Exploring the present and future with 'Roots Before Branches' from Creative Resilience Collective

4 minute read
'Roots Before Branches' is a new exhibit from CRY and YAP. (Photo by Bennett Kuhn.)
'Roots Before Branches' is a new exhibit from CRY and YAP. (Photo by Bennett Kuhn.)

The livelihood and welfare of urban communities are often preserved and fought for through art activism. The Creative Resilience Collective (CRY), a Philadelphia organization, is on a mission to foster mental wellbeing in those communities right here at home.

Art fosters resilience

“Stigmas around mental health are often perpetuated within communities where mental health care isn’t readily accessible,” explained Bennett Kuhn, an organizer with CRY. He shares that the collective’s focus is to make self-determined mental health care resources accessible to all people through creative initiatives that inform and empower people of underserved communities. To do this, the collective hosts workshops and study groups that educate people on the history and policies of mental health care and engage in conversations to learn and practice terminology. The collective also reserves space for youth to reimagine youth mental health care through peer conversations and collaborative efforts to produce socially engaging creative art and writing projects.

“You’re in a room full of creators. We all have the same goal with different takes in the art world. We get to work together to learn and accomplish a lot,” says Michael Resendiz, a 17-year-old member of CRY. Two of his CRY peers—Avani Alvarez and Andre Pak—enthusiastically shared what it means to be a part of the program.

For 18-year-old Alvarez, she was more comfortable supporting others. But Alvarez eased her way into recognizing and asserting her own capabilities and started constructing her own projects. “I feel better prepared for adulthood. Being a part of this organization has helped me blossom into my own person. And it has helped me solidify that I am an artist, and I do want to continue to work as a community activist.” Alvarez is one of many teens positively impacted by the program, be it directly as a member or as someone influenced by one of the collective’s creative initiatives like, the Mutual Aid Fund that provides financial rewards to creators in support of racial justice and black lives movements, or as an audience of CRY’s new podcast hosted by youth member turned facilitator Andre Pak.

Seen and heard

“A big part of what we do at CRY are weekly check-ins where we can sit down and talk openly with one another about what we’ve been dealing with or how we’ve been feeling because of what we’ve been dealing with,” says Pak. He expressed concern for how conversations about youth mental health care often do not include youth voices. One way to help teens stay connected during the pandemic and continue to inform and engage youth and adults was to launch a podcast that invites teens to participate in discussions that address youth-related topics while ensuring the platform amplifies youth voices.

CRY’s current focus is on their upcoming multi-medium art exhibition, Roots Before Branches: A Young Futurists Exhibition, in collaboration with the Young Artist Program (YAP.} Resendiz says that this exhibit will have a diverse collection of paintings, music, fashion designs, and performance art installations, including designs from his own clothing brand, RoseGold 610.

“I just want people to look and feel good in my clothing…now that we’re having this exhibit, I can do that for more people.”

For Alvarez, this exhibit is a great opportunity for her to connect with the community through an interactive installation that invites attendees to engage in a self-reflection activity that prompts participants to respond to questions. The anonymous answers are then tacked to a board, contributing to a collage of perspectives and experiences.

“I think this exhibit is going to be a very healing space for a lot of people as this is our first time being together in a space like this since the start of the pandemic,” Alvarez concluded. “I’m excited to see the various art and vulnerability displayed at this event.”

What, When, Where, and Accessibility

Creative Resilience Collective and Young Artist Program present Roots Before Branches: A Young Futurists Exhibition, opening Friday, June 4 at 6pm at Cherry Street Pier, 121 North Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia. The exhibit will run every weekend through June 27. The event is free, and more details can be found online.

Image Description: A diverse group of teens (nine of them) poses for a photo, sitting on a lumber plank stack. They're wearing masks. It's an overcast day outdoors, trees and a building are behind them.

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