Strathmore Artistic Director/Vice President of Programming Joi Brown (right) and Woolly Mammoth's Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes lead a session during orientation for participants in the 2022 Arts and Social Justice Fellows. Strathmore and Woolly Mammoth created the initiative. Photo was taken at Strathmore. (Courtesy of Jim Saah)
Strathmore Artistic Director/Vice President of Programming Joi Brown (right) and Woolly Mammoth's Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes lead a session during orientation for participants in the 2022 Arts and Social Justice Fellows. Strathmore and Woolly Mammoth created the initiative. Photo was taken at Strathmore. (Courtesy of Jim Saah)

Two D.C.-area institutions are on a mission to train high school students to be leaders in the art and to support up-and-coming creative talent. 

Strathmore and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company are working with eight students as 2022 Arts and Social Justice Fellows. 

The six-month fellowship program was inspired by Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower,” which recently had a two-night engagement at Strathmore. Music for the folk/rock/gospel operatic interpretation of the production was composed by Bernice Reagon Johnson and her daughter Toshi Reagon. Through biweekly meetings, the student cohort will meet with renowned arts professionals and other students in similar creative settings.

Butler planned to write six “Parable” novels but only completed two, “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talents.” Butler’s “Parables” contained perspectives on gender, race, and human civilization’s future in America. The Fellows attended a performance of “Parable of the Sower” to stimulate building individual or group projects from start to finish.

2022 Arts and Social Justice Fellows, a collaborative initiative created by Strathmore and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company are led by Be Steadwell, a Strathmore artist-in-residence alumni. The exercise included 2022 Fellows, parents, donors and Strathmore staff. This Fellows cohort that began in February and ends in July, brings together high school students to create projects that address social justice and systems changes. Photo taken at Strathmore. (Courtesy of Jim Saah)

“The art and Octavia’s books in the show are the mothers of this fellowship,” said Strathmore’s Vice President of Education & Community Engagement, Lauren Campbell. “We hope this student fellowship will be an annual program.”

Developing a Futuristic Global Viewpoint

Starting in February, the 2022 Arts and Social Justice Fellows began exploring social justice and systems changes as Butler did through her books. Students are now building their individualized views about how they want to use their creative talents to interpret varying levels of crises worldwide. Each Fellow receives a $750 stipend, which can be used as they choose, including paying themselves or collaborators for work on a project, purchasing supplies, or donating to a relevant organization. Projects will be showcased at the end of the program in July.

This inaugural class of Arts and Social Justice Fellows are high school students from the District and Maryland. They include Ambar Condori-Boughton, an 11th grader at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the District; Rahimah Hagmagid, a 10th grader at George Washington University Online High School; Sophia Hall, an 11th grader at Holton Arms School in Bethesda, Md.; Rose Kepka, a 10th grader at Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, Md.; Daniela (Dani) Klein, a 10th grader at Walt Whitman High School; Emily Liu, an 11th grader at Wootton High School in Rockville, Md.; Allison Sweeney, a 10th grader at Poolesville High School in Poolesville, Md.; and Corvid Thomas, a 9th grader at Sidwell Friends in the District.

Mentors and facilitators guide each Fellow in their area of interest. Cohort facilitators are Amoja Sumler, a poet, essayist and social advocate; Kita Marshall, an advocate for LGBTQ+ people, racial justice, intersectionality, diversity, and accessibility; and Amin Drew Law, a teaching artist, poet, writing facilitator, teaching artist and vocalist.

“In addition to the stipends the Fellows receive, they will get in-kind support for their productions,” Campbell said. “I’m also there along with Kristen Jackson from Woolly Mammoth, a co-architect with me on this initiative.”

As the Fellows figure out their projects and take in coaching from mentors and facilitators, how final projects will be presented in July is still being defined.

“It’s kind of loosey-goosey,” Campbell said about wrapping up the projects. “The process is not as linear as work students do in school. There is no, ‘This is what it has to be,’ but we’re excited to see the outcome of this fellowship.”

Complete bios of the 2022 Arts and Social Justice Fellows and their facilitators are on the Strathmore website. Learn more about Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company on their website.

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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