Access to the Arts: Spotlight on Totem Star

access_for_allOn August 1st, King County voters will have a chance to vote for Proposition 1, also known as Access for All. This fund would provide arts, science, and heritage organizations like KEXP with significant new resources to sustain existing programs, greatly expand free and reduced-price access to programming, and create new long-term partnerships with King County public schools and school districts. Access for All would be paid for with a .1% sales tax levy (1 penny on every $10 spent) which would cost the average King County household about $3 per month. If a majority of King County voters approve it, Prop 1 will create a new fund for arts, science, and heritage education and access for residents and public school students. Over the next week, we’ll be spotlighting a few of the other local organizations who will also see an impact from Prop 1, like today’s profile on Totem Star.

Totem Star originated in 2010 as a mobile recording studio based in South Seattle, who put together a compilation created by an unlikely group of new artists: youth just released from juvenile detention. Since then, Totem Star has become a full-fledged nonprofit record label that provides young artists with a safe and encouraging environment to explore their creativity. Based out of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle, they invite kids to compose and record original musical works, perform at events they help plan, promote, and produce, and receive mentorship from touring artists and music industry professionals. We chatted with the organization’s co-founder, Daniel Pak:

Over the past year, what are some of your organization’s highlights in education, events, or programs for Seattle?
Over the last year, our biggest milestone was releasing the Resistance Mixtape on June 16 at our third annual Summer Kickoff youth arts showcase. The mixtape represents the original songs and poems recorded by youth in our studio at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center from December 2013 through April 2017. Coincidentally, we dropped the mixtape just as we hit the 1,000 youth served mark, which was also a huge milestone for us.

On the education front, we’ve been able to partner with the Southwest Interagency Academy to deliver our three core programs — The Studio, The Stage, and The Story — to their students, who receive arts credit towards graduation. There has been so much positive transformation, both individually and in the overall culture of the school. Many of the students, including those about to turn 18 and graduate, have never taken an arts class before discovering Totem Star, which shows the inequity and the arts education gap. Totem Star gives young people the opportunity to express and amplify their musical ideas, both in the studio and on stage, and they receive culturally relevant mentorship from touring artists and music industry pros who come in as guest panelists. Past guests include Prometheus Brown (Blue Scholars), SassyBlack (THEESatisfaction), Justo (The Physics), Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest), and Wil-Dog Abers (Ozomatli).

What key aspect of your org’s work do most people in King County probably not realize?
Every young person who steps into the threshold of our studio at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center receives the same orientation: “Welcome to the family.” And we mean it. Totem Star is all about lifelong relationships with our young recording artists, many of whom we’ve now known for close to ten years and who are coming back to give back. We provide a safe and encouraging space for young people to be creative, tell their stories, and speak their minds on the issues that mean most to them — identity, politics, race, social justice, trauma, and a whole lot more. Music is our common language and culture, and teaching life skills in creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking is our goal. Totem Star is a life-changing experience for our young people, and we are humbled to be entrusted with this work.

What would passage of Proposition 1 mean for Totem Star?
As a small arts organization (our FY 2016-2017 annual operating budget was $91,289 including in-kind donations) with two teaching artists and one staff member (1.5 FTE total) and just two small rooms to do all of our programming, we have accomplished so much with so little, which is just not practical. We’ve developed strong relationships with over 1,100 young people through our studio, stage, and mentorship programs since our start in 2010. If we could increase our annual operating budget by just $25k, we could double the number of youth served by hiring additional teaching artists, adding more studio hours, and adding more events across the city.

To learn more about Totem Star, and how you can help amplify Seattle youth through donation of funds or services, visit their website here. You can also follow them on Twitter, Soundcloud, and YouTube.


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