“I once was lost but now I’m found.” The familiar lyrics of amazing grace fill the gymnasium at Central Community House on the east side of Columbus where a young African American man is singing to a standing room only crowd. Off to his sides are other kids from elementary to high school age, all with the same hopeful eyes. They are painting or waiting their turn to dance or read poetry. His words capture perfectly the sentiment of many of those involved with Transit Arts, the citywide nonprofit youth development program that is sponsoring this open mic night.
Beside me, taking in the performance from the back row is director Jackie Calderone, a petite, silver haired lady affectionately known as Ms. Jackie, who has been nurturing the creative gifts of Columbus’ inner city youth for over two decades.
What fuels your passion for working with these children?
I grew up the eldest of six children, with very few resources, and because of that I identify with these kids. They have a passion for art but not enough financial resources to support it. Seeing their excitememt and interest touches something in me.
It’s an especially tough economy these days. How does that affect your work with the kids?
We’ve had our ups and downs over the 22 years I have been doing this. We have really tried to learn how to maximize our resources and collaborate as much as possible.
Last year alone Transit Arts partnered with 99 other Columbus community organizations.
We expand and contract so that we can stay consistent for the kids, but we never compromise on quality. We always have great materials and fabulous art. We would rather do less events then sacrifice on quality.
What are you hoping to teach kids through Transit Arts programming?
I want to give them the sense of possibility. Negative stereotypes in the media make our children - black young men in particular, see themselves as limited somehow. It’s important to provide positive role models. We have that here. We teach them that it is okay to be themselves and that they can succeed in the world.
What do the children teach you in your daily work with them?
Imagination, curiosity. They are so smart and they have so much passion. We always try to listen to them and give them a voice.
How do the children grow as result of having been involved with Transit Arts?
For many, it completely turns their lives around. They go from frustrated, angry and depressed young people to having a positive way to express themselves through painting or dance or music. We help them find the talents and abilities they don’t always see in themselves.
What new and exciting things are on the horizon?
We are currently in the process of building a new home in the old Central Community House in partnership with Ohio State University. Our kids are getting to participate in designing the space and creating art for it in collaboration with the art and design students. We also have a full performance schedule which the public can access at www.transitarts.com.
Transit Arts collections are currently on display at the Columbus Airport and BlackCreek Bistro on Parsons Avenue.