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Why Will Langford believes in our new Youth Arts Competition

Will Langford visits a Sheefy McFlymural in Eastern Market. (Photo by © Will Langford, using a tripod)

When we leap into something new and big, it helps to bring along an optimist and a make-magic-happen person like Will Langford.

Known as Will The Poet, he has a history of helping Mint and our young artists. And he also served as the voice of Michigan State University’s “Empower Extraordinary” campaign. He will use his positive energies and extraordinary network in Detroit to lead Mint in a new initiative: the Metro Detroit Youth Arts Competition.  It launched this week and runs through Aug. 4.

He was the first and best choice when Mint executive director Vickie Elmer came up with the idea to create a competition to engage and encourage children to be creative in these challenging times. He immediately said yes.

“I’ve engaged in the Metro Detroit Youth Arts Competition because I believe that Detroit is wealthy beyond our wildest dreams—in that our youth bear such light, intellect, and sheer talent,” said Langford.  “And Detroit is home to that undeniably spirit of hustle and hope, because when I look around me, I see artists, educators, parents, business owners, and co-conspirators who are committed to the growth of the Motor City.”

Children and youth who are age 21 or younger, as of Aug. 4, and live in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties in Michigan are encouraged to create visual art or poetry based on the three prompts Will wrote.

Those prompts and a lot of other information about the Youth Arts Competition are available on our website.  Completed poetry and art also may be uploaded there.

Will Langford is a Detroit native, a poet, teaching artist, and Fulbright scholar. He is the 2017 Motown Mic Spoken Word Artist of the Year. He divides his energy between education and community development projects in his hometown, East Africa, and the East Lansing area, where he is a Ph.D. student at Michigan State in curriculum Instruction and teacher education.

Will “The Poet” Langford (Photo: © Rachel Laws Myers, used with permission

Will joined the Mint board of directors in January.  Yet he already is well known as an active Mint supporter, a volunteer and ambassador who buys Mint art.

His idea for blackout poetry was featured in the Mint blog series Creative Ideas for Challenging Times.  And since Mint regularly brings poetry into its Creative Summer Jobs program, it was easy and smart to add poems to our competition this summer.

Now Will is working to bring in businesses and nonprofits that believe in children and creativity and will donate prizes, awards cash or promotion to our competition. He and Mint have landed some beauties including Arts & Scraps, Avalon International Breads, Confident Brands, Jo’s Gallery, North End Customs, Sherwood Forest Art Gallery and others.  We welcome your organization to join us in this joyful initiative; email us at mintartistsguild@gmail.com if you’re interested.

And we hope that you or your children, grandchildren, nieces, cousins, siblings, best friends, roommates and others who are 21 or less will enter the Metro Detroit Youth Arts Competition.  Will cannot wait to see what you write, draw or create!

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How and why we are creating fun, free art kits for Detroit children, with amazing partners

Part of the first 500 creative activity kits at Brilliant Detroit. (Photo: Vickie Elmer)

It started with a comment on our co-founder’s Facebook page, a suggestion that families in Detroit may not have enough materials to create at home

Those few sentences identifying the need to distribute art boxes along with food in Detroit came from Yvette Jenkins, owner of Love Travels Imports.  (In the three degrees of separation, her shop shares space on Livernois with Art in Motion, which had hosted Mint for several workshops and participated with us in the Palmer Park Art Fair.)

Yvette’s comment inspired us to action. Soon we were connected with two other nonprofits: Arts & Scraps and Brilliant Detroit. Both of them are our partners in our Paint Detroit with Generosity initiative.

By 12:35 on March 13th – that’s 313 Day or Friday the 13th – the first emails flew out to Arts & Scraps executive director Ang Adamiak under the subject line: “Incredibly timely idea: Art boxes while DPS and other schools are closed.”

Our co-founder and executive director Vickie Elmer had already started brainstorming ideas. She saw this as something big and beautiful – 5,000 or more kits given to children in Detroit, fast and free.

Yet we knew we also had to line up funding and figure out how to get these kits to families with children, since schools, recreation centers and libraries were closed to protect against COVID-19 spreading.

It turns out Brilliant Detroit was a well, brilliant choice for many reasons, including its network of eight neighborhood centers that serve thousands of children and their adults. Its CEO and co-founder Cindy Eggleton knows how to collaborate and make things happen. So before we could say “coronavirus rhymes with iris” three times, we had funding for the first 2,000 kits.

A child created this penguin from one of the first kits. (Photo: Brilliant Detroit)
About two-thirds of the contents of the Creative Activities Kits created by Arts & Scraps, Mint and Brilliant Detroit. (Photo: Vickie Elmer)

The art kits contain all kinds of recycled art supplies from Arts & Scraps store and warehouse, from paper to cones to glitter and crayons and popcicle sticks and more.  Then we add in two two-sided Mint coloring pages, which were printed partly with underwriting by Detroit marketing firm MCCI Corp., and Jennette Smith Kotila.  (One degree of separate here: Jennette was managing editor of Crain’s Detroit Business when Vickie started writing for the publication. They worked together on Crain’s Most Influential Women special section and more.)

Last Monday, March 23, three volunteers recruited by Mint picked up the first 500 kits from Arts & Scraps and drove across I-94 to Brilliant Detroit’s headquarters. They all were women.

This project is starting to sound like a women’s empowerment activity – and in some ways, it is. Three women working with women to support mothers and children, grandmothers and fathers in a challenging time.

The first kits were given to families in Southwest Detroit who are connected to Brilliant Detroit.  “Thank you for supporting us to help our children. To motive them, and to learn to imagine,” said Gloria Vera, a mother of three children who received the kit last week.

Two of the Ramos children with some work made from the Creative Activities Kits. (Photo: Brilliant Detroit)

Creativity and making art have many benefits to children from problem solving to developing fine motor skills.  It  also is good for relieving boredom or stress.

“Here’s a little of the work that we have done,” said Judith Ramos, mother of four. She shows off work by her children Yajairi,  Yesenia  y Yamilet.made from the kits.  “Thank you to all the people who have taken the time to give us this material to keep our children busy at this difficult time. Thank you, and I hope God protects you.”

If you want more children to  be creative in these crazy times, please  donate to the Arts & Scraps fundraiser today.

If you wish to download one of our coloring pages from the kits, please download this one from the Palmer Park Butterfly Garden for free. 

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Mint spent a day at the GM Tech Center bringing art to STEAM Day. These letter signs were hand painted by Mint Artists Maddie ‘Moth’ Teece. Read more about STEAM Day and Mint’s upcoming pop ups – plus meet one of our new board members. In our November e-letter.