Harlem-Based Nonprofit Thrive Collective Uses Arts Education as a Means for Community Empowerment

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From historical figures to imagery that offers a lens into the imaginations of local youth, many of the murals—which students work together to conceptualize alongside art directors—depict scenes that embody the past, present, and future of the communities they live in. Del Rio says creating an ecosystem of empowerment isn’t only crucial for students to thrive in the arts, but in other areas of life as well. Historically, exposure to arts in schools has been a driving force of innovation in urban communities. “We draw a lot of inspiration from New York’s greatest contribution in the last 50 years to arts and culture globally, which is hip-hop,” he said. “Kids from inner city communities remixed and re-engineered and built on all of these creative stimuluses to overcome poverty.”

He believes although there have been improvements in arts education funding throughout the city, there is still a long road ahead towards parity and hopes future investments bring long-term sustainability. “Our commitment has been to continue to prove the argument for why this stuff matters so much, not just in the art room, but in other rooms,” he shared. “There is a ripple effect that happens when kids are given real agency to determine what it is they want to say individually and collectively. All of those experiences that happen in the art room translate in geometry class, earth sciences, and all of the other spaces.”

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