LITERACY ARTS Re-defining young minds

ShalomIsrael Diggs is an incredibly talented artist and dancer with whom I had the pleasure of interviewing recently.  ShalomIsrael is the Founder of AlphaKey Art & Dance Youth Workshops.  She created her company two years ago.  AlphaKey centers around WordART workshops for children, integrating dance and craft arts with words.  She believes this not only helps children gain a greater understanding of what words mean, but also forges a deeper connection between the participants themselves.  It highlights a sense of giving back as well as opening up and allowing kids to see their world from a different perspective.  

KS: What is WordART and why did you create it?
SD: WordART is defined as integrating shapes and colors with different words. I created it because for me, my study of art, as in depth as it was, I have so many interests that my fascination and obsession with words was enough for me to create something that I felt was profound, that I felt was impactful. Mixing words with anything multiplies the power of whatever it is.

ShalomIsrael takes the letters of the alphabet and connects a word with each letter. She believes today's society is a bit more complex for kids, and thus wanted to expand their vocabulary to understand bigger words and perhaps issues.  Her mother, Marcia Berry, often joins her in the workshops. Together they use the alphabet to create words kids can easily learn and adopt in positive ways.  Words get introduced through an art or dance activity that aids the children's understanding of its definition. She uses movement for words that are simplified and art for the words that are more complex. 

ShalomIsrael and Marcia start by having kids define the words in their own way,  then show them the dictionary definition of the word and a sample sentence of how it is used.  For example, the letter L is love and the arts and crafts activity incorporates kids making two bracelets, one for themselves and one for someone else, to symbolize the love they have for themselves and for others. 

How kids respond to her workshops depends on the age group. The younger kids (pre-k to 1st grade) tend to be less self-conscious when it comes to dancing and the older kids are more vocal in their expressions of gratification.

SD: If you take art and put words into it, it multiplies the power because up until the words are there, people will interpret it how they see fit, but when I add words to it, I dictate what I want them to get from it or what I want them to consider, and spreading a message within the art.

The end result of a workshop is a creative piece of artwork that encompasses each child's interpretation of what they learned and their participatory experience.  The workshop also reminds kids of how powerful and beneficial dance is, hopefully inspiring a continuation of the art form as they grow older. 

ShalomIsrael was a dance major in college doing work study when a colleague noticed that she liked to doodle. That colleague mentioned going into graphic design which inspired her to pursue it along with visual arts and painting. She also took a typography class in college that she found to be very fun, in that it presented many ways to change the appearance of words by experimenting with varying fonts. 

SD: I tend to be very pensive when I’m creating art; it’s just a great way for me to get out certain feelings or certain concepts that I feel are universal or that I live my life by.

She is the youngest of five children and while she didn’t have a background of taking care of those younger than her, she found herself comfortable in and gravitating toward leadership roles in high school. Her jobs have mostly centered around teaching dance to those younger than her. She then felt that teaching is what she is meant to do and that it’s her calling.  She wanted to give back to young people and enhance children’s education.

ShalomIsrael’s future goal is to “streamline the workshops to reach the maximum amount of children” and "to have AlphaKey in as many schools nationally and internationally because I believe there’s power in connection”.   She plans to do this through travel and the use of technology.  She has hosted her workshops throughout her home base of NYC and most recently in Miami. She has a connection to South Africa and is scheduled to bring the workshop to Argentina later this year. She hopes to connect different communities through art and dance by having kids create a project that can be donated to another community.   ShalomIsrael will travel with  kids' projects made here in the States to rural Argentina, and in turn share works from Argentina with children here in the States, or as part of another international workshop.  Connecting kids from societies and cultures opens their eyes to diversity, inspires thinking outside the box, and encourages inquisitiveness and empathy.

Art and dance is tied to the impact of words and importance of connection.  ShalomIsrael's mission to empower our youth community through literacy arts aligns supremely with our own pursuit of encouraging the re-thinking and re-defining of our experiences and views.  



Contributing from New York






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