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Shifting Creatively with Imagine Nation Station

by Joey Phoenix

On Thursday, May 21 at 7:00 PM, Beverly-based Express Yourself, Inc., along with the Department of Mental Health, will be premiering Imagine Nation Station, Come Together, a virtual celebration of joy, resilience, and the power of creativity and the arts. 

The event will include Express Yourself youth from the community and residential treatment programs that have been involved in the multidisciplinary arts program since September in collaboration with notable celebrities such as Amanda Mena (America’s Got Talent), Ricky Duran (The Voice, S17), and Cammie Griffin and STOMP, among others. 

For the last 25 years, Express Yourself, the Coming Up Taller Award Winner from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, has been producing large annual performances at the Boch Center – Wang Theatre in Boston. These performances have incorporated visual art, music, dance, theater, and special guests to support youth from the Department of Mental Health, as well as identified youth within the community. 

In addition to this, the organization has also provided weekly in-person programming to area youth, providing them with the tools and resources to express themselves creatively and communicate through art and movement. 

Performers from STOMP collaborate with local Express Yourself youth in Imagine Nation Station, Come Together

But when Massachusetts shelter-in-place restrictions made that an impossibility, instead of cancelling the event and the ongoing programming completely, Express Yourself saw it as an opportunity. 

“First, we started creating art prompts that were multidisciplinary every single week, which would be music or art or dance or something of that nature that kids could connect to,” said Paula Conrad, Founder and co-executive Director of Express Yourself.. 

Soon after, Mass.gov featured the new virtual programming as a resource for families, including those with kids in intensive residential treatment centers . 

“We quickly realized that kids wanted consistency. So we took the exact same times that we had done sessions at the studio, assigned artists to teach them, and then the kids went on to Zoom during this studio time,” she said. 

The ongoing programming also includes a one to one program for those kids that were overstimulated and weren’t able to be on Zoom with so many other kids. 

Image courtesy of Express Yourself, Inc.

“Part of our mission is to take kids from isolation to collaboration, and, and the arts do that in a very simple way,” she added. “And also knowing the fear that people were going through during this crisis with their families – being in small homes, worrying about food, worrying about where money was going to be – art became like a little joyful spot in the kids’ day. Being able to connect in some way and have familiar faces was something for them to look forward to. And we are dedicated to those kids and in keeping that opportunity alive for them.” 

While Express Yourself was restructuring programming, they also were figuring out how to produce a virtual performance that would stand in as their May show. They encouraged kids on Zoom to take creations they had been working on and then develop them into performance pieces, they invited guest artists who had been planning to participate in the live performance to be a part of the live performance.

“Our kids became a little nation of creators that joined together to make this happen,” she explained.

Express Yourself, along with the help of professional artists, weaved together performance pieces, creative art processes, music, and movement to create Imagine Nation Station, and in just five weeks, the organization was able to create a 45 minute showcase that will air on their website this week. 

The video will also contain a slideshow of Express Yourself youth portraits taken by Bobbie Bush Photography as well art created by youth currently in residential units who were housed together when shelter-in-place restrictions went into effect in early March. 

“Artists in general excel at shifting creatively. In general, artists are the people who can be fluid and take creative risks, and right now it’s an advantage to have that kind of skill set,” Paula said. 

Tune in on May 21st to Imagine Nation Station to witness this remarkable collaboration, and be sure to check in a few minutes early to get set up (with popcorn if you wish!) because the show on exyo.org starts promptly at 7:00pm EST!


Click here for an up to date listing of Virtual Experiences

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