Personal Narrative: Daylynn
Daylynn holds a Master of Arts in Community Art Education from the Rhode Island School of Design, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts through Tufts University. They have taught across the country in both traditional and nontraditional environments. Their Master's thesis work explored why traditional schools do not genuinely engage many young people, and identified fundamental qualities of alternative education spaces where young people are invested not only in learning, but in the mutual aid of their communities as well.
They are passionate about creating non-traditional, interdisciplinary, and intersectional environments that invite young people to question- rather than accept- existing systems. They founded Marrow in 2015, when they were 25.
What inspired you to found Marrow?:
I began thinking about Marrow when I was 17. I was exploring abandoned buildings in my hometown in Connecticut as sites for photography projects. My favorite was a dormitory that had been used to house people who worked in the town’s tobacco fields. It was abandoned in the early 2000’s - I believe due to crack-downs on the immigration status of workers, but I’m not positive. I started hanging out in it in 2006 when I was a senior in high school. I immediately began envisioning its potential second life.
At the time, I was attending my 4th school in as many years - having struggled to find my place in both public and private traditional institutions. Despite being passionate and intelligent, I had never connected with school. As a junior though, I had found “my place” in Watkinson - a school in Hartford that prides itself on its “thumbprint” approach to education; that every student has unique needs, learning styles, and goals - and will be treated as such. Second to this restructuring of teens' individual needs, my favorite part of the school was CAP, or the Creative Art Program - an immersive arts program with a focus on realizing your work and actions within a broader cultural context. I was able to work alongside other young visual artists, as well as musicians, writers, dancers, and thespians. For the first time I genuinely understood what “community” meant.
So as I wandered the abandoned dormitory halls, I imagined a space where any young person, regardless of what school they went to - or whether they were enrolled in school at all - could be a part of the type of community that I was a part of at Watkinson. During my senior year I actually wrote out plans for the space’s operations. I knew they wouldn’t come to fruition, because I never had any intention of staying in Connecticut, but it had felt like an important thing to do at the time - and without knowing it I’d been drafting a novice version of Marrow’s business plan.
Determined to give other young folks the opportunity to be a part of something that might similarly transform their lives and spark their passions, I worked through my BFA and toward my Master’s degree to better understand how to make it happen. My graduate thesis work explored why non-school community education spaces do a better job than traditional schools of engaging young people in meaningful learning, and in motivating them to take that passion for what they’ve learned back into their communities. During this time I worked with teens who were enrolled in public school in Central Falls, RI - a bankrupt city with a less than 50% graduation rate. We used art to explore ways they could reclaim and reframe their personal and collective narratives. Their work and the effect it had on them as individuals, and on me as an educator, is why the reclamation of narrative continues to be a large focus in my work at Marrow.
I moved out to OR after living and teaching in CT, MA, RI, NH, and NYC, and after a year of working with unschoolers in Portland, I combined aspects of the models I’d researched as well as my professional experiences to build Marrow. We’re still in our very infancy of the long term plan, but we’re on track to be something powerful.
What are your dreams for Marrow? What do you see as your role in making those ambitions a reality?:
My long term vision for Marrow is for it to grow into a truly teen-led community hub for education, arts, and activism.
I also view it as vital that we continue to be diverse in the educational backgrounds of the youth who are involved here. I want a teen who may have dropped out and be experiencing houselessness to feel equally centered as a young person who’s enrolled in school and considers themself to be a successful student. I want to develop programming that is flexible enough and offers a wide enough range of ways to be involved, that it could either supplement other educational opportunities a teen may be involved in - or be their primary resource.
Some of the things I’d like to see in our ultimate home are:
Studio shops such as print shop, design/computer lab, wood shop, small metals shop - where youth would have the opportunity to take on real clients, with help from community mentors who would be co-working in these spaces.
A cafe, again as a training opportunity for youth, but also to create a space for community discourse.
An intimate venue for youth produced, all-ages events and shows.
A gallery/shop to present and sell their work.
Outdoor space for gardening/building/existing.
Private and shared studio/office spaces for both youth and established creatives.
I envision having a small full-time staff, but that a large part of the facilitating will come from rotating community members, and that much of direction will continue to come from our youth.
I see my role in Marrow’s growth as keeping my hustle at 100% and living my values. Putting myself out there - going to community events, meeting new people, talking about Marrow’s current form but also about our long-term vision. I can’t accomplish the things I listed above on my own - and Marrow can’t do it all on its own either. The people, projects, and organizations to collaborate and partner with to make this happen are all already in Portland. The people who will make this happen exist. They have these same dreams and are having these same conversations. We just all need to find each other.
Thinking of your personal goals, what do you hope to be doing in 5 years?:
I think about my life 5 years from now a lot, actually, because in January of this year Marrow signed a 5 year lease for the space in St Johns that we now occupy; so it represents a relatively firmly set pinpoint in my future.
We’ll be settling into the second phase of Marrow’s existence - whether that’s here or in a new space. Our youngest teens now will have grown into positions of leadership. We’ll have a strong community of youth, with their own opinions and stakes in Marrow’s identity. Our programming will be every day, we’ll be open long hours, and the things happening in the space will be progressive, innovative, and COOL!
On a personal level, I hope that I’ll have struck a good balance between Marrow and existing out in the world - hiking in the gorge with my pup, and taking long drives to odd roadside attractions or abandoned towns, and finding junk shops in middle-of-nowhere towns along the way.
One of the things that keeps me rooted is creating my own artwork, which the past few years this has taken the form of lost wax cast metal jewelry (you can find me on instagram @saltcircle). I hope to maintain this practice and continue in this context to collaborate with artists and writers who inspire me.
I would also like to return to academic writing- this blog hopefully being a step toward that - and be on the path to pursue a doctorate in something along the lines of an anarchist approach to education (is a PhD in anarchy an oxymoron?!)
I hope that I’ll have continued to grow my chosen family and have found more of those people who are out here in Portland dreaming the same dreams that I am.