In 1996, with the help of neighbors, friends, and especially youth from the community, South Boston artist Michael Dowling began the p rocess of reclaiming the unsightly, vandal-ridden slope behind South Boston High School with the goal of transforming it into a sacred space that all the diverse people who live here can regard as belonging to them.
The Medicine Wheel Youth Program is central to this process. The Medicine Wheel Youth Program is a paid employment program in South Boston for youth ages 14 to 18 In summer, students work 25 hours a week for 8 weeks on various individual and group projects as part of the main Medicine Wheel public art projects at No Man's Land and its Poetry Path. The season culminates with a Community Day and performance and showcasing of the summer's accomplishments in gardening, landscaping, environmental works on the site (erosion control, water collection devices, etc.), sculpture, drawing, poetry, and bookmaking. Fifteen students are enrolled in the summer session.
In 2000, the program was extended to include a fall session in which students work on the annual Medicine Wheel installation at the Boston Center for the Arts, and a spring segment of early gardening and other projects at No Man's Land. In 2004 the program was expanded again to include a year-round after school program in collaboration with South Boston's Odyssey High School.
The Medicine Wheel after school arts program at No Man's Land goes beyond providing cultural enrichment. It grows out of the notion that by bringing an artistic, nonverbal perspective to topics in science, math, history, and other academic subjects, we can promote students' access to a deep, intuitive way of knowing things that enhances their learning capacities in the classroom. This program also brings together youth from the neighborhood who attend school elsewhere with youth from the school who live in other neighborhoods, promoting friendship and a sense of community between traditionally hostile groups.
Students are recruited from South Boston and from South Boston's Odyssey High School. Most continue with the program for 2 or 3 years. An important aspect of the program is building a bridge between the community and the school in a city where very few students attend school in their own neighborhood. About half the students are girls and half boys. Racial breakdown is approximately 40% white, 40% black, 10% Hispanic and 10% Asian or other.
In 2002 the program was awarded the Boston Peace Party Community Star Award from the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center for outstanding work in fostering peaceful neighborhoods. It was also honored by Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino on the occasion of receiving the city's only 3-year Safe Neighborhoods Youth Fund Grant.