Uniting a Neighborhood: Youth Media as a University-to-Community Bridge

Known for being the heart of Red Sox Nation and home to much of the U.S.’s history, Boston is undoubtedly a college town. More than 100 colleges and universities surround Greater Boston. Higher education is one of the largest employers in the city and owns significant quantities of real estate. Because of this, residents often have a conflicted relationship with these massive institutions.
In spite of Boston’s positive assets, a tension exists between the various members of the community—especially between long-term residents and the universities. As a result, large institutions are searching for ways to work with area organizations and schools, creating targeted grants to increase cultural and educational resources for the neighborhoods.
Boston College, Boston University and Harvard University, while seen as a source of aggravation also have enormous potential for institutional partnerships. Locals like us who attended these schools wonder how we can connect the amazing brainpower, resources and funding from these institutions with our communities. This article outlines the process of, and progress we are making, in creating new alliances within one of the most embattled neighborhoods of Boston.
About “My Allston Brighton”
Allston Brighton, is a section of Boston, MA. The residents of Allston Brighton are as diverse as they come; artists, recent college grads, deeply rooted families, new immigrant families, the elderly and youth. It is a neighborhood with innumerable stories to share.
Despite the fact that several important production companies and a handful of radio and television stations are located in Allston Brighton, including WGBH (the flagship station of PBS), and Brighton High School (which has offered a media production track to juniors and seniors), there is still a large discrepancy between the access to arts/media education available to Harvard students and that which is available to the community surrounding the University.
In response to the lack of arts/media for urban public school youth, the Boston Public School (BPS) Arts Initiative encourages urban education leaders to look outside the system to teaching artists and community arts organizations to fill the void. More funds are being pledged to promote partnerships with arts organizations, including youth media educators, creating new opportunities to connect media programs to funding.
Allston Brighton Arts Bridge has been able to identify a way to promote youth media education that serves the dual roles of providing arts experiences for urban students and communicating across the growing tensions between Harvard and the neighborhood. Allston Brighton Arts Bridge’s pilot program “My Allston Brighton” is a case study of an urban teen arts program that works to unite the local community among itself and with Harvard University through offering arts experiences. As an organization, we have personal and professional ties to the neighborhood.
“My Allston Brighton” is designed to teach members to tell cogent and compelling stories about their lives and their neighborhood. Our goal is to build individual and community identity through this pilot program. It is not only a response to the dynamics of a neighborhood, but also to the overwhelming lack of arts education available to Boston Youth. Interestingly enough, Harvard Allston Partnership Fund, is the main funding source for “My Allston Brighton.”
Case Study
Rachel, a participant in our program, made a documentary of her favorite creative places in Allston Brighton as an effort to dispel the myth that the neighborhood belongs to college students and the elderly. It is one of four projects being produced by the members of My Allston Brighton and demonstrates the fact that behind the scenes, the work of youth media enables us to meet our central goal: to bridge or connect members of the community through new creative media.
We see Rachel, a young woman connecting to other youth, to area resources, and experimenting with new art forms. She explores places she has never been—like the West End House, a chapter of the Boys & Girls Club. “I never knew this existed!” she expresses. The process of documenting the local community and organizations supports our collective efforts. Now, Rachel is a proud member of West End House, taking drum lessons and meeting new peers.
Call to the Field
At Arts Bridge, we are navigating the challenges of serving the local community, balancing an arts/media experience for urban teens, and acting as a mediator between Harvard and local residents. Connecting theory and academic research to practice allows us to create and refine quality programs. In the future we plan to expand new creative media experiences in the neighborhood and to build sustainable collaborations. As one of our youth producers explains, “The neighborhood needs us, cause we’re creative.”
Many institutions have identified the need for more arts in our culture, both within the campus and among the communities they exist in. We encourage youth media educators to seek partnerships with local institutions. Long-term community building is the key to success. Funding is crucial, but partnerships do not have to be tied exclusively to dollar signs, for each stage of a youth media project is an opportunity to enhance partnerships and build community.
Youth created media is an opportunity to help teens connect with and serve their community, filling the divide within neighborhoods. Allston Brighton needs young people to bring out the many players in the community: not just college students or the elderly, but political representatives, business owners, artists, and other teens. Youth media makers allow the community an occasion for reflection, evaluation and celebration. Everyone in the community is a potential partner and has insights to offer.
Despite the looming challenges of recruitment, curriculum development and time, we recommend that the field actively seek out collaborations and partnerships with local actors and with universities. Youth media can act as a bridge between universities and the local community—an unmet need found nation-wide.
Angélica Allende Brisk is an award-winning filmmaker, producer, editor, and teaching artist currently teaching at Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School and the lead instructor for My Allston Brighton. In production she has worked for American Experience, La Plaza, Curious George, Zoom, Postcards From Buster, Peep and the Big Wide World, Nova, Blackside and with a several independent filmmakers. Her latest film Hyman Bloom: The Beauty of All Things will premier at the Museum of Fine Arts in March 2010. She has taught at The Workshops in Maine, Simmons College and in a variety of afterschool programs around Greater Boston. She is a former president and board member of Women in Film and Video in New England, and current President of Tied to the Tracks Films, Inc. a woman owned documentary film company.

Maura Tighe Gattuso is the former owner of Maura Tighe Casting and has worked on feature films, independent films, and noted educational television shows such as “Zoom,” “Fetch with Ruff Ruffman” and “Design Squad” for WGBH. She has directed professional theatre in New York City, taught stage and film acting for over 20 years, worked as a drama teacher in a public high school and is the founder and Executive Director of a thriving, neighborhood 501(c)3 educational non-profit youth theatre on the South Shore. She currently teaches film acting at Emerson College and Boston Arts Academy and has appeared as guest lecturer on the film industry and acting at Brandeis University, UMass Boston, and other area colleges. She is a member of Emerson College’s Alumni Board of Directors, and a former board member of the Massachusetts Production Coalition.