Nuvana brings social technology and arts education together to inspire youth
Artists have long enjoyed the creative space at the intersection of social networking and technology, using the Internet to generate new forms of art and more engaging platforms to experience art. While funding has increased for these kinds of projects in the professional art world, school programs for art and music have been slashed, leaving youth without an outlet for their creative energies and creating lopsided access to this new art-tech resource in society.
An organization called Nuvana is trying to remedy this. Nuvana is re-inserting art into the curriculum in schools in New York City and San Francisco with a pilot program called Jamboree for Arts & Music that fuses social networking, technology, art, and youth education.
Over five weeks, students were invited to participate in an online game where they chose and executed “missions” that ranged from creating a mental map of a character’s journey through a story to making a video of a self-directed street performance. The goal was not to keep kids glued to screens, but rather to harness the power of social technology to encourage youth to become more engaged with their communities and more connected to their creative powers.
Recently, Nuvana hosted a “JAMLAB” event in Manhattan which brought local high-school students in their pilot program to a professional artists’ studio, where they met with top-notch artists and musicians for a day of instruction and mentoring.
Dowser: How did you introduce the Jamboree for Arts and Music platform into schools’ curriculum?
Lily Kwong, East Coast Managing Director: Our goal was to use technology to push kids into their own communities. And we wanted to show the country what a sustainable art intervention looks like. First we linked up with the New School’s Institute for Urban Education. They have six high schools that they work with in all different boroughs. The pilot program was brought to 250 kids, who completed 1,400 missions over five weeks. We asked teachers to sign up their students on the website during class or to have them do it after school. Some teachers made it mandatory and integrated it into their curriculum. We also worked with one school, the High School of Art and Design, that does already have a thriving arts curriculum. Even schools with arts programs have a need for more resources.
How is the program providing new opportunities for creativity?
A lot of learning interventions that use technology are expensive because virtual worlds require building out a site. But by using a social network as a platform, we’ve created a collaborative workspace that relies on community to provide its content. The goal is for kids to complete deeds that add up on their user profiles. The deeds, or missions, have varying levels of difficulty. Peer-to-peer mentoring is what keeps it sustainable. Kids learn best from kids.
In what ways have you been able to bridge the gap between underfunded arts programs in schools and a resource-rich professional arts world?
We have professional artists volunteering as mentors on the site. So if a kid wants to take up a mission to make a mural but isn’t sure how to do it, he can ask a mentor. And we approached museums and made a deal that allowed us to build a voucher system into the site so that kids can go to museums more affordably. Also, the JAMLAB event we held recently aimed to create a lab-space, not a museum, where kids could actually be engaged.
And how did that event go?
You should have seen these kids waking into the studio space. They’re coming from the Bronx, Brooklyn; they’ve never seen anything like this. Then we handed over the equipment. The kids felt so valued. They stayed all day, later than the event was supposed to go. When they showed up they were nervous, actually shaking, but once they were in front of the camera they got confident. I think we created a lot of future photographers and DJs and stylists. One kid said it changed his life. One girl told me that she was going to stop shopping and save her money to buy a digital SLR. High school can be a really small country and we’re helping to expand these kids’ worlds.
Interview has been edited and condensed.