An observation about summer youth camps organized by Jo-Jikum’s Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Milan Loeak: Both of these young women are are expanding their horizons, getting out of their “comfort zones” to offer local young people numerous opportunities to express themselves in creative ways. But it’s more than providing the right environment for young people to be expressive.
“Some people don’t see art as important,” said Kathy recently. “But it’s a way to connect people to issues.” She pointed out that when young people learn the science, “they can use art to connect with an audience on the issue.”
The local environment group Jo-Jikum sponsored a one-week Summer Art Camp focused on climate issues in July, and then followed that up with a shorter writing and drama workshop last month, again focused on climate. Both involved local and Hawaii-based resource people.
Kathy said the two youth focused workshops were big learning activities for her personally. Though she is globally famous for the climate poem she performed at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City for heads of state in late 2014, running a youth summer camp was new for her, as was dealing with the art forms of painting/drawing, music and theater.
“I had never done this before,” she said. “It was a big experiment for me.”
For the summer art camp, Jo-Jikum partnered with Lyz Soto, the co-executive director of Hawaii-based Pacific Tongues, and Jocelyn Ng, the outreach coordinator for the organization, to assist with running the camp. They also used local artists Henry Lometo and Apo Leo as resource people to teach mural painting with younger aspiring artists.
People expressing themselves through various art forms is not simply art for art’s sake, Kathy said. “It can contribute to community change,” she said, adding that “art can engage youth and also contribute to global issues.”
“It works,” she continued talking about artful expressions. “Audiences are hungry for it and students are enthusiastic.” An eighth grader attending the camp wrote “a super interesting poem titled ‘America is a syringe,’” she said. “There is so much potential here.”
Camp participants created products that could be used in campaigns on various issues such as recycling and clean up programs. “It has a bigger purpose and gets kids contributing.”
The bigger picture for Kathy is to find ways to encourage young people to develop artistic talent. The challenge, she points out, is being an artist is generally not a profession that a person can survive on financially. “The issue is how to make it sustainable for others,” she said. Kathy believes that there are funding sources that can be tapped to support local artists to create products that contribute to things like promoting the Marshall Islands for tourism development and gaining attention to climate problems.
The writing and theater workshop involved Daniel Kelin, II, the director of drama education for Honolulu Theater for Youth — who has worked in the Marshall Islands since 1991. “Spoken word is a solitary practice,” she said. “Theater involves a community.”
The hope from the collaboration between Jo-Jikum and Kelin is that the ideas being developed by Kathy for a play will be shaped into a theater production. The theater-writing workshop involved young people from both Jo-Jikum and Youth to Youth in Health, with a focus on climate. “Instead of talking about climate from an international level, we are looking at climate change from a local perspective,” she said. Things like how problems such as a long drought can be a cause of greater tension in families, including violence.
Kelin said his theater work with Kathy and the youth is taking him in a new direction. Rather than conducting a drama workshop for a short period with a specific outcome such as a performance of short skits, this project is taking a different approach. It’s a collaboration to explore creative opportunities from Kathy’s and Jo-Jikum’s writing efforts on climate, he said.
Read more about this in the September 9, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.