Viewing entries tagged
Creativity in the Community


Encouraging Students to B*Tru with Aisha Melhem

Encouraging Students to B*Tru with Aisha Melhem

Encourging Students to B*Tru with Aisha Melhem

By Danielle Echols

As a company, we know the value of bringing arts education to our community.  We are so excited when we encounter other organizations that do the same, particularly when these organizations help young people.  It is through art that young people can learn how to interpret the world around them.  They learn valuable skills that will help them both personally and professionally.  There is no greater example of an organization succeeding in this work, than Austin-based nonprofit, B*Tru Arts.

Aisha Melhem is the Artistic Director and Founder B*Tru Arts.  Her multifaceted multicultural organization focuses on using the arts for the betterment of the community.  As a child in Austin she trained in several styles of dance, theatre and voice. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre with an emphasis in acting with honors from St. Edward's University, Austin, Texas in 2008 and a Master of Arts in Theatre with an emphasis in directing from Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas in 2010.  

According to their mission: "B*Tru Arts aims to make a positive impact upon the greater Austin community by creating and providing immersive experiences in the arts. B*Tru Arts carries out its mission by holding public events and showcases, providing high-quality arts education, expanding performance opportunities for local artists and assisting local artists in the production of their works. B*Tru Arts serves to strengthen the local artistic community through hands-on support, artistic and cultural diversity, formal education and interaction with the public."

Recently, Aisha gave us a little insight about her life and why she decided to start the organization.

When did you first recognize your interests in the arts?

When I was 3 years old. I started dancing at the age of three and always loved to sing. I was accidentally placed in an acting class my 6th grade year and continued to take theatre throughout high school and college.  Here's a little more of the story:

I started studying theatre and acting at the age of 11. In fact it was an accident that I was put in theatre class. I signed up for choir and the school put me in theatre. I remember my first theatre teacher Mr. Smith (Dale Smith) and my 2nd theatre teacher Mrs. Alexander. Because of how passionate he was and how great of teacher he was I began to feel the same as he did for theatre and performance. I believe that is when I knew this was for me. I continued on in high school and later in college and graduate school. I started out as an actor and then later developed the love of directing and teaching. I believe my teachers made me love it and I wanted to do the same for others as they did for me.

As a theatre student in under grad and graduate school we studied theatre history, various acting styles and techniques, different directing methods and approaches etc... During and after school I was able to develop my own approach and methodology that incorporates:

-The use of more physicality “actions speak louder than words” as said by Plato

-Emphasis on collaboration/co-creation/originality

-Inspiration from Experimental theatre, such as: “Open Theater” techniques used in creative process

-More emphasis on the creative process-The journey in creating is very important for actors and everyone involved. Theatre is therapeutic.

-This allows the ensemble to discover new things through exercises focusing on high physicality and ensemble building.

-The use of the whole space not just stage, so that the audience feels as if they are part of the world. This can impact more, allow audience to have a visceral reaction, and a better understanding of the (subject, character, culture, etc...)

-Site specific work, street theatre (take performance to the community)

-Taking something traditional and reconstructing it- experimental adaptations (reconstruction of the play is the message it symbolizes the topic that would be presented)

-The use of theatre as a tool to bring awareness of social issues and self-awareness.  The audience will leave thinking about what they just saw and themselves. This will possibly lead to social change and better society.

-Collective theater works with writers, director, and actors to come up with original organic and engaging performance pieces.

When you were in college at St. Edwards University, what type of career did you imagine you would have?

I thought that I would end up teaching college level theatre. I never imagined that I would start a nonprofit.

How did the idea of B*Tru Arts emerge?

I've always been driven by my passion for the arts and my true purpose in life, which is to help others and to educate and inspire the community through the arts as well as promoting positive social change.  It started with the first annual Inspiro Fest and evolved into what it is today.  

I notice B*Tru Arts does a wide range of amazing activities (photography, videography,

performance, screenwriting coverage), why did you decide to incorporate so many different

fields as oppose to focusing on just one?

Through our work we are creating more job opportunities for local artists when we offer a variety of services.  Also, many artists need affordable headshots or actor reels etc...

Through our educational programs, we are not only involved in every single aspect of the development and representation of the arts in its truest form but also allowing true innovation to overflow in that of the individual naturally impacting our community.

Do you feel like the arts teaches self-acceptance? If so, how?

Yes, absolutely! Arts education gives students the opportunity to express themselves creatively and it also creates a safe environment for them to take risks.  It also helps build a sense of ensemble when everyone is working towards the same goal. This creates a sense of secure acceptance and helps the individual feel like they are part of a community. It helps build trust and it also helps develop interpersonal and social skills etc. A lot of what you learn in the arts is applicable to everyday life.

If there was one main lesson students could learn from B*Tru Arts, what would you and your team want that to be?

Always Be True to yourself.

What are some words/advice that have really inspired you throughout your journey?

