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Boston Artist-in-Residence Victor Yang collaborates with youth on mental health campaign

As Boston Artist-in-Residence Victor Yang and the Boston Public Health Commission’s Violence Intervention & Prevention Initiative (VIP) enter the final months of their year working together, they reflect on their collaboration. They share about this year’s ongoing project for mental health, "Health Comes First", at Boston Latin Academy. 

The work is led by young people in the Youth Organizing Institute, a VIP flagship program, under the guidance of Victor, Youth Programs Manager Geraldy St. Clair, and VIP Director Tania Mireles. Below is an interview with Victor Yang about his experience working in partnership with the VIP as an Artist-in-Residence this past year.

Can you tell us a little more about the work that you have been doing with youth?

Victor Yang: I think about it like this. Imagine the youth are making their own music video: lyrics, choreography, makeup and all. I’m one of the backup dancers trying my best to keep up with the tunes, and when there’s a pause, crack some corny joke to change up the mood. After each rehearsal run, I check in with folx. Give them a high-five, talk about what went down, and offer a few thoughts that they can take or leave. Sometimes they nod and say I got some decent ideas. Other times, the facilitators/directors tell me I got it all wrong. I love that we have that kind of relationship.

What have you learned so far from this collaboration between VIP and AIR?

Victor: With the residency we co-designed a social practice project. I really had no idea what it might look like or where it might go - because of the pandemic and all these other factors. At every step of the way, I had to ask myself and others to really believe, at times in ways that felt both bold and blind, that we could do was trust ourselves, the people we work with, and the process. And from that let go and see what happens. It has felt like a free-fall at times, scary and beautiful all at once. 

I’ve had the privilege to be doing community and youth organizing for a while now, but this is the first time that I feel like I’ve been able to work so unfettered - with such artistic freedom, trust, and autonomy. For this I have to thank Geraldy and Tania from VIP; Sharon, Karin, and the rest of the team at the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture; and most of all, the young people who inspire me every day. 

What do you imagine the long-term impacts of this work will be?

Victor: I can see that the young people really want to see this project succeed. And I want to do my best to support them in that endeavor, to create more space at school for mental health, wellness, and just being a human.

At the same time, I see them opening up, trusting one another, building community. I have heard them say that VIP-AIR is a space that they can bring all of themselves, and I hope that when they leave VIP-AIR, they feel that they can do the same elsewhere. To come together as a team and know that they don’t have to be perfect, that they can drop some balls and keep on juggling, because the person next to them got them. To believe that they have ideas that people in power should listen to. To tell the stories that only they can tell. To keep on dreaming.

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Watch: VIP Youth talk about their collaboration

In the video below, youth leaders share their thoughts about the year and the campaign. Interview questions were conducted and designed by youth leader and facilitator Josiah Bufford.

Thank you to VIP youth Josiah, Niasia, Sarah, Crystal, Idiris, Cecilia, Jerrell, Hope, Damara, Lucas, and Lisa, past youth Aneia, Omar, Casey, Tyrese, Olivia, Geanna, Casey, CJ, and Rashan, VIP Youth Programs Manager Geraldy St. Clair, and VIP Director Tania Mireles.

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