“We’re outside the box, thinking about the arts these days,” says Matt Carvin, executive director of DREAMS. “‘Arts’ is very broad.”
Take their “Arts of Nature and Container Gardening,” for example, led by Mike Johnson. Johnson showed the kids how to build raised beds to grow their own food. The outcome for DREAMS students and the whole northside district of downtown Wilmington, where DREAMS is located, will be about 300 pounds of food given to residents in the surrounding food desert.
“In the event of an apocalypse, master gardener Mike Johnson is the guy you want by your side,” Carvin quips. “He knows everything: how to build anything, how to take space and turn it into opportunity. That’s what DREAMS is about, ultimately. “
In addition to kids learning skills—ranging from traditional classes, like dance, pottery, painting, to nontraditional ones, like podcasting, vlogging, murals—Carvin hopes they learn ways to apply ideas to real-life. An important one is how to overcome challenges.
“The gardening class shows how you can break generational poverty,” Carvin tells. “If they can’t buy it, grow it yourself. Learn the solution. The kids saw Mike get inspections and permits to build the beds—to do what it takes to problem-solve. When kids see that firsthand, it trickles down. Next thing ya know, a C-plus becomes a B-plus becomes an A-plus. It’s really about hope.”
DREAMS just celebrated two decades of working with at-risk youth by providing high-quality, free-of-charge programming in the literary, visual, multimedia and performing arts. They have proven themselves successful with a 99-percent rate of DREAMERS who go on to college or join the military.
Aside from engaging in various unique ideas in arts, whether through Lego classes and hopefully in the future taking 3D printing classes, Carvin says they’re goal now is to focus on experiential learning. They want to teach a kid how to sculpt or draw, play a guitar or make jewelry, but then they want to connect the dots between the fun of creating and the reality of having a careers in arts.
“We are hosting field trips right now, teaching and showing students examples of other artists making a living,” Carvin says. They have visited Mayfaire’s Lumina Gems, wherein a jewelry line, Revolve, was created specifically with proceeds going to DREAMS. Founder Brad Bass started it from the ground up as a jeweler, and after Carvin toured the facility and saw the equipment and this gentleman making a career for himself, a light bulb went off.
“It’s a very attainable career,” Carvin says. “Here is a guy doing it, who has experienced all the scary and exciting possibilities of starting a career that’s in arts. Our kids can learn from this . . . it’s about entrepreneurship and arts, taking the final step to connecting the two, so they’re not just fancy dreams in youth.”
DREAMS students will tour the North Carolina School of the Arts for a week-long field trip to experience firsthand how to mold the drive and passion for success in the arts. They also have a local ongoing partnership with CFCC’s Wilson Center, which brings in professional touring musicians, dancers, actors, and such, to work directly with the kids as part of a masters class.
“Last Sunday we did Urban Bush Women,” Carvin tells of the Brooklyn-based dance troupe. Wilson Center provides DREAMS students tickets to various shows but then it goes one step further. Urban Bush Women visited a DREAMS dance class to see what students were working on and offer advice on their craft.
“They send superstars to DREAMS as mentors,” Carvin emphasizes. “And students are hearing about what that life is like and how they can attain it. They see firsthand how they can get it.”
Aside from teaching kids artistic skills and then showing them how to make a living from it, the financial challenges to pursue it sometimes looms. DREAMS hopes to sidestep worries as well. They have started fellowships to help with the funding piece of the puzzle. “We help them pay for college,” Carvin tells. “$2k can go a long way to help with their books and other tools.” They also assist the kids in filling out FAFSA forms, nailing their auditions, and working with their coaches.
“It’s really paying off,” Carvin continues. “We’re seeing results: a kid will go to college, we will send them a check for $2k, and hear back they’re doing great. Hopefully, they will want to keep in touch, and down the road, if they come back, they can become a teaching artist for the next generation.”
DREAMS works with traditional students, offering four classes a week for two age groups: 8-10 and 11-17. Kids take cumulative classes each semester—two days focusing on, say, comic-strip drawing, and the other two on, say, radio broadcasting. DREAMS is currently at capacity, serving 150 students afterschool. They also added a homeschool program this semester during the day, wherein they’re serving 40 students.
Eight to 10 students fill each classroom for one-on-one experience with their teaching artist and a volunteer. There are 30-40 teaching artists every year, such as community stalwarts like sculptor Michael Van Hout, paper artist Fritzi Huber, saxophonist Darryl Murrill, and choreographer Kevin Lee-y Green. DREAMS teachers do outreach community work as well with schools like GLOW and DC Virgo.
Students also get an opportunity from numerous community partnerships that utilize the performing arts venue, Garage at DREAMS, which is in full swing and booked practically every weekend throughout the year. “It’s an arts incubator, certainly,” Carvin says. Take for instance Dram Tree Shakespeare, which hosted their production of “Comedy of Errors” at DREAMS. “Our kids learn set-building by sitting in with these folks setting up their shows,” Carvin notes. “Instead of just teaching kids theatre, now we have production companies coming in and working with them—to show them, and then they get connections.”
Saturday DREAMS welcomes the community to celebrate encore’s 2018 Best Of. Hosts will be funny folks Pineapple-Shaped Lamps, with music from Striking Copper, along with food and raffles from Best Of nominees. A costume contest will take place for the best female and male who dress in medieval, fantasy, Renaissance, or sorcery-like attire (think “Game of Thrones,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter,” etc.).
Advance tickets are on sale for $15 through Saturday morning; $20 at the door. Proceeds from the event will send 150 kids to DREAMS’ summer camp. That’s something worth celebrating.