BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Forward Arts is a community organization that has survived the first 10 years of its existence. Now, instead of celebrating, F.A. is rolling up its sleeves for the hard work.
The poetry/spoken word charity has launched a fundraising drive. They call it "The Future TENse" campaign. Co-founder Donney Rose says it's an initiative geared towards raising $10,000 on behalf of the tenth anniversary of its ALL CITY Teen Poetry Slam Festival. The funding campaign runs throughout the month of March with an April 1st deadline for donations.
I asked if that 10 thousand would assure the future of Forward Arts the sponsor of so many teen activities. Rose said, "No, it's to help pay for the upcoming All-City festival." He said, "The 10-thousand covers all of the festival production costs. We rent our venue. We bring in our artists. We provide food for our kids, etc. It also gives us more wiggle room."
Rose described a time when the staff members of Forward Arts literally were juggling personal money to meet the payments that kept the organization alive. They'd rather not operate that close to the bare bone. Now with more people learning about their programs, more support is helping them survive. In fact, "We just grew this year. We've been a staff of two for quite some time, and now we're a staff of 3," Rose said.
They now have a bricks and mortar office. They are located on the second floor of the Shaw Center for the Arts. On the door, you'll see B 227 and the words "Forward Arts".
Their story starts with the Baton Rouge Big Buddy Program. The WordPlay program was phenomenally successful! The team decided to make a move toward their own free-standing program.
"We branched out independently in 2011," Rose said. "Upon branching out, we probably were concerned about our vitality, because we were not under the umbrella of a well-known organization. But we took the credibility we were able to gain with Big Buddy and we continually pushed the envelope on behalf of youth spoken word. We spent months struggling to pay the bills. But we believe in the power of the word. We believe in the young people, able to express themselves through the power of poetry."
Now, Rose tells me, Forward Arts sponsors inner-city school writing workshops. 500 to 1200 people a year go to different classes sponsored in schools.
There has been a monthly teen "Open Mic" at the Hartley Vey Theater in the Shaw Center. It's so popular, they have to manage the crowd size. But they see between 125 to 200 young people every month for that.
"We have an after-school writing group called 'Word Crew'," Rose said. "We have 18 students for Word Crew. The youth involved are then used as spoken word ambassadors for our group. They perform and talk about the programs that they themselves have enjoyed."
For the All-City Festival, (like the one that is April 27th-April 30th, May 6th and 7th this year) they usually serve 100 youth in general from different teams. It's tough to make an estimate, but Rose says more than 2,000 teens are in a Forward Arts program each school year.
Fundraising is hard for Forward Arts. Rose says he spends a lot of time trying to describe for adults who have never seen the program what takes place, what is the value of it.
As someone who has been a judge in the past, I have watched it intensely. I know. A poetry slam is not a recitation of a famous author's work. A teen writes their own poem. And in a phase in life where self-expression is often stymied when things get rough, teen poets know that pain is poetry. I've heard poems about sexual molestation by an adult friend of their family. I've heard a poem about a bully. These are things counselor encourage teens to express, but there is no venue, really..unless they know about this. The poems can be funny, light, happy too. I've heard poems about sports, or music, or when a kid was able to conjure the right snappy retort and iced a critic. Sponsoring Forwards Arts is assuring that the opportunity will be there for teens.
I would think that $10,000 is actually low-balling what Forward Arts could use. But first things, first, they need $10,000.
Want to see this phenomenon I'm talking about?
Besides the competition between the teens, this year's ALL CITY festival will feature an alumni showcase, coronation of Baton Rouge's first ever "Youth Poet Laureate", and a feature performance by internationally acclaimed poet and author, Danez Smith. The festival will take place April 27th-April 30th, May 6th and 7th in various locations throughout Baton Rouge.
For more information about Forward Arts programming, visit www.forwardarts.org
This is the link to donate.... Please do it before the end of March. http://forwardarts.org/donate-to-forward-arts/