From L to R: Recent alumni Anastassia Rabajille, Andi Rivas, and Khrystyan Martinez with seniors A.J. Ramos and Luke Martinez in front of an altar (Photo credit: John Sigmund)

Guest post from Alliance staffer John Sigmund, Manager of National Programs

“It makes me feel legit,” exclaimed SAY Sí senior Emileigh Potter about her Silver Key for Film that she keeps pinned with pride on her wallet. SAY Sí (San Antonio Youth Yes!), the Regional Art Affiliate for San Antonio, TX has a long history of making students feel legitimate by immersing them in a community of learning that develops their original perspective and personal vision. For this reason, over the past several years, many SAY Sí students have earned Regional and National Scholastic Art Awards.

SAY Sí is a year-round, long-term, tuition-free nonprofit arts program that serves nearly 200 students in grades 6 through 12 from over 70 different schools in the greater San Antonio area. Even though more than half of the students come from lower income families, 100% of the students go on to attend college.

Since the program’s founding in 1994 with only 12 students, SAY Sí has grown tremendously and gained national recognition for its outstanding model of success. In 2002, SAY Sí earned the prestigious “Coming Up Taller Award” from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. This year, the program received a Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for $525,000 and an additional $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the High School Visual Art Program, which received national media attention in the Huffington Post Arts Section!

Before joining the staff of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, I spent two years working as the College & Career Coordinator at SAY Sí. Last month, I had the pleasure of returning to San Antonio to visit the program during its annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration called, Muertitos Fest. Each fall, the young artists at SAY Sí create projects related to their own ethnic roots and to the cultural traditions of Mexico, which are so closely tied to the history and people of San Antonio.

The SAY Sí building goes through many stunning transformations with each exhibition, but the space is even more vibrant and energetic during Muertitos Fest. The air smells of tortillas, pan dulce, and incense; the expansive space rings with the joyous sounds of accordion notes, folklorico footsteps, and lotería cheers; and the walls are enlivened by papel picado, calavera prints, calacas, and other student art paying homage to Dia del los Muertos folk art traditions.

One of the highlights of the festival are the video altars created by the media students, which combine time-honored traditions and new technology. The beautiful assemblages honor the lives of deceased family members through customary elements such as candles and pan de muertos (bread of the dead) as well as personalized ofrendas (offerings) that represent a life well lived including photographs, alcohol, food, flowers, and jewelry. The centerpiece at the top is a small TV screen displaying a short documentary video with narration, family interviews, and footage memorializing the lives of loved ones. These video altars are a kind of metaphor for SAY Sí itself – an organization that respects the beauty and value of tradition, yet always looks for new and innovative forms of expression to equip students with creative thinking and professional skills for the 21st century.

“It makes me feel legit,” exclaimed SAY Sí senior Emeleigh Potter about her Silver Key for Film that she keeps pinned with pride on her wallet. SAY Sí (San Antonio Youth Yes!), the Regional Art Affiliate for San Antonio, TX has a long history of making students feel legitimate by immersing them in a community of learning that develops their original perspective and personal vision. For this reason, over the past several years, many SAY Sí students have earned Regional and National Scholastic Art Awards.

SAY Sí is a year-round, long-term, tuition-free nonprofit arts program that serves nearly 200 students in grades 6 through 12 from over 70 different schools in the greater San Antonio area. Even though more than half of the students come from lower income families, 100% of the students go on to attend college.

Since the program’s founding in 1994 with only 12 students, SAY Sí has grown tremendously and gained national recognition for its outstanding model of success. In 2002, SAY Sí earned the prestigious “Coming Up Taller Award” from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. This year, the program received a Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for $525,000 and an additional $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the High School Visual Art Program, which received national media attention in the Huffington Post Arts Section!

Before joining the staff of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, I spent two years working as the College & Career Coordinator at SAY Sí. Last month, I had the pleasure of returning to San Antonio to visit the program during its annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration called, Muertitos Fest. Each fall, the young artists at SAY Sí create projects related to their own ethnic roots and to the cultural traditions of Mexico, which are so closely tied to the history and people of San Antonio.

The SAY Sí building goes through many stunning transformations with each exhibition, but the space is even more vibrant and energetic during Muertitos Fest. The air smells of tortillas, pan dulce, and incense; the expansive space rings with the joyous sounds of accordion notes, folklorico footsteps, and lotería cheers; and the walls are enlivened by papel picado, calavera prints, calacas, and other student art paying homage to Dia del los Muertos folk art traditions.

One of the highlights of the festival are the video altars created by the media students, which combine time-honored traditions and new technology. The beautiful assemblages honor the lives of deceased family members through customary elements such as candles and pan de muertos (bread of the dead) as well as personalized ofrendas (offerings) that represent a life well lived including photographs, alcohol, food, flowers, and jewelry. The centerpiece at the top is a small TV screen displaying a short documentary video with narration, family interviews, and footage memorializing the lives of loved ones. These video altars are a kind of metaphor for SAY Sí itself – an organization that respects the beauty and value of tradition, yet always looks for new and innovative forms of expression to equip students with creative thinking and professional skills for the 21st century.

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