“You don’t grow in comfort” “Follow your heart” “Never give up” “Just do it”

For more information on B*Tru Arts visit the links below.  They are one of the sponsors for our Acceptance Tour in Austin:

Website: BTru Arts

Facebook: @BTRUARTS

Twitter: @B_TRU_ARTS

Instagram: @btruarts

YouTube: Delusions of Despair


Creativity in the Community: Cultivating Courage and Creativity at Galileo Learning


Creativity in the Community: Cultivating Courage and Creativity at Galileo Learning

Cultivating Courage and Creativity at Galileo Learning

By Jonathan Lazatin

“Developing your child’s innovator’s mindset is really important, no matter what age. Ultimately, for kids to use the knowledge they hold and apply it to any creative process, they need to see themselves as an actor in the world--a changemaker. Being visionary, determined, courageous, collaborative and reflective are elements of the mindset we believe are instrumental.”

As an educator and community builder with Design Dance, I am constantly in pursuit of ways to connect the vast amount of community knowledge to the work we do in fostering connection, courage and self-awareness in our students. Part of this search means finding other organizations doing amazing work expanding educational opportunities for Chicago’s youth. One such organization that’s new to the area, but has been doing this work for a long time in California is Galileo Learning.

Galileo operates over 70 innovation summer camps in locations across the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California and now the Chicagoland area.  They host approximately 25,000 campers each summer--1,500 in their first summer in Chicago alone. During weeklong sessions, campers explore art, science, and outdoors while focusing on instilling the innovator’s mindset, the confidence to create, the self-awareness to follow their own path, and the ability to tackle challenges by learning an innovator’s design process. And, of course having a ridiculous amount of fun. To learn a little more about the ways they cultivate courage and creativity in their campers, we spoke with Tajalli Horvat, the Senior Vice President of Midwest Operations at Galileo.

What makes a courageous and innovative kid?

First, all kids have the capacity to be courageous and innovative. What they define to be courageous looks different for each person. For one kid, sharing their own idea is being courageous. For another, it’s persevering through a challenge. It’s up to the individual to identify what it means to be courageous.  Galileo teaches what they call the Galileo Innovation Approach, or GIA, which has 3 components: knowledge, mindset, and process. Campers learn information and skills in different areas, they practice the various elements of the innovator’s mindset, and use an iterative process to bring an idea to reality.

Developing your child’s innovator’s mindset is really important, no matter what age. Ultimately, for kids to use the knowledge they hold and apply it to any creative process, they need to see themselves as an actor in the world--a changemaker. Being visionary, determined, courageous, collaborative and reflective are elements of the mindset we believe are instrumental.

This doesn’t happen overnight, it takes practice just like anything else. It’s amazing to see what is possible even within a week.

What can parents do to encourage their kids to be innovative?

One thing you can do is praise your child’s effort vs. focusing on the results. For many, it’s an easy default to praise the outcome of something, catching a ball, painting a portrait, or completing a difficult dance move. However, just praising results can have negative consequences as kids can link their value and self-esteem to those results, often relating outcomes to innate ability rather than effort.

You can help your child reflect on their process by praising how hard they worked, how long they stuck with a project, and asking what went right and wrong and what can be done differently next time. This kind of praise can help kids build confidence in their ability to exert effort rather than in having or not having innate abilities. It is also critical to communicate with teachers and school staff to see how effort and process is being praised in their classroom to reinforce this perspective at school and at home. This supports the development of a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset. If you want to learn more about this concept, read Mindset by Carol Dweck.

Another powerful resource is storytelling. You can use examples from your own life that highlight when you’ve made a mistake and learned something from it. Share it with your child. We all know that being a changemaker is not easy and to get to your end goal, you have to persevere through challenges and multiple failures… but this failure can be turned into amazing possibilities and we want kids to know that failure is normal and part of the process.  We want them to try again instead of giving up. There are a lot of great books that also highlight this like, Rosie Revere, Engineer that are great ways to highlight this.

What have you learned about building courage, collaboration and forward thinking?

First, create the right environment for kids. They need a really safe and comfortable space that encourages them to be themselves and express themselves in whatever way is important to them. Second, having the right people to nurture and support that environment. No matter what age a child is, role models are crucial to cheer kids and to be consistently positive, supportive and encouraging while kids experience challenges. Third, being intentional with activities to help develop those skills and mindsets and reinforce them on a daily basis. Finally, help kids think critically by asking questions instead of giving the answers. See yourself as a coach and teacher in the appropriate situation.

There are plenty of ways to cultivate and empower courage and creativity in kids. Parents can enlist the support of programs like Galileo Learning and Design Dance to create these experiences for kids. They can also create spaces at home for making and creation as well. The key is creating an environment that allows kids to feel safe in being themselves, empowers them to be change makers in the world, and encourages them to reflect upon their work so that they can constantly improve. Check out more resources head to The Groove and learn more about our friends at Galileo’s Bright Ideas Blog.

Galileo Learning is on a mission to create a world of fearless innovators and they are constantly looking for people to help make this happen. If you’re a recent college grad, an educator,artist, grad student, tech buff or seasoned professional, Galileo is inviting you to join the team. Check out opportunities on their website.