In one of the grand wings of the Colorado State Capitol- I huddled my production team together for a pep talk. Comfortable with their film equipment and prepped with hard hitting questions for their state representative on proposed anti graffiti legislation, the kids froze up when we got to her office. "She looks just like my grandma" said my director, eating one of the cookies she'd handed out. "She's playing you," I told the team, reminding them that this was the same woman who wanted to take away the drivers licence for anyone caught defacing public or private property.
We'd had numerous conversations about whether or not this particular punishment fit the crime. The kids had interviewed business owners who'd been vandalized, the ACLU, street artists and police. Being at the capitol was a whole other playing field for them, the building is huge and ornate with marble, brass and enormous stained glass windows, the kids looked extra small and a couple of them had borrowed suits from older brothers for our appointment. Reminding the kids that this building belonged to them just as much as any politician we re-grouped, "ask thoughtful questions, be respectful but don't be afraid to offer other sides of the argument".
What resulted from that afternoon was a very compelling piece on perceptions of art, if it's sanctioned, paid for and in a gallery is it art, can art come from other places? Asking each of the people they interviewed to define art, the kids shaped a narrative film which evolved beyond a "graffiti piece" to a deeper exploration of personal expression and the risks some individuals are willing to take to share a message.
This short piece was one of several I helped kids produce over a series of summers along with short radio segments taped at the NPR affiliate jazz radio station KUVO and television PSAs shot at the PBS affiliate station KBDI. With grant money from United Way "at risk" kids from around the city spent six weeks learning skill in production as well as media literacy and writing in Denver's historic and diverse Five Points neighborhood. In a pre- YouTube and cell phone camera world, this was the very 1st time many of these kids had access to film equipment and a distribution system where they could discuss ideas with a larger community.
Since leaving the program in 1997 I've tried to track down some the films but it is my understanding that the organization dissolved some time ago. It was my absolute delight to run into one of my former student in New York, he was working at the Oprah Winfrey station "O" .