Director of Education at RedLine Contemporary Arts Centre in Denver, Colorado, John Futrell, has been active in the Denver creative arts scene for more than twenty years, both as an arts coordinator and as a spoken word performer and Hip-Hop artist.
Speaking to Voice about RedLine, Futrell and Education Coordinator Emma Acheson share their experiences working in the non-profit sector towards the organisation’s mission statement, which is to enact positive social change through arts education and community engagement.
Hi John and Emma! Give us a bit of background about yourselves
My name is JC Futrell and I am the Director of Education at RedLine. I have spent most of my professional career as an award-winning coordinator working with underserved populations in arts, education, job development and career readiness. I was recently awarded a fellowship with Transformative Leadership for Change, an organization that works on creating sustainable environments for directors of colour in the non-profit sector.
My name is Emma Acheson and I’m the Education Coordinator at RedLine. I’ve always had a passion for art, specifically dance, and how it can have a significant impact on people. It’s been amazing working at RedLine and having the opportunity to help combine art and social justice in the classroom. We work to give students agency and raise their voices through art to talk about whatever issues they see in their personal lives and communities.
What happens at RedLine?
RedLine executes numerous and varied programming and events. We run a two-year residency program, have a rotating exhibition schedule in our two gallery spaces, and conduct multiple education and community programs. These include annual programs and one-off events. Everything ties back to our mission, which is fostering education and engagement between artists and communities to create positive social change.
What do you offer to young people?
We offer young people in Denver opportunities to speak out about issues they care about in their lives and communities. Through our programs, students work with professional artists and start to think critically about what’s going on around them. We don’t censor their ideas or thoughts and we give them a platform and opportunity to share their creativity and how they feel with the community. Our two core education programs (ArtCorps Mentoring and EPIC Arts) have youth exhibitions at RedLine so that families, friends, and general visitors of RedLine, can view their projects.
What activities are most popular for young people and why?
Activities and projects that students can relate to their own lives and interests tend to be the most popular. When students have the opportunity to work with muralists or musicians in our EPIC or Mentoring programs, they are often more engaged because they’re able to make a quicker connection between interests they may already have and what the artists does.
Could you give an example of a recent project you have run, and the impact it had?
RedLine runs an annual summit called ‘48 Hours of Socially Engaged Art and Conversation’. This summit combines performances, art projects, ten-minute talks and workshops that touch on our annual theme and social justice issues. It’s a wonderful way for various individuals, artists, and organizations to come together in one place and discuss some of the issues going on in our communities.
This year, we had our Reach Studio program plan a block party and community dinner with socially engaged art projects to go along with the summit. Reach is the program at RedLine that was started for people experiencing homelessness or other hardships. We provide open studio hours once a week, materials, storage and exhibition opportunities. Seeing that specific community come together and put on a dinner for the rest of the Denver community was amazing. It was so inspiring to see how they felt empowered to be the hosts and speak about their struggles and successes.
Each of the art projects touched on ideas of profiling those experiencing homelessness, solutions for homelessness and stereotypes. You could tell that this project increased the confidence of those in the Reach Program and hopefully made those that attended think about homelessness in new ways.
Have you seen any change in the industry over the last few years?
We have seen the economic landscape of Denver change drastically in the past ten years. Our progressive political climate and recreational marijuana consumerism have allowed our population to boom and thus every facet of our industry has been affected. We are seeing more artists contribute to the creative fabric of our communities and that has been a huge asset. On the other hand, housing has become less affordable and competition for large projects in the arts has been brutal. Artists are having a difficult time contending with their peers for funding.
Do you run Arts Award or offer a Trinity College qualification? If so, what do you offer and how can young people get involved?
No, we do not. We do, however have a scholarship program through the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design where our community artists have an opportunity to apply for a four-year tuition free scholarship. This competitive scholarship also includes one of our sister programs, Platte Forum, that works specifically with teenagers. Each semester, both of our programs have the opportunity to submit candidates for the scholarship.
Is there anything you particularly want to promote to young people at the moment?
Each semester RedLine Resident Artists and Denver community artists are matched with educators and students, resulting in a unique art collaboration. EPIC Arts is student-generated and begins with asking student what is unfair in their schools, communities, their lives and the world.
One of the most important aspects of EPIC Arts is that the students are leading the discussion about what issues they will address. The program is delivered during school hours to create social justice art projects that align directly with core learning objectives honouring the instructional needs of the teacher and the learning needs of his or her students. This program, which culminates in an EPIC Youth Exhibition at RedLine at the end of each semester, amplifies students' voices by allowing our youth to express their important perspectives and ideas about today's world.
To become a part of EPIC arts, educators can apply on our website for free. There is no charge for the program and schools are financially compensated for running the program.
Where can people find out more about the work you do?