"Marrow aims to empower teens to take ownership over their education"
Dalyn Allis Lambi, MA'12
I moved to Portland, Oregon in November 2013, after graduating from RISD and living in NYC for about a year. I was craving fresh air and a more supportive arts community (both of which we have in abundance out here). This past summer I founded Marrow - a teen education space in St Johns, Portland’s northernmost neighborhood.
After two successful art shows and a highly attended reading by local authors, we’re just beginning our first month of programming; which will include several arts workshops, a yoga and meditation class, and an introduction to electronics.Marrow’s mission is, “to empower teens to take ownership over their education & to foster a community of youth who are visually, socially and culturally literate”. We welcome all teens, whether they’re enrolled in public or private school, are homeschoolers, un-schoolers, recent graduates or dropouts. Our teens are artists, athletes, theater dorks, class clowns, activists, shy, loud, passionate and at times unsure. We are not specifically an arts space. When people ask if we are, I tend to explain that our focus is on community, social justice and creative practice - which can take the form of artistic expression, but can also include simply exploring topics in new ways.
We are not specifically an arts space. When people ask if we are, I tend to explain that our focus is on community, social justice and creative practice - which can take the form of artistic expression, but can also include simply exploring topics in new ways. The way that Marrow will operate is based heavily on the research from my master’s thesis, which looked at engagement in alternative, education spaces, and why teens seem to be so much more willing and able to invest their energy in non-school environments. I found that some of the factors at play in all of the successful programs were: a nonhierarchical learning environment, operating as a “third space”, programming that is not only innovative and relevant to teens’ interests but also provides pathways to their futures, and access to a diverse community of engaged, working adults.
Teens can choose their level of engagement at Marrow - they can attend programming à la carte, register as a student (which gives them access to the entire season’s programming) or apply to be a member, which grants them free access to all of Marrow’s programming for the duration of their membership, but comes with additional responsibilities and a degree of ownership over what Marrow evolves into. Both students and members receive mentorship, advising, and a course on current cultural topics (optional for students but mandatory for members). Programming, whether it’s a one-off workshop, recurring class, lecture, art show, open mic or other event - is all led by volunteers from Portland’s community. Anyone with knowledge and passion for their work may lead a workshop, regardless of age or teaching experience. We invite our students to get to know the leaders, and to actively question the sources of their knowledge and viewpoints. Our programming is always sliding scale, which is important because St Johns is one of the lower income neighborhoods in the area, and we really want to serve the community that we’re in.
As I mentioned, this is only our first month of true operation, so it’s hard to predict how many teens know about us and want to be involved, but so far the response has been great! We are running a partnership program with our neighborhood’s high school (which is a block away), so once a week a class of sophomores comes to Marrow and we cater programming specifically around their interests. The hope is that a few of them will eventually actually lead their own workshop (even if it’s just for their class).
You can read more about Marrow (or make a donation, if you’d like to support the work we’re doing!) at http://marrowpdx.org Right now our staff (myself and two others coming on board soon) are all unpaid. You can also follow us on most social media sites, as @MarrowPDX