5 questions with James Miles
This is excerpted from my regular newsletter, Capita Ideas. Subscribe here.
Today I am very pleased to share an interview with James Miles. James is the Executive Director of Arts Corps in Seattle. Arts Corps is a youth arts education organization that works to address the race and income-based opportunity gap in access to arts education. James is an educator, actor, and advocate who has taught at NYU and collaborated with leading theater companies and other arts organizations on their education programs. Before moving to Seattle, he served as the Director of Education at the Urban Arts Partnership in New York City.
JW: There is a sign in your office that says “we change culture through culture.” How does Arts Corps work to do that?
JM: Arts Corps uses youth culture to empower young people to use their voice and speak their minds. Oftentimes, the culture of youth, which is their music, visuals, clothing, wordplay, etc, is ignored and shunned from schools. We embrace how young people have a culture that is unique and valued and we encourage youth expression.
JW: Your own children have had the experience of growing up in both Brooklyn and Seattle. What differences have struck you in terms of how childhood is experienced in those two places?
JM: In Brooklyn public schools, most of the students are of color. In Seattle, most students are white. On a superficial basis, this shouldn’t matter, but because most teachers in Seattle are also white, my children don’t see an adult
that reflects whom they are, or could be, as adults. Studies show that students, regardless of race, learn more from teachers of color, so that is interesting for us, in Seattle. That said, the access to resources, smaller class sizes, and increased opportunity for physical movement, are greater in Seattle, which we all appreciate. Also, there is more ‘outdoorsy’ stuff for my children to experience, which is valuable to young people. In NYC, we saw amazing theatre for young audiences every week. Seattle has limited opportunities for my kids to see TYA, but hopefully, that will change.
JW: Arts Corps has a very clear social justice focus. How can the arts help our children navigate a world of Ferguson, Charlottesville, and the reemergence of racism and white supremacy?
JM: Honesty. Arts Corps doesn’t try to hide the world from young people, but instead finds way to make it understandable for youth K-12. Students create art that reflects their lives, and because of that, students feel a greater sense of belonging in schools, which then increases their academic acuity. As Richard Daley, former Mayor of my hometown, Chicago, said, ‘Politicians don’t bring people together. Artists do.”
JW: What is one book you think we all should read, a podcast we should listen to, or a movie we should watch to better understand America?
JM: One book everyone should read is The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It frames the American experience very well. To better understand the US, everyone should watch, “Luke Cage” on Netflix. We should all listen to ‘DNA’ by Kendrick Lamar.
JW: Looking ahead, what trends do you perceive that make you most hopeful about the future our youngest children will inhabit?
JM: I see young people’s willingness to collaborate and push equity for all. They are the future. We should pay attention to how young people consume social media because that will be the future, of how we educate.