Yo Art Project helps imaginations soar 

MOJA | Kids + Creativity = Future

Yo Art Exhibition
On view through Oct. 30
Housing Authority of the City of Charleston
550 Meeting St.
www.mojafestival.com

Most of the time, when you talk about childhood education, it's about the future. If a child has the right opportunities now, with the proper guidance, he or she will have a leg up when it comes to getting into college.

But what if a child does not have the best guidance, what if he or she is not given the right opportunities?

For Gene Furchgott, director of the Yo Art Project, the answer is creativity.

"These kids are usually between eight and 14 years old," Furchgott says. "They live in public housing, and their schools have cut out the arts. Our main purpose is to teach kids that they can use creativity for their future."

The Yo Art Project is a grassroots organization that started in 2007. It was designed to teach children how to harness and maximize their imaginations with computers and cameras. Many of these digital tools were donated by Furchgott's uncle, and they help unlock students' creative potential, the director says.

The goal is to create a learning environment that provides students with an inspiring alternative to their school studies and with employment opportunities that normally wouldn't be available to them. This year, Yo Art is working with the Sanders-Clyde and Memminger schools. The program also gives students exposure to the creative arts.

"Once they're on the computers, they're absorbed by making art," Furchgott says. "It's amazing the feelings they can express in just a couple hours of classes a week."

The result of the students' hard work and dedication will be on display at the Public Housing Authority on Meeting Street beginning Sept. 24. Twelve photographs and 30 posters of computer art will fill the room. Music by the Edmund Thornton Jenkins Chamber Society will vibrate the walls. And as part of this year's MOJA Festival, the Yo Art Project is sure to make a formidable splash in the world of Charleston community arts.

But even though the work is designed to demonstrate the student's creative prowess, Furchgott says, it also expresses the need for more resources and agencies to assist with childhood education.

"The reward is seeing these kids achieve their goals and get kudos from their family and friends," Furchgott says. "Their self-esteem goes up, and they can see immediate results. The challenge is to offer these experiences to all students who need it."

Furchgott is no stranger to projects that work with children and the arts. He is also the director of Charleston Kids with Cameras, an organization that pairs professional photographers with inner-city youths. The photographers bring the kids out of their neighborhoods to places where they can learn to shoot photographs and see their environment with new eyes.

"Kids have good traits and bad traits," Furchgott says. "They have to deal with emotions and adjust themselves. Hopefully the exposure and the art give them a positive way to learn and express themselves.

"It really is about their future," he says.

For now, Furchgott is busy coordinating with other artists who might want to participate in the Yo Art Project. This year he and his staff are introducing courses on playwriting, drama, and music. He plans to continue his efforts to help underprivileged students and drum up more local support.

"I think the show at the Housing Authority will be supported by the community," he says. "Then people will be able to see what we're doing.

"They'll be as excited as I am, and the kids will have something they can be proud of."


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