Ever wonder how arts programs help probation clients succeed and make communities stronger and safer? NeON Arts is one of the answers. This program of the NYC Department of Probation in partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) 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). WMI helps by facilitating the program’s grant-making process, coordinating citywide NeON Arts events, and working with countless artists and arts organizations, NeON stakeholders, community partners, and probation staff to ensure that each project is a success. But that can only happen when individuals come together to create community, and when communities come together to help individuals.
Collaboration in Harlem
The hard work of artists, arts organizations, and NeON Arts participants culminates with final concerts across the city that feature project participants. In the Harlem NeON, educator and percussionist Gabriel Globus-Hoenich and Grammy-nominated Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Boccato worked with participants to form a new percussion ensemble, PlasticBand. “We worked hard to teach them the music, and many of them had never played before,” Gabriel says. PlasticBand repurposes found objects (paint cans, spare auto parts, pails) to create percussion instruments that give participants and audience members the chance to think about sound, music, and commonplace objects in unique ways.
Photography: Richard Termine
“We thought of various ways to present this in a concert, and we decided to make it a community collaboration where PlasticBand joins with other community music groups,” Gabriel adds. Their concert, titled “One Beat! Community Music Concert,” not only featured PlasticBand, but also a local percussion and horn group called Griot, run by The Mission Society. PlasticBand and Griot performers also played side by side with Herbie Hancock’s collaborator and Grammy-winning guitarist Lionel Loueke. “Having Lionel there was really special,” Gabriel adds, celebrating the work of the participants, the vibrancy of the Harlem community, and the power of music to transform.
Photography: Chris Lee
A New Now for Tahara
“I had been going to the NeON for three years, but this time I thought I was in the wrong building. It didn’t look like a normal probation building. I walked out, looked at my paper to make sure I didn’t make a mistake about where I was supposed to go, and walked back in. There were people there who were smiling, happy. I thought, ‘Is this probation?’”
Tahara, now 34, was surrounded by a community of people who were there to provide new opportunities. She started preparing for her high school equivalency exam and went on to participate in the onsite poetry program, Free Verse, and in Music Beyond Measure—both grantees of NeON Arts.
“There were ups and downs having a poetry project in a probation office,” Tahara says. “Some people didn’t know what we were doing there. People would ask, ‘Is probation making you do this?’ But some of us made Free Verse a part of our family and daily lives. I would come home from the NeON and write until 12 or 1 in the morning.” Increased interaction through NeON Arts has also improved client-officer relationships. “While at the NeON, my relationship with my probation officer changed,” Tahara says, “because when I first got to the NeON, I didn’t think I would interact with people on a daily basis. I didn’t think I was going to make friends there.” Probation officers and Bronx NeON Branch Chief Brenda Davis have even joined the workshops and performed poems written with their clients.
Tahara is now an integral part of the NeON Arts team following her release from probation supervision, helping to decide which artists or organization gets the NeON Arts grant in the Bronx NeON. “And I am at the College of New Rochelle for a liberal arts degree,” she adds. “I want to be a social worker and help other girls like me who didn’t have the proper guidance when they were coming up. The NeON gave me motivation and something to look forward to—and that was my future.”
Learn more about NeON Arts.