“Together, we learn and affect change through art, technology and design thinking.” – Daniel Williams, Executive Director, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology

More than 140 students at West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) are learning how to apply their creative skills to change the world. At the heart of WMCAT’s Teen Arts + Tech Program is using creativity to empower high school kids to affect change in their own communities.

The program offers training in several creative design labs including photography, video game design, audio and video production, ceramics, fashion, sculpture + street and comic art. Working in teams of 12, led by a teaching artist, the students are also encouraged to explore community issues, identify the change they want to see, and design solutions rooted in arts and technology.

“At WMCAT we empower students to make valuable links between creativity, civic engagement, and career” says Daniel Williams, WMCAT’s Executive Director. “Teens learn to advocate for themselves, build social capital, and navigate networks so they can make social and economic progress within their lives and communities.”
When students on the fashion design team chose to explore issues around homelessness and the social impacts for children and families, they met with community partner Family Promise, which helps families in transitional housing. The students then talked with children who were facing homelessness to understand what they were experiencing. They revealed that one of their biggest needs was a way to carry personal possessions or even to have a special toy of their own that would make transitional housing feel more like home.

WMCAT students came up with a three-piece solution: for each child, they created a handy backpack, plus a plush firefly toy that lights up when it’s squeezed, helping ease a child’s fear of being in the dark in a new place. And they included a book they wrote that chronicles a journey through the eyes of a firefly.

“We engage students in a state-of-the-art space and with diverse experiences to give them a platform to express their talents and ideas while exploring new skills and perspectives” says Daniel. “Together, we learn and affect change through art, technology and design thinking.”