ALLI 2017

L to R: LIO, Mirabai Kukathas, Zora Seboulisa, Monica Elenes, and Daniel Pak.   Photo Credit: Amy Piñon

L to R: LIO, Mirabai Kukathas, Zora Seboulisa, Monica Elenes, and Daniel Pak. Photo Credit: Amy Piñon

Written by Mirabai Jyothi Kukathas

The first week of July 2017 was one of the best weeks of my life. Totem Star, Youth Speaks, and our awesome mutual sponsor Arts Corps put on the Arts Leadership Liberation Institute (ALLI) for the second year running. ALLI is a weeklong art intensive for poets, musicians, and visual artists. We spent the week building community, partaking in social justice-related workshops, and creating pieces of art to share at the end of the week.

When I applied to ALLI, I didn’t think I would actually get in. I knew some of the people involved and didn’t think I was accomplished enough to spend a week with such talented artists. When I did get in, I was both excited and incredibly nervous. However, my nerves melted away almost as soon as I walked into Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, where ALLI was held. One thing that cannot be said enough about the Youthspeaks/Totem Star family is how kind and welcoming it is.

We spent the majority of the first day getting to know one another. We began with everyone putting an object of emotional value in the center of the circle we sat in, summing up the object’s significance in one or two words. We went back around the circle and everyone took an object that symbolized something they needed more of in their lives. I put in a statue of the goddess Saraswati, symbolizing ancestry and inspiration, and took a picture which represented resiliance. At the end we gave the items back to their owners, thanking them for the characteristics they embodied. It was so nice to fill up the room with love and strength, and doing so really set the tone for the supportive environment of ALLI.    

LIO wows the crowd with her poetry.  Photo credit: Amy Piñon. 

LIO wows the crowd with her poetry. Photo credit: Amy Piñon. 

For the rest of the week we’d spend the mornings together, still getting to know each other, learning about outreach and organization, and even taking a workshop led by Anakbayan. In the afternoon we would divide into our three pathways (spoken-word poetry, music, and visual art) and get working on our pieces. I loved catching glimpses of half-finished paintings and hearing snippets of poems when I popped out into the hall. The whole place seemed alive with art and excitement.

During the course of the week, my friend Zora and I wrote a song. It started off as just a baseline and a short poem of hers, but together we expanded the lyrics and wrote a melody. For the most part she did the lyrics and I did the melody, but worked together for the entire process, bouncing ideas off each other and getting excited after our eureka moments. At the end of the week we had created something I was really proud of, something I never thought I’d be able to to do. For me, that was the best part about ALLI: doing something I never thought I could. Proving myself wrong. Gaining some confidence.

The song-writing process.  L to R: Zora and Mirabai. Photo credit: Amy Piñon.

The song-writing process. L to R: Zora and Mirabai. Photo credit: Amy Piñon.

At the end of the week we put on a block party, open mic, and showcase. A bunch of people from the community showed up (some even brought food!), got to know each other, performed at the open mic, and partook in the general awesomeness. The showcase itself was electric; I could not believe everyone created what they did in just five days. It’d been a long time since I’d performed in front of people, but when I was singing up there everything felt right. I owe a lot to ALLI for getting me into the Youth Speaks/Totem Star community, building my confidence and skills, and for a truly amazing week I will never forget.

To see more ALLI stories, click here.

To see all performances from the ALLI showcase, click here