Engage! at Austin

Librarian: JoAnne Grant

Participants discussed all five themes in four meetings. The teens participated in two public art projects, the first being the prayer flags and the second the urban totem pole. Both were displayed in a community garden to serve as inspiration for other teens. The total attendance for all of the meetings was seventy-six students. See the Austin branch’s supplemental Engage! reading list (PDF).

Who the Teens Were

Participating teens were part of a summer program through Youth Guidance that prepares them for employment and/or college. All of the teens were part of an at-risk program at Frederick Douglass High School that includes job-readiness, counseling, group therapy, conflict management, and field trips. This program is treated much like a job itself, with teens attending from 9 to 5. The teens involved in the Engage! program were chosen for their interest in art as recognized by their art teacher at Douglass.

Leadership Opportunities

The most significant leadership opportunity JoAnne afforded the teens focused on the teens taking initiative when involved in the collective creative process. The teens had control of every aspect of the urban totem pole; they collectively determined the direction of its creation, including its overall message, design, and materials used for embellishment. During each Engage! session, teens brainstormed a list of inspirational words and phrases that resulted from each meeting’s discussion; those words and phrases were then careful selected for use in the final design of the totem pole by the students themselves.

Tangible Opportunities to Engage! with Ideas or Materials

Joanne determined that the overarching goals of the Engage! project were to:

  • inspire teens to think about the importance of civic engagement in their lives through discussion, reflection, and project-based activities;

  • deepen the teens’ knowledge and appreciation of American art and its relation to American history and civic life; and

  • contribute to the development of informed and discerning voters.

Each of the Engage! sessions featured a hands-on project that enabled the teens to tangibly exercise the ideas discussed in each meeting. Some of the more successful projects included:

  • Sidewalk chalk drawing, where the teens had the opportunity to express themselves in a public setting by creating artwork with an inspirational theme behind it.

  • Free-form self portraits centered around the theme of growing up, where teens could explore the notion of their own identities and purpose within American society.

  • Creation of prayer flags for the community garden. These consisted of illustrated banners that the teens created containing messages to send out to the community. The banners were strung on a rope and erected in the community garden.

  • The final project was the creation of the urban totem pole, which teens designed collectively and erected in the community garden as a symbol of community unity and pride.