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Creative Thinking and Life Skills Explored Through Art with Art Studio Miami

By S. Mathur

Art Studio Miami programs have their origins in the urgent need to replace those being depleted by school budget cuts. Founding Director & Lead Volunteer Rachel Hughes says that the budget cuts fall hardest on low-income communities: "Due to community need for after-school programs, Art Studio World (ASW) began serving youth in Miami in 2007. It is a known educational issue over the last 30 years, that standard life skills, creative thinking, extra curricular and after-school programs provided by public schools, have been removed from most school districts due to severe budget cuts.

The educational programs lost, such as Home Economics, Driver Education, Music, Sports, Dance & Theater, Video & Media, Computer Graphics and Visual Arts, must either be replaced by Parent/Teacher fundraising PTA's or by sponsored organizations coming in to fill gaps. Without a replacement plan, students- especially those in low-income neighborhoods, go without these much-needed skill development programs."

The programs are based on integrating arts in the school curriculum and everyday life, Hughes explains: "The programs are based in Creative Holistic Arts Integration (C.H.A.I.), allowing students to learn themed subjects, such as academics, life skills, and personal/professional development, through arts based learning. Our programs engage the youth by utilizing the creative arts for learning other subjects while engaged in a hands-on active process."

Since 1985, Hughes has been involved with efforts to transform the nation's "Cradle to Prison Pipeline" in low-income communities, by helping at-risk youth to find a way out of systemic poverty through a "Cradle To Career" path, "creating lives of healing and success". She says that all ASW programs focus on the individual's goals and on supporting these: "We have found that spending individual time getting to know the underlying challenges, natural skills, personal interests and character of each student helps us better support their career path. This is also why we put so much emphasis on having volunteers and mentors assisting our students on a 1:4 ratio (1 mentor for a group of 4 students), to support the student's personal, educational and professional development."

The programs focus on a range of Life Skills: in "Video Voices", students learn about NVC (Non-violent communication, tolerance, peaceful dialog) by creating a film project; "Wellness Warriors" teaches students about healthy eating and fitness by way of gardening, permaculture and culinary arts projects; "Creative Core" gives students the chance to develop an arts portfolio. "Mural Concepts" takes students through the process of creating a mural, "giving their individual input, working as a team and within the community," says Hughes.

While the community and specially the schools impacted by ASW programs are very supportive, there is a need for consistency in funding and ongoing sponsorship. And there a need to expand programs, says Hughes, "We currently have over 90 youth, and 5 schools in Miami on waiting lists for programs."

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