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Sharing Your Stories: Totem Star

In light of the recent pandemic, we look forward to sharing positive stories about how our clients and community members are responding. We know this is a challenging time for many, and we are here to support you. We hope that by sharing these very brief stories, others will feel they are not alone. We encourage everyone to lift up one another and share their stories.

Totem Star staff and youth artists pose for a picture at their annual showcase “Winter Magic” earlier this year at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. Photo by Avi Loud.

Totem Star supports a diverse community of young recording artists learning music and life skills through mentorship and meaningful relationships. In early March, they closed their recording studio due to COVID-19 and since have found ways to utilize technology to continue their mission.

“As an organization, we’ve learned so much through these challenging times.

Regarding COVID-19 and the injustices we are seeing happening to the Black community, we need a safe space for our young artists to express themselves and to hold space for one another. We need a safe space to empower our young people’s voices, to hear them, to see them, and to learn from one another. For non-Black folx, we need to constantly reevaluate our privileges and how we can support the Black community through action and education. 

We have also learned A LOT more about how to use technology as a creative tool to stay connected with our Totem Star family. It is quite a learning curve, but we have been able to learn more about how to better utilize our platforms of live streaming and video conferencing technology to be in community with our young artists and to allow for a safe and creative virtual space for them to continue to freely and authentically express themselves. At the same time, we’ve learned there is a strong need for digital equity in education. This is a constant question we are asking ourselves on a daily — how do we reach young people that do not have access to technology, software, and the internet? How can we do better during this time to stay connected with the community and be able to continuously learn collectively?

Through these challenges, we are also learning to give grace to ourselves. We are in a pandemic and there is a lot of adapting that we all must do. A lot of adjusting, a lot of discomfort, a lot of work. However, we can definitely adapt in response to everything that has been happening. We just need to give ourselves grace, patience, kindness, and to remind ourselves of the things we do have and appreciate in our lives at this moment. 

To those in the nonprofit community, we challenge you to think about how can we have a dynamic in our non-profit families that provides support and sees Black folx and allows for non-Black folx to continually learn how to do better, to hold one another accountable, and to unlearn the anti-Blackness that is prevalent in many of our communities? This work is not easy, but this work is necessary if we want to fight for equity. 

How can we collaborate during this time even if our missions are not exactly aligned to create a larger positive impact to this world? How can we create programming to reach young people that may not have access to the internet and yet, we are to remain socially distant from one another? 

There is no better time than now to think about how we want to rebuild the arts & culture community in our city. It is up to us all to work to increase the value proposition of arts & culture. How can we use what we have learned about what is really important to us, especially through this time of fear, isolation, and uncertainty, that can really strike a chord and help us change our collective priorities as a community and society as we move forward?  Arts and culture is critical to how we understand ourselves as individuals and as a society, and we need to nurture it and keep it strong for generations to come.

As we are doing the work to continually provide and sustain arts & cultural spaces, we have to also recognize that on the other side of the fence, developers and investors could be thinking of ways to continually buy out properties and capitalize on this moment. Now is a crucial time for all arts & culture organizations to come together to do a transformative community-wide campaign to increase the value and importance of arts & culture so that we can realize a future where our arts & cultural spaces can continually remain, grow, and thrive.

There is a lot happening in 2020. There is a lot of pain, a lot of struggle, but at the same time, there is a lot of fight and a lot of determination. This year is the year for our country to transform into a society that better serves us. A society that better serves our Black communities, that better serves our young people, that better serves those without access to technology, and that better serves our humanity with true equity and justice.

Let’s continue to do the work in our fight for equity.

Let’s continue to do the work in educating ourselves to do better.

Let’s continue to leverage our privileges to proactively support Black communities. 

And let’s also not forget to take care of ourselves as our self-preservation matters for the sustainability of our work. 

Let’s continue to do the work.”– The Totem Star Family

Learn more about Totem Star and how you can support their mission on their website:

We would love to hear how your organization has been adapting to provide services to your clients and how we can support you during this time. Please reach out to us online here.


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