Before Hurricane Katrina catapulted New Orleans into the media spotlight, one of the most successful arts programs for teenagers in the country thrived in a downtown neighborhood. Young Aspirations/Young Artists (YA/YA, Inc.) regrouped after the levees failed and continues to offer life-changing opportunities and lessons in entrepreneurship to artistically-talented young New Orleanians. This film is the story of how YA/YA, Inc. was founded and shows how, given the right tools and a fertile environment, motivated young people can do extraordinary things.
 

As a model for empowering at-risk youth through art, YOUNG ASPIRATIONS/YOUNG ARTISTS is impressive indeed. All that's really required is a little time and caring...highly recommended.

Video Librarian
Synopsis: 

The young artists of YA/YA paint true stories about their own lives, and create murals, fine art pieces, poetry and rap music that speak out on racism and reflect on community values. YA/YA, Inc. teaches these kids the chance to the chance to apprentice with professional artists, create public artworks, design merchandise, serve as cultural ambassadors, work as project managers, and mentor others in the arts. Ultimately, these kids learn to be professionally self-sufficient through creative self-expression. A powerful case for what happens when a great teacher empowers young people to find their own voices and shows them that they are indeed part of a larger world. DVD contains both the 56 minute PBS version and the 32 minute educational version.

Reviews

Ages 15 - adult. To encourage young African Americans to develop their artistic talent and attain jobs, New Orleans artist Jana Napoli invited students from a nearby vocational school to work in her studio. They young men and women reveal how Napoli insisted they paint both their dreams and their nightmares on chairs, tables and chifforobes. As she elicited their experiences, the energetic teacher instilled a sense of pride in the young people. Not only are their pieces unique, but the creations garner money and international acclaim as well. These at-risk but motivated teens also go out into their fear-stricken neighborhoods and work with the elementary graders to paint murals of their dreams, becoming role models in the process. This nicely edited combination of artwork, interviews, and location footage offers inspiration to others. A 57 minute version is also available. [BKL F 15 93]

Nancy McCray, Booklist

YA/YA is Good/Good It's not so much about furniture as about lives. This locally-produced documentary mixes dreams and facts. It's aboutYoung Aspirations/Young Artists, better known as YA/YA, the organization that draws together New Orleans high school students and shows them how to create a future. YA/YA started as something for students from Rabouin Vocational High School to do after school. At first the idea was to give them a craft by developing intrinsic skills. Founder Jana Napoli knew something about art, including that everybody did canvasses. How 'bout painting furniture? Practically from the beginning, it worked. As we learn in this excellent hour, the kids were unsure what to paint. Paint what you know, she said. The kids couldn't imagine their relatives wanting a chair painted with a narrative from their lives, but it turned out, complete strangers did. YA/YA became a big deal, with the bright and innovative painting styles getting international art shows an color pages from Life magazine. The program is full of the kinds of kids who don't obviously make their parents proud. There's a girl with purple hair and black eye makeup and too many earrings. Another girl was too shy to speak in public; she's now producing furniture that speaks for itself. When the group went to Amsterdam, they were VIPs. They were Americans, which was great, many were black, which was better, and they were doing art that stopped the Dutch in their tracks. After visiting a fairy tale castle, one YA/YA kids says, "It made me feel like I'm in the movies." She is. This is made with loving care - the same quality that distinguishes YA/YA furniture and fabric - by producer-director-editor Shirley Thompson, working with writer Robin McCall. Trouble has been taken to make this look special, including shooting the interviews off-center, like an AT&T commercial. An hour is a little long, and a few moments and visuals seem repetitive, but we can't shake the suggestion of one of the participants: "There needs to be a YA/YA in every block."

Benjamin Morrison, Times Picayune

This documentary clearly and dramatically shows what can be accomplished by gifted, dedicated teachers, working in ways that help fire young minds.

Joseph Henderson, M.D., Community & Family Medicine, Dartmouth College