The Monthly interviews Erin Muirhead McCarty from the Community Art Centre in Cambridge Massachusetts – Part 2 – Increasing the visibility

Part one of this interview is here

Do you also do community work like providing meals for young people?

We partner with a lot of sister organisations in the local area and some of that work is connected to feeding children. In our space, we provide meals to the school age children who come to our programmes. Sometimes that’s after school, and it’s one meal, sometimes three meals a day. For example, during Spring Break, or when the children are out of school and they are with us all day we provide breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. This is very important because in our area sometimes there might be children facing food insecurity.

Is there any particular project you would like to talk about?

When I was looking at this job initially, the film festival really stood out, and I still find it incredibly remarkable. It is now the longest running youth film festival in the country.

There is something so enterprising about the young people who started it, they saw a need, they saw that they were misrepresented in mainstream media, or they were not seeing themselves reflected at all. They decided to pick up their own cameras and tell their own stories and that is how the film festival started.

That speaks to a high degree of self actualisation and self determination and it also shows me that this was a really fertile space where the young people felt supported by the adults around them who helped them start this programme.

This brings together all the things that I love about this space. It is a place that is encouraging, young people feel equipped to take risks, and create their own, to determine who they are, find their own voice, and tackle some really heavy issues which is what they do in their films.

What is coming up in the future?

It is always challenging in the arts. It is challenging to find funding and support for programmes. That doesn’t keep me up at night at the moment but there is always the possibility that sometime in the future we are unable to continue providing this space for young people.

We exist in an area that is surrounded by wealth, a very well resourced area, and we are around people who exclaim that Black Lives Matter. Saying the right things feels good, but where people put their time, effort and money reveals their priorities. I would like to see deeper commitment from our corporate neighbours. We share a community, and I believe they have as much vested interest in seeing everyone thrive as we do.

We hustle hard to ensure our operations; most of our funding is from generous family foundations, some from entities like Mass Cultural Council, or the NEA. But if you are searching for funds to cover necessities all the time that takes time away from the programmes you are trying to deliver, and our programmes are the most important thing to us.

Are you looking positively into the future?

The thing that makes me feel the most positive about the future is that we have been here for 85 years. We serve low income families. We are a bit of an unlikely story to have even existed for this long. It’s a testament to the really wonderful people who support the Community Art Centre. There is a really good and talented team here. Everyone pulls together, and everyone has a shared vision of what they want this place to be. That makes me feel really positive about the future.

I would like to see the organisation gain a little bit more visibility so that the young people who participate in our programmes can get more visibility for their projects. I would like to see them able to leverage that visibility for opportunities.

I have seen people develop really impressive portfolios in this space and use those portfolios to get into top notch schools. I would love to see young people use our film programme to get into top notch film schools. I really want to see our kids find post secondary opportunities beyond high school; so that when our young people say that they participated in Do It Your Damn Self!! Film Festival, it carries the same gravitas as some of the more visible film festivals we recognize.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.