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Lifelong Learning in the Arts: Aitina Fareed-Cooke, owner of Get Fokus’d Productions

Author: Nicole Murray

Back-to-school season is just around the corner and already backpacks and school supplies line the shelves at local department stores. The start of a new school year is the traditional signifier of a clean slate and an opportunity for self improvement for students from elementary school through college, but what about the rest of us? The older adults who have been out of school for decades or the young folks who may find themselves outside of the traditional school structure. At what point should our “education” start or stop or at the very least, our commitment to bettering ourselves?

This month’s spotlight is intended to focus on youth and adult learners but I think that there’s something that we can all take away from Aitina Fareed-Cooke, owner of Get Fokus’d Productions (Part 1), and Dr. Katherine Levy, founder of the New Horizons Band of Fredonia (Part II), and that is that the arts are important because they promote lifelong learning. Not only learning in the traditional sense of acquiring a new skill set, but learning more about ourselves; the worldviews that we hold and how we communicate and exist with others. After speaking with these two incredible leaders, their message was clear: Whether you’re young or old, everyone has a place in the arts and no matter your age, you can always learn something new.

At the very end of her interview, Aitina Fareed-Cooke, owner of Get Fokus’d Productions, remarked, “You know, there’s something I calculated recently and I said that I would mention in the next interview that I did. Over the last 3 to 5 years, I have worked with over 20,000 young people in various capacities.” This number seemed to surprise her but quite honestly, it makes a lot of sense. Not only does Aitina frequently work as a guest speaker at various schools and youth facilities but she has also developed a branch of her company that mentors dedicated young people who have a passion for the arts called “Young and Fokus’d.”

The mission of Young and Fokus’d was born from a quote by Shirley Chisholm: “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” Originally, this quote was interpreted by Aitina to create Young and Fokus’d, a mentorship program that recognizes gifted young artists who may have been dealt a bad hand in life and gives them the motivation, support, and encouragement to pursue their dreams. But now, this is also a quote that she regularly uses to encourage those who come through the program to begin to shape their own narrative quite literally “through the lens of art.”

Aitina Fareed-Cooke

In fact, the frequent piece of advice that Aitina gives the young people she works with is to think of your life as a camera. The body of the camera is similar to your own body and the aperture similar to your own eyes. What you see through the viewfinder is what you choose to focus on during the course of the day and you, and you alone, have the ability to shift what you see by either moving the camera or replacing what is in the shot. She adds, “Maybe a shot of dirty laundry may not be what you want in your viewfinder so you put the laundry away OR maybe you can frame the shot differently and turn the dirty laundry into something beautiful. That decision is up to you.”

There are highlights of some of the young people who have participated in the Young and Fokus’d program available on the Get Fokus’d website so that you can hear their stories and support their work. For example, Emeka Wajed (Instagram: @madebymek_) is a visual artist whose chosen art form is custom sneaker design. He says, “I’m really just a cartoonist without an outlet, then when I find one… sparks fly.” Another young entrepreneur with a unique art form who has passed through the program is makeup artist, Kaylene Adams (Instagram: @facebykay_). Thanks to Young and Fokus’d, not only does Kaylene do incredible makeup art on a number of celebrity clients, but she has also begun her own business, The Beautique Lab, with her own brick and mortar store on Franklin Street in Buffalo.

If you would like to support any of these young up-and-comers, you can support them with a monetary donation through the Get Fokus’d website or you can donate supplies that are highlighted on each of their individual highlights pages.

Aitina recommends to any person, young or old, who would like to get started in photography to head over to CEPA Gallery and utilize any number of the resources they have available at their facility, whether it’s enrolling in a program or just speaking to an experienced photographer. She adds, “And, if you can get some coins together, get a disposable camera and go start shooting. Or, nowadays everyone has a phone. It’s a machine in your pocket, utilize it!”

Image Credits: Isaac Fareed (Age 14) & Mykiss Washington (Age 11) – mentees through Get Fokus’d Productions

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