UM-Flint faculty receive $18,000 grant to support "Unlocking the Arts in Flint" program

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UM-Flint students and faculty came together for a workshop focused on the Youth Arts: Unlocked program and to talk about the "Unlocking the Arts in Flint" grant.

An $18,000 grant from the U-M Arts Initiative will assist three University of Michigan-Flint faculty members in helping to foster social change in Flint and Genesee County.

The grant will support and strengthen a program titled "Unlocking the Arts in Flint," a joint venture between the Flint-area nonprofit Youth Arts: Unlocked and the UM-Flint Arts and Research Cluster, which brings researchers, students, regional cultural institutions and community organizations together to highlight new and diverse audiences for the arts as well as elevate Flint's art and cultural relevance. 

The faculty working on the UAF program include Ben Gaydos, associate professor of design; Emma Davis, theater and dance lecturer; and Shelley Spivack, criminal justice and women and gender studies lecturer. 

Spivack has a broad background in law: she has served as a family and juvenile court referee and also practices criminal, family, juvenile, and children's law.

Her experiences within the court system are what ultimately led her and Steve Hull, a 2011 UM-Flint graduate with a bachelor's degree in public administration, to co-found Youth Arts: Unlocked, a program focused on introducing justice-impacted youths to various forms of art. 

YAU began in 2011 and consists of weekly visual and performing arts workshops at the Genesee County Juvenile Justice Center and the Learning Co-Op, which provides justice-impacted youths with support, education and training so that they can achieve academic success. 

In addition to the training, support and education they receive at GCJJC and the Learning Co-Op, youths are encouraged to explore visual arts, theater, spoken word poetry, yoga, drawing and painting in the programs offered by YAU.

"Working with justice-impacted youths is amazing and inspiring," said Spivack." The workshops give teens a chance to reinvent themselves and to express their thoughts, emotions and desires. Plus, they're able to see themselves and be seen as talented young people instead of kids behind bars." 

Justice-impacted youths are also encouraged to explore dance and Davis plays an integral part in guiding their expression. She is a teaching artist who joined YAU in 2014 and has led its dance program since her arrival.

Lecturers Shelley Spivack (left) and Emma Davis (right)
Spivack (left) and Davis (right)

Spivack and Davis have utilized a portion of the grant funding to conduct workshops in numerous non-art courses such as criminal justice, sociology, anthropology, women and gender studies and psychology in order to teach UM-Flint students about YAU's work with justice-impacted youths and the Arts for Justice movement. The pair also shared that activities like art, spoken word, yoga and dance can act as tools for justice-impacted youths to use in order to spark social change. 

Works being created by youths currently in the program will be featured at an Oct. 14 exhibit at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Saginaw Street. 

Gaydos will work with UM-Flint visual arts student interns to mount a collection of the work in a March 2023 exhibition that will be displayed in the gallery at the Northbank Center. Individuals who are interested in attending a workshop but not enrolled in any of the classes listed above, or want to learn more about Youth Arts: Unlocked, should contact Spivack at [email protected].

Madeline Campbell is the communications specialist for the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].