Transforming Trauma Into Art is an initiative of EarSay’s, directed by Judith Sloan. In the current moment of COVID19 shelter in place, we are working with youth on developing stories that reveal their experiences as immigrant teenagers in Queens, NY one of the epicenters of this pandemic in the spring of 2020.
This project was born out of our partnership with the International High School at LaGuardia Community College where many students come from war-zones and conflict. The premise of this workshop is based on healing through artistic expression using a combination of music, movement, theatre and storytelling. This process helps release the stories and stressors that prevent people—who have been traumatized by war, economic or natural disasters—from moving forward. This program is specifically designed for teenagers who recently migrated to the United States. It brings an understanding of confronting obstacles through artistic expression to communities that are poor, displaced, or don’t have access to artistic training, serving approximately 450 students. The project grows out of our commitment to creating artistic works that evolve out of individual experience and community. In this case, the community is immigrant and refugee teenagers attending school in New York City. At a time of war, global tension, and polarization, it encourages a depth of scholarship and storytelling that shapes the experience of the participants. It gives them the tools to make connections between cultures, shed light on the complexity and humanity of each individual, and deepen what it means or could mean to be part of a global community. Students come from places as diverse as Afghanistan, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Haiti, and Bulgaria. The program’s oral history focus allows students to explore their own cultural identity and stories of migration and displacement through performance. Many of the students have been traumatized by displacement, war, coups and military dictatorships. Working with groups of 9-13 students in weekly workshops, we create a safe, inclusive environment in which the young people can process their experiences, memories, feelings, and observations, and find expression for them. Our pedagogy is based on a basic premise: placing a student alongside a more experienced player enhances the student’s ability. We achieve this by bringing professional artists in dance, theatre and music, to the program to teach as well as perform. Teaching artists who participate in this program are committed to both their own artistic integrity and careers and to sharing skills with the next generation. Teenagers have an opportunity to perform in a yearly festival increasing their confidence, performance skills, attention levels and focus in ways that more traditional/hierarchical environments don’t foster.
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