Juana is one of 14 young Brownsville residents who participated in Transforming Futures, a visual arts curriculum addressing the issue of gun violence created by Young New Yorkers—one of 16 arts organizations participating in NeON Arts, a project of the NYC Department of Probation in partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. NeON Arts offers young people in seven New York City communities the chance to explore the arts through a variety of creative projects at local community-based probation offices called Neighborhood Opportunity Networks (NeONs).

“I’d never really taken any art classes. The schools I have been in never have any.”

The Weill Music Institute facilitates the program’s grant-making process, coordinates citywide NeON Arts events, and works with arts organizations and NeON stakeholders to ensure that each project, including planning and implementation, is a collaboration that benefits the entire community. Juana is just one of 250 young people across the city who have participated in the program so far.

“I was always interested in photography,” Juana said. “I like the way it looks, the way it tells a story. It tells a different story depending on what you photograph and how you photograph it.” Juana lives with her mother, father, and one-year-old son. “For the project, we had to interview our friends and family and ask them about what they know about Brownsville and how it has changed. I talked to my mom because she’s lived in Brownsville for a long time. She said things had gotten worse. There are a lot of drugs and guns in this neighborhood. She said the violence is growing.”

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NeON Arts Event at the Brownsville NeON

The project ended with a public exhibit entitled Love Letters to Brownsville, an interactive art installation based on themes of trust, love, and generosity. “The idea was to create an event that would serve as a way to ask everyone to get along,” Juana said. “The idea was to say ‘Hey, why can’t we be friends? Let’s stop the violence. Let’s live in peace.’”

Dozens of local community members, police officers, and stakeholders from the Brownsville NeON visited the exhibit to celebrate the accomplishments of the participants and view the artwork they produced. Attendees were asked to write notes of adoration to Brownsville that were then tied to a chain-link fence. In return for their love notes, attendees received a rose.

“It taught me to not give up on myself.”

“It was a great day. We all worked really hard on it and we were nervous about how it would turn out,” Juana said. “But when the time finally came, we all really had a great time. A lot of people showed up—more than we expected!” When asked what her time working on the Young New Yorkers project taught her, Juana said, “It taught me to not give up on myself. I am working on graduating from school, and I am interested in becoming a network administrator. The project instructors kept saying to me, when I didn’t know how to do something, ‘Don’t give up, you have to keep trying.’”

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