This former theater kid now helms a youth development organization that preaches the power of creative arts – and of finding your voice.
By now, we know what creative arts can offer to young people’s lives, and taking center stage is Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit. Its varied programming is meant to fuel artistic development, but also self-expression. DeLashea Strawder, Mosaic executive and artistic director, says, “We are a creative youth development organization supporting young people in the Detroit area, helping them to thrive, empowering them with the tools that they need to activate their voices to excel on stage and in life.”
Mosaic Youth Theatre hosts tiered, age-tailored programs of increasing intensity allowing young people to cultivate creative skills and, Strawder says, “really hone in on the story they want to tell and synthesize as they grow older.” The popular Youth Ensembles are year-long programs for which auditions are held once or twice a year. “As you participate in the program, your leadership training, your college and career pathways, and your artistic skills development continues to grow with you,” she says.
Mosaic also offers summer camps, school residencies, and apprenticeships and internships that teach backstage tech, art administration and entrepreneurship. “We’re a college-positive culture,” Strawder says. “We want young people to be able to see themselves in a variety of different career paths, and have access to the education and mentorship that they need to pursue their chosen destiny. In our nearly 30-year history, young people who have participated in our Youth Ensembles program, 95% of them have gone on to college, graduating high school on time.”
In years past, Mosaic Youth Theatre held two large performances annually at the Detroit Institute of Arts and one concert at the Redford Theatre. They also invited the public into the Mosaic space for intimate and interactive black box performances. Of course, COVID forced them to pivot toward virtual programming, which, Strawder says, they co-designed with their young people. In the process, she says they’ve discovered a deeper appreciation for what Mosaic means to their young members’ social and emotional health.
A positive: they’ve been able to reimagine their alumni engagement, “sticking closer to the young people in our program as they transition from high school through their college career.” This time has also enabled them to create more networking opportunities between their youth and likeminded creatives throughout the country.
Strawder moved into the role of executive and artistic director in July 2019, but she’s been involved with Mosaic Youth Theatre in a leadership capacity for more than a decade, and, before that, she was a student of its programs. She attended Detroit Public Schools and enjoyed an arts education from elementary onward, graduating from Detroit School of Arts.
“In my high school career, I had the opportunity to really learn more about the power of my own voice as I participated in Mosaic. And, so, I came back because I wanted to be a part of ensuring that young people had a safe space to connect, create, and really embrace the power of who they are and the power of their own voices,” Strawder says.
She says Mosaic has plans to reintroduce in-person programming this summer. Look out for entirely outdoor summer camps happening in July at no cost to families, with admission granted through a lottery system. Strawder says they’re still firming up the locations, but expect a two-week camp on Detroit’s east side, a two-week camp on the west side and a three- to four-week program in the Brightmoor area.
They’ll also pilot “mobile micro camps,” bringing performances and condensed camps into neighborhoods. And New Voices Detroit is back this summer, which pairs young playwrights and composers with professional coaches who help them bring their ideas to life.
“Detroit has a rich history of artistic legacy,” Strawder says, creating works that often spotlight issues that deserve attention on a larger scale. She says, “93% of the young people that are participating in our program are young people of color. I experienced directly the impact that the arts can have on helping to embrace who you are, ignite your own voice, and really build agency in the community and what you’d like to see in it.”
For more information on Mosaic Youth Theatre or to get involved, visit mosaicdetroit.org.