Portland youth realize ambitions with re:active
When Michael Etter left behind his brief career as a teacher, it wasn’t to get away from young people—it was to get closer to them. The activist educator had grown dissatisfied with the increasingly managerial role expected of him as a public school teacher and he longed to make more meaningful connections with youth through creative process. Etter returned to school to study design at Art Center College of Design and during an open semester in 2004, re:active was born.
re:active is a unique non-profit that gives space to and celebrates teenage emotional expression. Inspired by 90’s zine culture, the annual program brings together 13 to 19 year-olds to create a theme-based magazine (titled “re:”) about issues affecting youth. Each year, Etter teams up with diverse partners who possess complementary skills to his own, such as the youth writing program, 826 Valencia. Re: active is also part of Design Ignites Change, a nationwide network of educational projects and mentoring programs working towards social change.
This year’s magazine, re:define Fear, was made by students from Caldera Arts in Portland, Oregon, a nonprofit arts organization started by Dan Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy. One reason Etter chose Caldera Arts as a partner is because the organization has established a long-term mentoring relationship with its students, something Etter believes is necessary to building trust and the ability to be more creative. Fear features submissions from over fifty students, with the overall design steered by a core group of five teens.
According to Etter the highlight of each year is when the work goes from being a mock-up on the wall, to a perfect-bound, brightly printed finished piece that the participants can hold in their hands. “It’s what I do it for,” explains Etter, “they’ll sometimes start with this real cockiness or fear, saying that they want it to be more like this or that. So I say ‘OK, let’s talk about what that means…’ and we do. We take it as a discussion point to go further into talking about visual literacy and getting them to look more closely at the images that are targeted to them every day. When they see the finished work, you can see they’re really changed by the experience. It’s something that can get them into a school and maybe the first time that someone really cared enough about what they had to say to make it beautiful.”