Gitana puts focus on community’s youth

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In 1995, a group of Afghan women escaped the Taliban and journeyed to America for a better life. It was here in St. Louis where this group discovered Gitana Productions – a nonprofit, multidisciplinary arts and education program that utilizes music, dance and drama to provide the St. Louis community with a healthy outlet for expression. Gitana Productions has given these Afghan women, as well as numerous other racially diverse groups, an emotional safe haven and a channel through which to tell their stories.

“While doing outreach with Carpenter Branch Library, I learned of the conflicts and misunderstandings that occurred between African American and Immigrant Youth, and often between different refugee groups such as the Bosnians and Gypsies,” said Cecilia Nadal, founder of Gitana Productions.

The organization was established in 1996 as an effort by Nadal to bring a global vision of the arts to St. Louis. Nadal had the idea that a cross-cultural awareness and appreciation for diversity could help St. Louis in future progression efforts. The program has seen immense growth since its establishment, and in 2008 it introduced St. Louis to an artistic version of a youth-outreach program. Through this community arts project, Global Education through the Arts, Gitana promotes an intercultural competence among the economically-challenged youth living in South St. Louis.

Global Education through the Arts is a 16-week after-school program that gives these students the opportunity to explore St. Louis’s artistic side by taking fieldtrips to dance and musical productions, radio and television stations, museums, theaters and festivals. With the ultimate goal of providing team-building, conflict resolution, cross-cultural communication and social skills to these youth, the project engages these ethnically diverse kids in the fields of dance, poetry and drama.

Through the program, Nadal hoped to discipline the youth to work as a team and bring about cultural acceptance. It provides almost 8 hours of weekly training in drama, leadership and dance to 100 kids.

The program is free-of-charge to those students wishing to participate and offers transportation support to those in need, thanks to financial support from various funders, a few being the Missouri Arts Council and Monsanto Fund.

Those participants that successfully complete the 16-week program then have the opportunity to help with one of Gitana’s professional main stage productions. This year’s performance, “Living the Dream: 50 Years and Beyond”, is written by SLU’s own fine and performing arts professor Lee Chiles.

It is a 45-minute performance that features music, drama and dance to bring about a message of nonviolence. The play will be held throughout the month of February.

Senior SLU student and narrator for the play Roberto Hernandez has worked with some of the students involved and seen the value of the program.

“The kids that I’ve met and worked with are amazing,” said Hernandez. “Coming from similar grade school situations as many of them, I’d have liked to be a part of a comparable program when I was growing up.”

The productions that Gitana performs also serve to bring attention to humanitarian issues. Gitana aims to open St. Louisians’ eyes to things such as the crisis in Darfur, the life of Afghan women in St. Louis and the domestic violence in the South Asian community.