The Detroit Creativity Project: Inspiring & Empowering Students in the D
By: Ryan O'Bleness
September 11, 2014
Creativity is a noun with many meanings depending upon whom you are speaking to, but one thing that remains constant is that it always uses imagination or original ideas. The beauty of creativity is that it is something that is eternal. With all of the great minds in this world coming and going, there will always be a new project, idea, event, etc.
The Detroit Creativity Project believes in the idea of creativity very strongly. The DCP wants to preserve the notion of expressing creativity and teaching arts education to students. It provides education in the world of performing arts via a 10-week long improvisation program for middle school and high school students.
In 2011, when schools not only in Detroit, but all over the country, were drastically reducing funds for art and music programs, or cutting both completely, the nonprofit was founded by a group of Los Angeles-based artists concerned with the budget cuts.
Some of these artists include Keegan-Michael Key from Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele,” Phredley Brown, musical director and lead guitarist for Bruno Mars, Larry Joe Campbell, actor from “According to Jim” and Central Michigan University alumnus (fire up Chips), and many more well-known actors, writers, directors, musicians and artists making a living in Hollywood.
So, why do all of these Hollywood big shots care about arts education in Detroit?
“All of the founders are either from Detroit originally, or got their training at Wayne State University, or The Second City Detroit,” said Marc Evan Jackson, actor, co-founder and president of the Detroit Creativity Project. “The group’s commitment is really based in their desire to give something back to a city that gave them so much early in their careers.”
The mission of the DCP is to inspire and empower young people by teaching them the art of improvisation. For those of you that are unaware, “improv” is basically group theater performed on the fly without any script, rehearsal or practice. It is how a lot of actors and artists get their starts in the business.
“Improvisation is about building a community of respect and equity, where every voice is heard. Improvisers learn the value of communication and collaborating for the benefit of the whole group, as well as developing grit and critical thinking skills,” said Jackson. “We are seeing how this creates a ripple effect in the students’ lives and transforms how they approach their peers, family and community.”
The flagship program for the DCP is The Improv Project. As I briefly mentioned earlier, this project lasts 10 weeks and is offered to middle school and high school students in Detroit who may not have an arts program. The program is in partnership with Y Arts (the art division of the YMCA), and is offered during both the fall and spring semesters. The Improv Project has a special focus on comedy.
The program typically has five to eight schools participating, and has taught more than 600 students since 2012. Schools such as Cass Technical High School, Pershing High School, Bates Academy, Brenda Scott Academy and many others have all participated. The classes are taught at each school either as an after school program, or during the school day.
“We have primarily focused on offering the program to Detroit Schools,” Jackson said. “However, we have considered expanding the program to schools in neighboring communities in the future.”
The DCP participated in the Detroit Improv Festival last month. Students were given the opportunity to perform in front of a sold out crowd, along with their instructors and Los Angeles-based improv group The 313. The next performance will be in Los Angeles at Largo at the Coronet for the Detroit Party hosted by Keegan-Michael Key. December brings the student showcase event at the Marlene Boll Theatre, where the students from the fall program perform. It is open to the public!
“We say that learning to improvise can be life changing,” said Jackson. “And we believe that because we’ve seen it in our lives and in the lives of our students.”
DCP is funded through some grants, but primarily donations. If you would like to help this fantastic program keep running, you may donate directly on the website.
Lately, I have come across many organizations doing great things for Detroit. The Detroit Creativity Project definitely falls into that category. The DCP not only shows us that education is worth fighting for; it goes out and gives opportunities to children and teenagers. I applaud the DCP.