PlatteForum is an award-winning and innovative arts, youth-development, and artist-in-residence program in Denver that teams underserved, at-risk urban youth (K-12) with contemporary master artists in intensive, structured, and long-term creative learning environments. Youth work side by side with resident artists to collaboratively plan, produce, and exhibit a body of work in an environment in which artistic excellence is highly valued. Youth in PlatteForum’s programs delve into a variety of art forms, confronting challenges and obstacles and making life-changing discoveries about who they are, what they are capable of achieving, and where they belong in the world.
Our programs are grounded in a belief that the arts are one of the primary means through which we can develop a vibrant and thriving community of healthy, compassionate, and innovative individuals. Though a vehicle of consistent, high-quality programming, the lives of youth we serve--those who have the fewest opportunities and lack access to the arts and mentoring relationships--are transformed. We provide a safe environment for youth to explore events in their lives, take risks, create and present art, receive critical feedback, learn from professional artists, learn to work as part of a team, and develop personal, academic, and life skills that stay with them forever.
We host five accomplished professional artists annually (selected through a competitive international selection process); each resident dedicates 6-8 hours weekly to workshops with youth during the two-month residency period. These 2-3-hour interactive workshops (Learning Labs) build on the ideas and forms of the resident and culminate in a body of work by youth that is presented to the public through exhibitions and performances, each beginning with a public opening reception in which youth have the opportunity to celebrate and talk about their work. High-school-age youth, who each spend an average of 350 hours annually at PlatteForum in our intensive ArtLab internship program, also mentor younger children in Learning Labs. Learning Lab youth come from partner schools and other at-risk-youth-serving nonprofits, and we complement and integrate with our partners’ curriculum and learning objectives.
Annually, we serve more than 2,500 youth, families, and community members. Our programs are designed to increase academic success while reducing problem and delinquent behaviors, providing a springboard from which youth can identify and reach educational and personal goals. 100% of Learning Lab youth are eligible for free or reduced lunch. On average, youth identify as 50-60% Latino/a; 20-30% African American; 15-20% Caucasian; 5-10% Asian, and 5-10% Native American (many identify as bi/multiracial, however). Their life experiences include abuse, family members’ substance abuse, transient living situations, involvement with the juvenile justice system, mental illness, generational poverty, being “in the system” their entire lives, and irregular school attendance, often at low-performing schools.
How We Are Different
We provide effective out-of-school creative learning that is long-term, consistent, intensive, in-depth, and high in artistic quality to address the problem of little to no access to arts-based learning in schools our youth attend. Outside of PlatteForum, there are virtually no opportunities for youth to publicly exhibit work they have created in any context, talk about their inspiration with people who come to view their work, or experience the thrill of an exhibition in which they are featured. We provide stimulating, multidimensional learning designed to empower, enrich, and support youth, while positively impacting the personal, academic, and professional skills they must develop and strengthen for success; this approach augments traditional educational environments to better meet students’ needs. We engage professional resident artists through a competitive international selection process to work side by side with youth to expose youth to extraordinary levels of artistic excellence and contemporary creative processes, and we expect a high level of commitment from students to deep, exploratory work. To support older youth as they prepare to graduate from high school and enter college, and recognizing that they often lack someone dedicated to helping them navigate this challenging time, we created the College Access Mentoring Program (CAMP). CAMP is a two-year one-to-one mentoring program in which youth are paired with adult mentors who follow PlatteForum’s detailed 18-month curriculum to guide youth through the college preparatory process. CAMP involves empowering the families of youth in the form of community workshops and parental advising about early awareness opportunities, financial aid, careers, and the college application process. To instill responsibility and recognize effort, we pay older youth a stipend to participate. We maintain a highly specialized staff, all of whom hold advanced degrees in their fields and are models for youth.
We use youth-outcome and community assessments, record and analyze impact stories from youth and community members, track public and media recognition, and measure audience demographics and volume. Specifically, we adhere to state and national education standards and use assessment methods that include essays, oral presentations, open-ended problems, hands-on problems, real-world simulations, and other authentic tasks to assess youth impact, development, and growth. We track numbers of individuals served and collect personal stories from participants, mentors, community members, and the families/schools of youth to understand the impact of our programs on stakeholders. Through interviews with partnering staff and youth, we evaluate individual improvement, program satisfaction, and academic achievement. Specific youth outcomes we measure include: 1) Development of 21st-Century-workforce skills and exposure to a variety of artistic techniques, concepts, and skills that enhance traditional school-based curriculum; 2) Cultivation of supportive relationships with peers, adults, and community; 3) Increased academic opportunities and achievement; 4) Access to a safe, secure, and inspiring environment for the development of self-efficacy; and 5) Stronger understanding of the role arts play in their communities as well as the role of the artist in society through collaboration with professional artists.
Based on our assessments, we know that youth feel better about themselves, report a stronger sense of self, are better at taking responsibility for their actions, and generally feel better about their future as a result of participating in PlatteForum’s programs. Youth find PlatteForum to be a safe, trusting, and supportive environment where they thrive and engage in meaningful experiences. Our youth vastly improve in the areas of self-confidence, academic performance, college readiness, community involvement, and leadership, and learn to see possibility where barriers existed before. PlatteForum programming adheres to and exceeds national visual arts achievement standards, and many of our students meet these standards at advanced levels. Youth acquire fundamental skills of visual and verbal expression, and apply the skills they learn through the creative process in identifying and solving problems as catalysts for change in their communities. Youth develop interpersonal and problem-solving skills through individual and group interaction and artistic collaboration, and they appreciate and relate to the role of the arts to culture and history. Through CAMP, 100% of our older youth graduate from high school; 80% (100% in 2010/2011) immediately go to college. Creative residents report that our Creative Residency significantly impacts their personal and professional growth as artists. Through stories, testimonials, letters, and feedback, we know that our youth, community, volunteers, audience, artists, and participants have profound experiences at PlatteForum that they do not have anywhere else.
PROGRAMS CREATIVE RESIDENCY
Artists are selected from applicants of all artistic genres and from around the world. The residency provides the artists the time, support and space to advance their work, inspiring risk taking and new possibilities. Each resident dedicates time to work with youth in both the LEARNING LABS and the ARTLAB. PlatteForum is the working studio space and gallery for each residency that culminates in an opening night show at PlatteForum, where the artist’s end product is showcased in tandem with the kids’ creations. LEARNING LABS
Small groups of youth work side by side with the CREATIVE RESIDENT in learning-through-the-arts workshops that build upon the ideas of the Creative Resident. The resulting work, completed by the artist and youth, is shown in public exhibitions and performances and at an opening reception. ARTLAB
In this year-round internship program, high school students learn real-world skills by working with CREATIVE RESIDENTS and a lead artist. ArtLab youth are paid a stipend to instill responsibility, reward achievement, inspire new confidence, and encourage ambition.