“ During the pandemic, in many ways, we were surrounded by silence and the importance of having young people elevate their voice, have greater agency through the arts, this was a perfect opportunity to do that. ”Wendy Lewis Jackson, Kresge Foundation
The City Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship (Detroit ACE) presented a special television event last Friday featuring young poets from the InsideOut Literary Arts program and the Detroit Public Schools Community District paired with DSO musicians Joseph Becker (Principal Percussion), Jeff Zook (flute), Jing Zhang (violin), Rachel Klaus (violin), and Jack Walters (clarinet) with works from the pandemic.
In Detroit, many children were already dealing with trauma, which impacts learning. A 2019 survey done by DPSCD found that 90 percent of teachers and principals across the district reported that more than half their students have been impacted by trauma that impedes their learning.
Rochelle Riley, the city’s Director of Arts and Culture and a former newspaper columnist, examined children and trauma extensively in a multi-part series in the Detroit Free Press.
“In interviews with school officials across the region, it is clear that districts in Michigan like many across the country are struggling to meet their primary goal of educating children because they are not equipped to deal with teaching children in pain,” she wrote in 2019. “The way many districts handle the problem is to place children — even those with no learning disabilities — in special education classes. Or they suspend them when their behavior becomes disruptive, and teachers and principals feel they have to choose the many over the few.”
Layer onto that the trauma of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and children were at great risk for depression and impact on their ability to do schoolwork, particularly in isolation.
Enter the Kresge Foundation, where Wendy Lewis Jackson saw an opportunity.
“During the pandemic, in many ways, we were surrounded by silence and the importance of having young people elevate their voice, have greater agency through the arts, this was a perfect opportunity to do that,” Jackson said.”
The “Duets” project was made possible by partnerships with InsideOut Literary Arts and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
“My hope is that everyone, particularly adults who serve children and know children, pay more attention to how the pandemic is affecting them,” Riley said.
“ It was fascinating having this conversation with poet Aja Allante with my flute alone. Before the recording, we hadn't spoken other than to say 'hello, nice to meet you.' The magic was what unfolded in the moment—word-art-meets-sound-art, spontaneously creating together. What a fulfilling creative endeavor this was for me! ”Jeffery Zook, Piccolo (Shari and Craig Morgan Chair), Flute