Amos Levy once asked a local student about his high school's music program. "I go to Peabody," the student told Levy. "We don't got nothing. I guess if you consider banging on the tables in the lunch room a music program -- that's about what we've got."
That's precisely why Levy, along with a handful of Carnegie Mellon faculty members and local hip-hop artists and producers, maintains the Arts Greenhouse, an after-school hip-hop education program that helps low-income and minority teens pursue their artistic visions.
At the Arts Greenhouse, founded in 2003 by CMU professors Riccardo Schulz and Judith Schachter, teens can create their own beats using recording and production facilities at CMU's School of Music. In addition to open studio hours every Saturday, during which teens can get help from music-department affiliates and local artists such as J. Armstead Brown and Luqman Abdus-salaam, the Arts Greenhouse holds lectures and workshops, mostly coordinated by Abdus-salaam, on specific topics relevant to hip hop.
"We recently did a workshop on women in hip hop, which dealt with objectification and misogyny, but also with empowerment within the context of hip hop," Levy says.
The program focuses on hip hop as a way to reach kids where they already are and use their interests to help them realize their potential. "There's a strong affinity for hip hop among the kids we're trying to serve," Levy notes. "Hip hop tends to be a good tool for getting voices out there that might otherwise not be heard."
While the program encourages a positive attitude in the music the teens make, the instructors don't shy away from dealing with all sides of hip-hop culture. "We don't just talk about Talib Kweli and Mos Def," Levy explains. "We also talk about artists like Lil Wayne." Rather than push only certain aspects of hip hop on the teens who attend the sessions, the instructors look to empower them to listen to what they prefer -- but interpret it critically.
Levy, a CMU grad who works the clubs as DJ Thermos, also provides hands-on turntable instruction through the program with the help of DJ Mary Mack; the two recently trained teen DJs for the Andy Warhol Museum's Youth Invasion event.
The Arts Greenhouse participates in occasional concerts to showcase the teens' abilities; the next one, featuring talents from Peabody High School, takes place Fri., May 21, at the Union Project in Highland Park. For more information on the program, visit pghbeatmakers.com.