Youth Action Coalition (YAC) began in 1988 as Hampshire Youth 2000 Coalition, a prevention-based youth leadership organization. The early years saw the creation of intergenerational projects, substance abuse prevention programs, a youth-run newspaper and community service learning projects.
In the late-1990s, under the leadership of our new Executive Director, we shifted our strategy to a more proactive approach using the arts to empower youth to speak out and take action on important issues. In this context we developed the ARTS-FOR-CHANGE project (AfC), which incorporates GirlsEyeView (1997), Get Up Get Down (2000) and Video Vanguards (2003) and E’town Rising: Voices of Youth (2010).
Today AfC programs are offered to middle and high school-aged youth in Amherst, Easthampton, Ware and the surrounding towns. We work with youth from a wide array of social circumstances, and reach out particularly to youth who are marginalized due to their experiences with race, class, gender and sexual orientation oppression, as well as allies who face other forms of marginalization and actively want to work with a diverse group of youth for a common cause.
Our work is powerful and effective in part due to our small group sizes (8-15), and each year an average of 75 young people enroll in our programs. Yet the effects are far-reaching—with exhibitions, screenings, festivals, and other actions, our youth participants are reaching hundreds of citizens annually—putting their voices and visions out to the community, and building a youth movement for social change through the arts.
Activism through Art-
We actively engage young people in dialogue and art-making that arises from their own issues and concerns as youth citizens of this world. YAC projects are grounded in the belief that all young people have a voice and must be encouraged to express it, shape it, and propel it. Our projects provide the base from which young people learn artistic and technical skills and use them to speak out and organize in their communities.
Youth as Community Resources-
We see youth as the resources for our world, the next generation to move us toward true democracy —politically, socially, and economically. Our projects give young people the stepping stones to pursue their own visions and dreams for the world. We invite young people to propose their own projects, which then go under review by our board of directors. Provided the impetus for the action comes from the young people, and is in line with our mission and goals, we’ll support it.
For many young people participation in a YAC project is their first encounter with youth empowerment and youth activism. Our projects, however, provide safe spaces in which youth can share ideas without pressure or judgment. This can be quite challenging for those who are accustomed to traditional schooling that is top-down and didactic; for others it expands their possibilities. All young people need to work in environments that respect and support them for who they are at every step of their learning process. Facilitators help set the tone for individual and group development to flourish.
Youth on Board-
We have created an intergenerational Board of Directors to expand and promote the decision-making power of young people within the organization. Youth, ages 13-20, make up 50% of our Board, participating as peer decision-makers with adults in the organization. Beginning in the fall of 2003, we initiated a youth/adult co-Chair partnership, to ensure that youth voices are active at all levels of our organization. In February 2004 we voted-in our first youth treasurer.
YAC is committed to moving power into the hands of young people of every race, class, orientation, and ability. In our projects young people decide for themselves what problems are important to them, how those problems have come to exist, and what kind of action is appropriate, effective, and fun. YAC gives them the money, time, space, and support they need to do just that.