American Voices: Intercultural Arts Programs

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Music, Theater, Dance, art - these are the underpinnings (and joy) of a civilized world. In sharing our rich cultural traditions with engaged students around the world, we can educate and enhance lives, including our own! I've got an extraordinary program to share with you. American Voices is the United State's foremost not-for-profit organization devoted exclusively to cultural engagement programs worldwide. It's incredible, the faculty and artists involved - and the amazing amount of music and the arts that they share, worldwide.

 

Dress Rehearsal in Rachmaninoff Hall of Moscow Conservatory

Dress Rehearsal in Rachmaninoff Hall of Moscow Conservatory

 

We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with John Ferguson, Executive Director, Association of American Voices and Yes Academy. We talked about their work, faculty members, arts programs and fostering intercultural understanding, and more. Here's what he had to say...

 

 

WE: Please tell us about the YES Academy...

JF: The YES Academy programs bring high quality professional training and performances in some of America’s great cultural genres including Broadway, Jazz, and Hip Hop, children’s theater and classical orchestra, voice, and piano instruction to youth and young adults ages 6-26.

 

West Side Story at the Taiwan Summer Broadway Academy, Taipei

West Side Story at the Taiwan Summer Broadway Academy, Taipei

 

 

WE: What was the genesis of the YES Academy?

JF: For the past 16 years, American Voices has provided concerts, workshops, master classes and interactive performance projects to over 200,000 live audience members in 110 countries on five continents. Under the direction of John Ferguson, our Jazz Bridges, Broadway, Hiplomacy and Yes Academy programs aim to further accessibility and the understanding of American performing arts and culture in areas of the world emerging from conflict and isolation or lacking opportunities for cultural exchange and dialogue with the United States.

In 2007, American Voices launched the Youth Excellence on Stage (YES) Academies to inspire and motivate youth artistically and personally while providing an alternate perspective to widely-held and often negative views towards the U.S.

 

Ghulam Hossin and Ensemble Perform Traditional Afhgan Music at Dutch Embassy

Ghulam Hossin and Ensemble Perform Traditional Afhgan Music at Dutch Embassy

 

 

WE:  Who are your Faculty Members?

JF: Our faculty members are brought in as needed for each program. The 2010 faculty of 10 artist teachers is recruited from the United States’ best universities and cultural organizations including Baylor University, St Louis Symphony Orchestra, Theater Under The Stars, and HaviKoro Break Dancers. New faculty members in 2010 include cellist and conductor Bruce Walker of St. Louis, Dr Greg Hurley of the University of North Carolina, the Spanish Jazz saxophonist Mariano Abello and pianist Dr. Bradley Bolen of Baylor University.  Returning faculty include Carole McCann, Dr. Gene Aitken, Michael Parks Masterson, Ira Spaulding, Marc Thayer, YES Academy Director and pianist, John Ferguson, and Aimee Fullman in an administrative and outreach support role.

 

Jazz Pianist Mike Del Ferro and Trio in Concert at the Kabul Foundation for Culture and Civil Society

Jazz Pianist Mike Del Ferro and Trio in Concert at the Kabul Foundation for Culture and Civil Society

 

 

WE: Who attends the YES Academy Programs?

JF: Between 2007 and 2010 our youth academies will have engaged over 3,250 youth of both genders in nations including Afghanistan, Belarus, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan, Syria and Thailand.

As our programs grow and expand, our alumni are leveraging opportunities for further cultural engagement and study. YES Lebanon 2009 featured guest participants from Iraq and Egypt and YES Thailand 2010 welcomed Pakistani and Nepalese participants.

 

 Rhythm Nation video from Iraq 2007 - Iraqis dancing hip hop for the first time! Live performance by over 100 dancers from Baghdad, Erbil and Suleimanya, Iraq  

 

WE:  How can arts programs like the YES Academy help foster intercultural understanding?

JF: We believe that successful international cultural engagement is founded on intensive and structured face-to-face interaction through collaborative creation, teaching, and performance.

Our model of engagement is designed to enable mutual understanding and capacity building by supporting the next generation of cultural leaders, teachers and community arts activists through youth development, teacher and arts administration training coupled with donations of artistic supplies, musical scores and instruments. Our programs are built around direct and intensive interaction between US specialists, local performing artists and aspiring music, dance and theater students of all ages that culminate in performance opportunities. We have given historic groundbreaking concerts with the Iraq National Symphony Orchestra (the first concert in Iraq by Americans in over a dozen years) and at Kabul's Foundation for Culture and Civil Society in Afghanistan with the Jazz Bridges program in 2005.  American Voices also created the first ever Jazz festivals and Broadway productions featuring local performers in: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Moldova, Kosovo, Egypt and Lebanon.

 

Youngest Fan in Hanoi

Youngest Fan in Hanoi

We strive to build bridges of mutual understanding among our participants, especially in nations where youth are separated by religious, ethnic, linguistic and political divides. Students are exposed to American professionals as well as their own countrymen from multiple cities and through the programming work together and collaborate towards mutual artistic goals. The continued positive response from students, parents, local partners and our own culturally diverse staff of American citizen diplomats reinforces our belief that the performing arts, combined with capacity building through skill-building and materials, provides a positive and transformative experience that leads beyond mutual understanding into mutual embrace and collaboration.

 

Dashing Dishadashas

 

 

WE: Where have your Youth programs and Other events been conducted?

JF: Between 2007 and 2010 our youth academies will have engaged over 3,250 youth of both genders in nations including Afghanistan, Belarus, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan, Syria and Thailand.

 

Jazz Improvisation Workshops at Bul Bul Music School, Baku, Azerbaijan

Jazz Improvisation Workshops at Bul Bul Music School, Baku, Azerbaijan

 

 

WE: You are part of American Voices - what other programs do you offer?

JF: In 2008, our Violin teacher, Marc Thayer of the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, began a small annual scholarship program that fully sponsors the education of two Iraqi symphonic students at St Louis University and their placement in the St Louis Youth Symphony.

 

Concerts Debut

Concerts Debut

 

 

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

JF: Over the past four years, we have watched the graduates of our YES Academy Iraq program overcome years of conflict, deprivation and disrupted educations to form new orchestras and dance companies, create youth programs and lead music schools. We see jobs being created, which contributes to local economies and increased stability, and are proud of the new generation of arts and community leaders emerging from our programs. Throughout its history, American Voices has contributed to ongoing local efforts by donating dance, theater and music supplies, musical scores, and instruments in 75 countries with a value of $150,000 within Iraq alone.

 

The Youngest of the Freestyle Kings of Porec, Croatia

The Youngest of the Freestyle Kings of Porec, Croatia

 

 

WE: Thanks so very much, John! We LOVE American Voices and the Yes Academy - you're doing such incredible, important work.

For more information, please see:
www.americanvoices.org

 

All photos courtesy and copyright American Voices

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