Julia Chiapella & Young Writers’ Project

by Josselyne Morales

On a slightly overcast Tuesday afternoon, Betsy Andersen, Director of the Museo Eduardo Carrillo, and I walked into the Santa Cruz MAH (Museum Art History) to meet up with Julia Chiapella, Director of the Young Writers Program (YWP). Our meeting with Julia took place in the imaginarium, “The Chamber of Heart and Mystery,” on the first floor of the SC MAH at 705 Front Street. The imaginarium is a magically immersive installation that serves as a portal to the Word Lab, an after-school writing project Young Writers Program. It is a place that inspires creative thinking and, imagination in conjunction with writing.

Julia greets Betsy with the warmth of an old friend. There is something special about the camaraderie of female entrepreneurs. When I first interacted with Julia I got a sense of composure and elegance in her movements and how she presents herself. We sat inside the Chamber and discussed her inspiration and drive for starting the YWP, which I learned was inspired from San Francisco’s very own non-profit “826 Valencia” created by Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari. There’s energy and purpose in Julia’s voice when she spoke about the mission of the YWP, which is dedicated to building students’ writing skills and confidence. Volunteer writing mentors are trained by the Young Writers Program to bring one-on-one mentoring to the classroom in their work with students! Community is built between the students and mentors.

Hablamos Juntos (Together We Speak) is the ongoing collaborative projects between YWP and Museo. Students use artwork created by Chicanx/Latinx artists to stimulate lateral thinking through associations or connections with their own lived experience. The student’s writing is paired with the art and published in full color, hard-bound books that are sold through the local Santa Cruz Bookshop. Each student also receives a free copy.

I find this collaboration so important because it enables young thinkers and writers to find a place and platform for representations of themselves. This was missing from my own public-school education. There is so much history unveiled and emotions stimulated in these artist’s works. They are evocative and thus relatable for even the youngest of generations. The Hablamos Juntos project is a beacon of support not only for writing but also for an education in history that I thought to be lost. It isn’t.

Toward the end of our conversation, I was struck by an interesting assertion Julia made. We’re on the topic of the many reasons adult creativity shuts off. I brought up the notion that kids grow up too fast based on our online or offline social environment. There is a predominance of a “follower culture” on social media. STUDIES HAVE YET TO SHOW THE effect this has on the amount of time young people spend fostering independent creative and critical skills. This is when Julia mused that growing up fast isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She went on to explain that it could be beneficial because, through programs, like the YWP, youth can identify their experiences through writing and communicate their ideas, potentially leading to a greater sense of agency and responsibility. Programs like the YWP are important to support because they help build a sense of power and justice in communities that might not otherwise find it!

The meeting ended and I left the museum space, mulling over what I just learned about the type of organizations the Museo Eduardo Carrillo works with and supports. I couldn’t help but feel full of love and wonder for both the Museo and the Young Writers Program with their drive to create a brighter future.

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