Silicon Valley Creates: Making media and building community with youth

By Alex Gurn, Ph.D.

REA recently completed a two-year external evaluation of SV Creates’ The Studio. Funded in part by the Adobe Foundation, The Studio was established to provide opportunities for underrepresented youth in Silicon Valley to practice creative arts, while connecting them to professional resources, networks, and hands-on learning in filmmaking, visual arts, music, and storytelling. We gained several valuable insights into ways that The Studio develops youth creativity.

Creativity as a Source of Knowing Self and the World

Creativity is not just for artists and inventors. Creative thinking is crucial for all professional fields and personal endeavors. Community-based organizations, public institutions, small businesses, and corporations need people at every level who can develop valuable solutions to the pressing problems of practice. Contrary to popular accounts of creativity that tend to assume certain people are endowed with innate creative abilities, The Studio operates on a premise that anyone has the capacity to create with purpose. While creative inspiration often manifests in bursts, “creativity is a skill that you can keep honing and polishing,” explained one teaching artist.

The trouble is that, as many youth advance through formal education, they are tacitly or overtly encouraged to conform to social educational norms through the memorization and regurgitation of facts. Conscious or not, this prevailing structure suppresses opportunities to exercise open-ended, creative thinking and generate novel ideas. The Studio’s founders, teaching artists and media mentors express a strong sense of responsibility to invigorate learning in young people’s lives through creative arts, particularly youth with limited access to art and media production. This impetus reflects a belief that the act of creating reshapes students’ understanding of themselves in the world.

Creativity as a Source of Positive Social Change

Many of the youth participating in The Studio encounter significant life struggles. “The students face huge hardships: addiction, poverty, crime,” which, as a teaching artist explained, “create inconsistencies in their lives.” Staff and artists perceive creative expression as a tool to intentionally draw on real-life challenges and give voice to young people’s identities. Youth life circumstances thus offer openings to analyze and rethink important issues in their lives. In this way, the act of creating may help students learn strategies and get support to express themselves and cope through positive risk-taking. A teacher said:

“You can watch some [students] start to change over the project… These tough kids start to let their guard down… Many of them have such huge issues they’re dealing with. I think art lets them express themselves without having to talk about it.”

The scope of social-emotional problems that the young people confront also levies strain on educators and requires an instructional approach that can “flow like water,” said a teaching artist. To effectively engage youth of varying backgrounds, experiences, and interests, The Studio’s teaching artists and mentors draw on student struggles or troubling behavior as learning opportunities.

Informal Learning Context

The Studio stands apart from many students’ everyday learning experiences in school. A student explained:

“I’ve never done anything like this. We learned all sorts of stuff about film production. We got to look behind the scenes work at everything that goes into [a video shoot]… But it didn’t feel like learning.”

Overall, learning at The Studio takes place in an informal teaching context grounded in:

  • Positive youth-adult relationships based on respect for and trust in young people’s creative potential;
  • Creative processes that start with young people’s interests, observations, and talents, which are developed through mentorship with media professionals from varying creative fields
  • Intentional connections drawn between young people life experiences/backgrounds and creative industry practices.

Creative expression is viewed as a teachable set of skills that offer opportunities for young people to examine critical issues and decisions in their lives. Youth and mentors report that participants learn technical skills to create compelling art and media, as well as soft skills to manage time, meet deadlines, communicate more effectively, work together, and incorporate and give constructive criticism. The Studio expands young people’s appreciation and capacity to create with purpose.

To learn more about this evaluation for SV Creates, read the full evaluation report. Also, check out our other evaluation projects in Arts Education and the Humanities.