Expression, reflection in artistic partnership

The North Philadelphia Youth Advisory Council, part of Temple Contemporary, helps five local high school students examine community issues through artwork.

Philadelphia high school students involved in NYPAC meet in an office in Temple Contemporary to plan an anti-bullying workshop. | KARA MILSTEIN TTN
Philadelphia high school students involved in NYPAC meet in an office in Temple Contemporary to plan an anti-bullying workshop. | KARA MILSTEIN TTN

Juan Hurtado was thrilled the day his portfolio was reviewed by the Tyler School of Art.

“It went awesome,” Hurtado said. “[The reviewer] is like, ‘I’ve never seen anyone who has such grasp over so many mediums.’”

Hurtado is a graduate of the North Philadelphia Youth Advisory Council which, through Temple Contemporary, aims to help five high school students in North Philadelphia examine issues in their communities.

The Philadelphia Foundation recently gave NPYAC a $40,000 grant.

Hurtado and other members of last year’s group explored issues surrounding two themes: government controversies and inner beauty. Though the program usually analyzes topics through art, this year’s group decided to take a different direction: bullying in schools.

The students plan to set up workshops in local middle schools. Sarah Stearns, the director of the youth council, explained that the workshops will be designed to tackle the problem of bullying from “all sides.”

“Kids who don’t necessarily know how to handle their anger, they are going to be trying to teach them anger management skills,” said Stearns, a 2014 graduate of Temple. “For the victims of bullying – they want to offer them tools to deal with their feelings.”

Stearns said the $40,000 award from the Philadelphia Foundation will allow NPYAC to continue operating.

 “We didn’t really have any funding at all for this year, so [the grant] was an essential piece of it,” Stearns said.

The grant also allowed Stearns to hire Aida Villanueva, another graduate of NPYAC, as her assistant.

 “I was pretty ecstatic to even get the position,” Villanueva said. “I love being in this type of environment.”

Hurtado is not the only former member of the council considering studying at Temple. Villanueva’s experience with NPYAC has made her interested in attending the university.

“I can definitely say that, as a college, I probably didn’t have any interest before coming to the Youth Council,” Villanueva, now a senior in high school, said. “I actually have a lot of interest in [Temple] now.”

Stearns and Villanueva do not set the agenda for the five students that are admitted to the program – instead, students select the topics they want to investigate and how they want to approach them.

This year, Pepon Osorio, a Tyler School of Art professor, is organizing events and exhibits that honor Fairhill Elementary School, which was one of the schools closed by the School District of Philadelphia in 2013.

Students are chosen based on their promise, leadership, confidence and forward-thinking traits, said Robert Blackson, the director of Tyler School of Art’s Department of Exhibitions and Public Programs.

The grant will allow NPYAC to expand from five students to eight students next year, as well as help students take trips to places in Philadelphia, Blackson said, starting with a tour of the Academy of Natural Sciences which took place on Jan. 30.

Budget cuts by the School District of Philadelphia have rendered some schools without full-time art and music teachers.

“I feel like it takes a lot of creativity away from kids [when they do not have art classes],” Villanueva said.

Hurtado struggled to pursue his passion for art at Samuel S. Fels High School, located in Northeast Philadelphia, until NPYAC provided him with the opportunity.

“I was the only person that I knew in high school that was really invested in art,” Hurtado said. “The place was a desert for artistic development. Meeting the people in this program helped me expand my horizons.”

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at

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