Cuala Foundation works to support creative youth and stem the global epidemic of mental and emotional distress and suicide. We co-create new systems of community self-care through projects that connect people more deeply with themselves, each other, and the place where they live through culture. Our programs develop opportunities for creative youth to learn and develop cultural skills that will support them to obtain meaningful work, earn a living, and have affordable housing in the place where they grew up. 

Cuala's LES Collective 2020 marks the third year of Cuala's work on the Lower East Side through a collaborative strategy that involves cultural development programs, community wealth building, regenerative development and design, and social enterprise. For Cuala, culture is defined as "how we pass the time together". 

Since settlers arrived on this place of seven tribes four hundred years ago, the LES has been teeming with diverse cultures, creative movements and stories of struggle and resilience. But in recent years this Manhattan neighborhood known for it's outstanding creativity had been losing its culture: between 2008 and 2017 almost 4,000 artists and arts-related businesses disappeared from the Lower East Side and footfall was greatly reduced. A normal shopfront vacancy rate would be 5%, however on the Lower East Side it was 15% in late 2019. Just like retail, cultural and community space has become a rare commodity. Opportunities for creative youth were diminished, and with 23% of the inhabitants here living in poverty, mental and emotional distress was rising at an alarming rate.

Our programs target creative older teens and young adults who live in (whether in a home, shelter or homeless), or care about the neighborhood. Together we'll work collaboratively, prioritizing people, what we value, and what we want for the creative, resilient, self-reliant community we are becoming. Through practical workshops the young participants will gain unique skills, the first steps of a cultural apprenticeship program designed to support them to earn a living wage and be able to afford living independently in the place where they grew up.

As with our previous programs, the participants will help shape the direction of the series of talks, workshops, screenings and sessions with local activists and historians giving deeper insight into how the place they live has evolved. We will learn more about the extraordinary people who lived in the neighborhood and helped shape its unique culture, and how their creativity helped them not just to survive experiences like this, but to thrive. And we'll make exciting new work from these stories.

MUSIC PROJECT: It's been ten years since Cuala founder and director Susan McKeown conceived, arranged and produced Songs from the East Village that was featured on NPR and raised $25,000 for the East Village Community School. In 2020, SONGS FROM THE LOWER EAST SIDE will expand on that project, facilitating young Lower East Side voices to write, record and release an album of original songs. 

MUSICAL THEATRE PROJECT: The Lower East Side has a strong musical theatre tradition: we will collaboratively write a play with music and dance about the neighborhood based on the experiences of youth living there today and informed by the stories of those who lived there in the past. This project will involve workshops and classes in music performance, writing and dance.

PHOTOGRAPHY & PRINT: Participants will learn photography and print techniques and process, and create a body of work from their own lived experience of the Lower East Side and grounded in the principles of mindfulness.

FASHION & DESIGN: Participants will collaborate with industry experts to develop designs and acquire skills and experience in the process.

GOOD MEDICINE: Participants in this program learn through films, workshops and demonstrations about Indigenous food and traditions as well as those that different immigrant groups brought with them to the Lower East Side. It will move on to explore regenerative development and planning for the neighborhood e.g. plans for growing food (in shared lots and on roofs) and a restaurant that is also a social enterprise giving employment to local youth and people who have been living homeless.

We will have musical instruments, arts supplies, books and other cultural items delivered to participants' homes to facilitate their participation in online classes in music performance, writing, filmmaking, art, design and other cultural skills that will be developed throughout this stay-at-home period and beyond. 

At its conclusion, LES Collective will culminate in performances and exhibitions in public art spaces on New York's Lower East Side.

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Cuala Collective 2020

by Cuala Foundation


Cuala Foundation works to support creative youth and stem the global epidemic of mental and emotional distress and suicide. We co-create new systems of community self-care through projects that connect people more deeply with themselves, each other, and the place where they live through culture. Our programs develop opportunities for creative youth to learn and develop cultural skills that will support them to obtain meaningful work, earn a living, and have affordable housing in the place where they grew up. 

Cuala's LES Collective 2020 marks the third year of Cuala's work on the Lower East Side through a collaborative strategy that involves cultural development programs, community wealth building, regenerative development and design, and social enterprise. For Cuala, culture is defined as "how we pass the time together". 

Since settlers arrived on this place of seven tribes four hundred years ago, the LES has been teeming with diverse cultures, creative movements and stories of struggle and resilience. But in recent years this Manhattan neighborhood known for it's outstanding creativity had been losing its culture: between 2008 and 2017 almost 4,000 artists and arts-related businesses disappeared from the Lower East Side and footfall was greatly reduced. A normal shopfront vacancy rate would be 5%, however on the Lower East Side it was 15% in late 2019. Just like retail, cultural and community space has become a rare commodity. Opportunities for creative youth were diminished, and with 23% of the inhabitants here living in poverty, mental and emotional distress was rising at an alarming rate.

Our programs target creative older teens and young adults who live in (whether in a home, shelter or homeless), or care about the neighborhood. Together we'll work collaboratively, prioritizing people, what we value, and what we want for the creative, resilient, self-reliant community we are becoming. Through practical workshops the young participants will gain unique skills, the first steps of a cultural apprenticeship program designed to support them to earn a living wage and be able to afford living independently in the place where they grew up.

As with our previous programs, the participants will help shape the direction of the series of talks, workshops, screenings and sessions with local activists and historians giving deeper insight into how the place they live has evolved. We will learn more about the extraordinary people who lived in the neighborhood and helped shape its unique culture, and how their creativity helped them not just to survive experiences like this, but to thrive. And we'll make exciting new work from these stories.

MUSIC PROJECT: It's been ten years since Cuala founder and director Susan McKeown conceived, arranged and produced Songs from the East Village that was featured on NPR and raised $25,000 for the East Village Community School. In 2020, SONGS FROM THE LOWER EAST SIDE will expand on that project, facilitating young Lower East Side voices to write, record and release an album of original songs. 

MUSICAL THEATRE PROJECT: The Lower East Side has a strong musical theatre tradition: we will collaboratively write a play with music and dance about the neighborhood based on the experiences of youth living there today and informed by the stories of those who lived there in the past. This project will involve workshops and classes in music performance, writing and dance.

PHOTOGRAPHY & PRINT: Participants will learn photography and print techniques and process, and create a body of work from their own lived experience of the Lower East Side and grounded in the principles of mindfulness.

FASHION & DESIGN: Participants will collaborate with industry experts to develop designs and acquire skills and experience in the process.

GOOD MEDICINE: Participants in this program learn through films, workshops and demonstrations about Indigenous food and traditions as well as those that different immigrant groups brought with them to the Lower East Side. It will move on to explore regenerative development and planning for the neighborhood e.g. plans for growing food (in shared lots and on roofs) and a restaurant that is also a social enterprise giving employment to local youth and people who have been living homeless.

We will have musical instruments, arts supplies, books and other cultural items delivered to participants' homes to facilitate their participation in online classes in music performance, writing, filmmaking, art, design and other cultural skills that will be developed throughout this stay-at-home period and beyond. 

At its conclusion, LES Collective will culminate in performances and exhibitions in public art spaces on New York's Lower East Side.