Addressing Social Issues in Portland
Maine Alliance for Arts Education’s (MAAE) Building Community Through the Arts drama and dance residency program (BCTA) was developed in 2000 after the shooting at Columbine High School brought the issue of social climate in schools to the nation’s attention. The BCTA residencies, engaging whole classes of students in non-arts high school classrooms in the collaborative creation and performance of an original theater or dance piece, introduced many students to creative theater and dance, even as they helped to break down social barriers and build trust. Until recently the program has been operating primarily in the Penquis Region of the state, where student social issues were often based on socio-economic diversity or gender issues. But BCTA has been expanding into more areas, and this summer it has come to Portland, where the social issues the students are dealing with include racial and religious diversity.
The introduction of the BCTA program into Portland has been through MAAE’s new partnership with OPEN (Organization for Partnership and Engagement with Neighborhoods), an after-school and weekend program in Portland’s Parkside area that engages diverse youth to take an active role in the decision making and dialogue about issues of social justice affecting their community. During a three-week residency in July with BCTA theater artist Jeri Pitcher, an OPEN group of 12 mostly minority and immigrant youth created “Amy’s First Day,” an original drama, which they performed for the community on the evening of July 22.
The play, the first time that the OPEN program had incorporated theater, addressed racial and religious bias in the community through the eyes of the title character Amy, an African girl newly arrived in Portland. To read more about the play and the issues it raised, visit MAAE’s website, http://www.maineartsed.org
MAAE will be working with OPEN and with the youth themselves to explore options for bringing the BCTA program into Portland schools. Public input is welcome as well. To contribute to this discussion and for more information contact MAAE Executive Director Susan Potters either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (207) 439-3169.