Aug 10

Meet a Site Partner: AIC

by: Laura Kochman

Our Art Education program works with site partners all over Philadelphia, with kids of all ages and art experience levels. Some partners are the city’s public grade schools, while others are outside organizations like the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Service Center or VisionQuest. We’re honored to collaborate with every single partner, and we love helping to tell their stories through art.

One of our long-time site partners is the Achieving Independence Center (AIC), which is a resource and support center for youth transitioning out of the foster care system, all the way from fourteen to twenty-one. It’s a “one-stop-shop,” as Arts@AIC Coordinator Nicole Sonsini describes it, offering “a host of services from top to bottom, from housing and homelessness support, education, employment, mentoring, onsite health and sexuality counseling, drug and alcohol rehab, therapy—pretty much everything a youth could need during that time period. If we don’t have it here, we’ll connect them to someone who does.” AIC is also a space where kids in foster care can find a sense of community, as art student Anthony says: “Leaving foster care, you don’t run into a lot of other kids who have been in care. You feel less normal, so it helps to put everybody in the same space…I don’t feel as alone. And it helps you get the skills that you may not have gotten in foster care, so it helps you build up a sense of normalcy, feel more included, feel less like a foster kid and more like a kid who just happens to be in foster care.”

AIC student Anthony at work on the AIC mural. Photo by Damaso Gallman.

AIC didn’t start out with a full-blown therapeutic arts program—it’s grown in collaboration with Mural Arts and Sonsini, who started out as a traditional case manager.

Our kids have met hundreds of people like me, so I’m just a drop in the bucket. How can we do this together? I’d find myself painting alongside them, collaging to figure out goals, using art as the medium to tell their stories in a way that didn’t feel so formal. At some point, I was able to develop this program into what it is now, which is a full-fledged expressive arts program, with that question always at the core: how can I help youth tell their stories in a different way, through a creative lens that feels more empowering than just bringing up old wounds?

- NICOLE SONSINI

Mural Arts teaching artists like Joseph Iacona travel to AIC twice a week, and offer a freeform class schedule that allows students to drop in or attend every session. We’re biased when it comes to our instructors, but it feels pretty good to hear that Sonsini feels the same way: “They’re all lovely. The Mural Arts artists are all very plugged-in, trauma-informed, youth-focused, and person-focused.”

Teaching artist Joseph Iacona at work on the AIC mural. Photo by Damaso Gallman.

After almost a decade of partnership, AIC will have its first mural project this summer, with Iacona as the lead muralist. Sonsini describes the design as “bright and bold and person-focused—there are people you can recognize, youth from our center that are identifiable faces to our kids, which I think is going to be very powerful. It’s alive, friendly, positive, and bright. It’ll be in our front lobby, where kids spend a lot of time waiting, so it’ll be a conversation piece. It validates our young people, to say, you are part of something bigger.” For young people who may not always feel a sense of control over their own lives, Arts@AIC provides a space to be themselves, on their own terms.

AIC student at work on the AIC mural. Photo by Damaso Gallman.

Last updated: Aug 10, 2017

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