ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Guests at the Raw Art Works block party were asked to stand in an outline of a house drawn on the street.
By BILL BROTHERTON
LYNN — Raw Art Works threw a party Thursday night and everyone felt right at home.
As many as 200 people crowded the streets outside the nonprofit’s 23 Central Ave. base from 6 to 8 p.m., while an equal number were drawn inside to marvel at student-made artwork and films that explored what home means to them. The exhibit’s opening night party atmosphere was hotter than the temperature; Enzo’s sold pizza slices for a buck and White Rose Coffeehouse did a booming business with dollar hot dogs and sodas.
In addition, 34 seniors were honored during a graduation ceremony. “All of them have plans after graduation, either going to college or year-out college course training,” said Alex Ashley of the RAW staff. “One hundred percent of our seniors are graduating.”
And two students, Marylys Merida and Michael Escobar, were awarded Adobe scholarships.
Chris Gaines and Padriac Farma, artistic directors of the Real to Reel HOME film project, guided visitors through a room that featured touchscreens that transported attendees to Cambodia, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala, thanks to films made by students who traveled to those nations that featured family connections.
“For many of these kids it was their first time out of state, let alone their first time on a plane,” said Farma.
Merida, who discovered RAW in 2012, her freshman year at English High, traveled to Guatemala and “used the skills I learned at RAW to film my surroundings. I had been to Guatemala before, with my family, but this was different. I didn’t feel like I was Guatemalan. I felt like I was American. I was there to bring back a film. I did see family there, and it was so hard to say goodbye.”
Kristine LeBlanc of Lynn was at the celebration with her three daughters — Morgan, Delanie and Caitlin — all of whom have benefited from RAW programs. In fact, when Kristine was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, Caitlin made a well-received film, “Dear Mom,” that chronicled her mom’s battle.
“The people here stepped up and supported and encouraged my kids and my family when we needed it the most. The girls have learned so much and made so many friends here. This is like a second home to all of us,” said LeBlanc, who is now cancer-free.
Luke Pulaski, an eighth grader from Swampscott, was proud of the orange wooden house he built and placed on a lamppost. The word “togetherness” was emblazoned on one side. “I feel like I’m home right now, everyone being together. You don’t need to know everybody. We can all be integrated on the basketball court or in the classroom or out here on the street. RAW is home for me.”
Michael Aghahowa of Lynn said he was first attracted to RAW as a youngster, when he and a friend were walking in Central Square and came upon a celebration just like last night’s. “Everyone was having so much fun. I wanted to be a part of it. RAW has changed my whole outlook on life. I’m more aware of what goes on in other cities and in my own community,” said Aghahowa, who has been involved with RAW arts since he was in high school and participated in the Core program, which works with juniors and seniors who are interested in visual art. This morning he is the commencement speaker at his Montserrat College of Art graduation in Beverly.
Lauren Stevenson, director of Adobe’s 1324 project, a new initiative designed to support, connect and amplify a global community of emerging artists ages 13 to 24 who are using creativity as a force for positive impact, spoke glowingly of Raw Art Works and its programs.
Two years ago, Adobe searched worldwide for innovative youth arts organizations for its Creative Catalyst Awards. RAW is one of only seven organizations in the world to receive this designation, said Stevenson, in a chat before the block party began. “RAW is innovative and transformative. It is exemplary in what it does to enrich the young people here. Two RAW students are receiving Adobe Creativity Scholarships. There are only 25 total worldwide.
“The staff here are true visionaries in their field, and their 27-year track record of success is unsurpassed. They and their HOME project is pretty extraordinary.”
Bill Brotherton is the Item’s Features editor. He can be reached at [email protected]