Every day hundreds of students walk through our campus to develop creative skills and explore their imagination. Our dedicated and passionate volunteers are an essential part of making Inner-City Arts a safe, creative, and collaborative environment for young people.
We took the time to talk to Micah Lewis, a freelance character design and storyboard artist, who has been volunteering with Learning and Achieving Through the Arts program for the past three years. Micah shared what the students have taught him at Inner-City Arts, what brings him back year after year, and his advice for new volunteers.
What inspired you to volunteer at Inner-City Arts?
I’m the oldest of five and my mother works in the school system. When I was growing up, she also had a daycare at the house. I’ve always been surrounded and inspired by children.
I heard from a coworker who had been volunteering here about this place that helps kids that don’t have art in school. It made me think of a time when I was in the public school system in Boston where I grew up. We did not have art. I’ve always thought that if I had a better outlet with art, I probably would have been further career-wise. I think of kids as small versions of me.
What’s great about art is that there is no right or wrong. For kids, it’s really important to know that there isn’t a wrong way to do something. That spoke to me.
What have the students taught you?
I always learn patience, composure, honesty, and being relatable. I’m pretty much a big kid myself and a lot of the conversations I have with the students are really funny. We talk about cartoons and Pokémon, but we also talk about the bullying some of the students are facing in school. This month, a kid was having an issue with bullying and talked to me about it. Those small conversations are key moments that shape us in the long run.
Being able to be there for those moments super early is so important – to let children know that hey, it’s going to get better and Inner-City Arts is a safe environment to explore being emotional. Art gives you all of that.
What has been the biggest surprise about volunteering at Inner-City Arts?
That I really like ceramics! Before this year, I did not like clay at all. I do character design and storyboarding for animation as my job and would always volunteer in media arts. This fall, animation was full so I had to volunteer in ceramics.
There is a calmness that comes with just shaping things with your hands. And seeing how students interpret shapes and forms as they make sculptures has inspired me. The kids are always making something for somebody else too. That’s something that I’ve noticed. “Oh, this is for my dog so he can drink more water” or “This is for my mom because she always loses her keys.” They think about other people and think outside of the box.
Do you have a favorite memory of working in the studios?
My very first day! We were sitting around a table and introducing ourselves in animation class. One of the kids asked me what my favorite Pokémon was and if I like fried chicken. I thought, “Why is he asking me that?” Then he said, “Because whoever likes fried kitchen is my bestttttt friend.” It such an amazing, funny moment and I remember thinking to myself that volunteering at Inner-City Arts was going to be an awesome experience every single day. And it has.
I made something one time in the studios with the students and it did not come out like I wanted it to. It was okay for them to see that — to see that it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to. Because I learned what to do for the next time. I made a mistake, but it wasn’t horrible — it was just an adjustment. We learned from it.
What would you say to a first-time Inner-City Arts volunteer?
Enjoy each moment and listen to the kids — listening to them will help you understand how to interact with them. Always observe how the interact with each other and with you.
Just listen because you’ll learn a lot. Just by listening.