What a week it has been for our Executive Director Neda Abghari! Wednesday October 14th 2015 Abghari arrived at the Eisenhower Executive offices in DC to participate in a panel discussion entitled Using Art to Start Conversations and Change Culture presented by the White House for Justice and Opportunity; The power of the Arts; a program in support of National Youth Justice Awareness Month. President Obama has proclaimed it as a time to “recommit to ensuring our justice system acts not as a means for perpetuating a cycle of hopelessness, but as a framework for uplifting our young people with a sense of purpose so they can contribute to America's success.”

The program focused on the importance of the arts in building narratives, empowering communities and furthering youth justice. Youth participated in panels and group discussions where they talked about their experiences and learned about the history of juvenile justice. Afternoon sessions consisted of workshops for them to capture their reflections from the morning sessions though expressive art forms such as poetry slam and graffiti art. Each young person also received a signed proclamation from President Obama. 

Later that evening Abghari was invited to attend In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of American Creativity . Hosted by the President and Mrs. Obama,  the evening featured readings and musical performances that commemorated the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act.  Signed into law into law on September 29, 1965, the act called for the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as separate, independent agencies, the culmination of a movement calling for the federal government to invest in culture.

The musical artists who performed in the East Room of the White House were: Buddy Guy, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Keb Mo, Smokey Robinson, Trombone Shorty, Esperanza Spalding, James Taylor, and Usher, with readings and remarks from Carol Burnett. The performances highlighted American-born musical genres including hip-hop, blues, and the American Songbook, art forms that the National Endowment for the Arts has supported over its 50 year history. A recording of the evening will premiere Friday Jan 8th 2016 at 9PM EST on PBS. 

Representing the southeast as a proud member of ACT/ART, the trip culminated the following day with the presentation of our first reception and a special performance of Truth as Evidence by artists Nyugen Smith and Cheryl Pope in the Indian Treaty Room. This new collaborative work addresses issues of juvenile justice. Pope and Smith began seated at a typewriter in the center of the room wearing official referee uniforms. DC youth entered the room two at a time, whispering poems and truths written and submitted by incarcerated youth in the DC Incarcerated Youth Program, as Pope and Smith played the roles of recorder, interpreter, and questioner, typing their Truths into a document they consider Evidence. These carbon-backed documents produced an exact copy available for viewers to take, as a means of continuing to extend the reach of these voices and to break the silence around the issue of juvenile justice.

View more images from the trip in the full image gallery!