In what has become an oft-cited statistic in creative and education circles, NASA researchers in 1968 famously discovered that, in a study of 1,600 4- and 5-year-old children, a whopping 98 percent of them performed as creative geniuses.
By age 10, only 30 percent of the students fell into the creative genius category.
At age 15? Only 12 percent of them had held onto that spark.
And in a subsequent study of 160,000 30-year-olds, only two percent met the creative genius criteria. It wasn’t a freak finding: The results have reportedly been replicated. Repeatedly.
It’s a bleak snapshot of human development, of how nurture can override nature. It’s also one of many compelling arguments for just how crucial the work of ArtWell, the Fishtown-based arts nonprofit, is.
“We’re wired for creative genius,” founder and executive director Susan Teegen says.
“We’re wired for creative genius,” founder and executive director Susan Teegen says. A lot of what’s amazing about ArtWell, she says, is the extent to which “it nurtures and reclaims all of those strings that are already in us—that imagination, the chance to dream about what’s possible, and also work together on what’s hard.”
Since its founding nearly 20 years ago, ArtWell has provided 1,500 Philly-area students per year with arts-based programming through schools, faith-based organizations, social services providers, and more. There is HeartBeat, a 15-week music program. MasterPeace focuses on large-scale arts projects like murals and mosaics to help communities overcome obstacles. There is its longest-running program, We the Poets, which builds literacy, communication, and self-expression through poetry. There is ArtWell@Work, which offers professional development programs. And there is so much more.
As Julia Terry, the organization’s associate executive director, explains it, ArtWell uses “the process of multidisciplinary art-making as a vehicle for all of those important life skills and lessons and competencies. And we really value youth voice.” Programs are led by a diverse cohort of 25 teaching artists, and the group’s Youth Council is actively involved in decision-making and planning.
Through everything ArtWell does there is an emphasis on its core values: imagination, healing, social justice, spirituality, community, and love—always love.
On June 8th, you can come feel that love at the third ArtWell Festival, a free, all-day, rain-or-shine celebration featuring interactive art stations, performances, and workshops. This year’s theme is community wellness. “The sentiment behind the whole festival really is that wellness is a collective action, that it happens in healing community and creative community,” Terry says.
“The sentiment behind the whole festival really is that wellness is a collective action, that it happens in healing community and creative community,” Terry says.
Former Philadelphia Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher will be there; so, too, will current Youth Poet Laureate Wes Matthews, DJ Femi Olatunji, musicians Rock the Future, and more. The poet Lyrispect will emcee. There will also be an open mic, hula hooping, face painting, drum circles, opportunities to make fidgets and superhero capes. Streetside and Franny Lou’s Porch will lead cooking demos and sell food. Gryphon Cafe, which is on-site, will be open and holding a student art gallery.
The event will take place at Oxford Mills, the organization’s home base, along the street that runs through the premises—a cobblestone fairway that harkens back to a simpler world, and is fittingly named Hope Street.
Because if there’s one thing ArtWell’s leaders, artists, and youth do best—through its creative projects and its commitment to youth and community—it’s give that singular, spectacular gift to our city: hope.
Saturday, June 8, 1 pm-5 pm, Free but donations welcome, Oxford Mills, 100 W. Oxford Street.Photo via ArtWell