Tim Lord (Co-Executive Director, The DreamYard Project)
I’m Tim Lord and I was born in Panama City, Panama. I moved to New York about twenty-three years ago as an actor and a director. I’d been at the American Conservatory Theater in their MFA program and afterwards was in the company for a year, which was wonderful. Exactly a year after I came to New York I met Jason Duchin, who’s the other co-director of DreamYard. We started teaching a class together, and that became a group of young people we worked with in east Harlem who wrote a play called “DreamYard.” The play was about a place that kids could go, and parents had forgotten how to get to, where they could be anyone or do anything that they wanted. It was remarkable because it was my introduction to the power of story and to the connections that happen when young people are able to bring their voice and their innate sense of the power of their own stories to the idea of learning. That power can have a great impact on a child’s education. We worked with those kids for over a year, and that has become the hallmark of DreamYard now—the idea of long-term relationships.
DreamYard will have been in existence for twenty years next spring. It started out in a few schools in East Harlem; partnering with teachers, and that’s still a core of what we do. We foster really long-term relationships with schools in which we support full time arts teachers, so students get to work with professional artists. We also have teaching artists working with teachers, bringing arts projects into the curriculum to really push from the inside this new way of learning. This method also pushes back against some of the standardized ways of looking at young people, and narrow ways of measuring success, to positively impact school culture.
About eight years ago, we decided we wanted to move all of our work to the Bronx. We’d been working in four of the boroughs, but realized that what we really wanted to do was be in one place and work with young people, families and communities over time. There are young people that are in The Tempest that we got to know when they were in 3rd or 4th grade. It’s just so wonderful to see their journey and to see them ending up in new opportunities, new friendships and new horizons. That’s why we created DreamYard to begin with. Then came the genesis of the after school and Art Center programs, which we were eventually able to bring into one home in the DreamYard Arts Center. The Art Center and our programs there have really grounded us in our community—it has had a major impact on who we are. We’d also heard from a lot of middle school kids that they loved learning in this way but that there was no place that they could continue in that vein, so we started a small high school called DreamYard Prep. So there’s this pathway that you can take as a kid in the Bronx if you get connected to DreamYard. It’s so fun!
So much that makes DreamYard work is the people. We have this wonderful community of people and all of my colleagues have such great ideas that create our programs. The organization is so much more than Jason or me now and that’s the best part. In the beginning there’s that moment when creative sparks happen between people and it’s just so wonderful. But couple that with the idea that the arts can connect people to opportunity as well as a strong sense of who they are, and you have something very special. And then the idea of having a voice is so important. Much of our work now is connected to social justice pedagogy, and there’s a real overlay and very deep connections between true artistry and social justice pedagogy. The arts are a great way to fight back against institutional racism and institutional injustice, in a way that is incredibly powerful. That reality inspires me now more and more.
It’s so thrilling to see our DreamYard community in The Tempest. It’s incredible to come to rehearsal and see how much joy they’re experiencing! To see some of our families on stage together, and the kinds of relationships and connections that people are making, is just thrilling. It’s going to be such an amazing and magical thing for people to see and to be a part of, and I think this will be one of those things that will touch everyone who’s involved for the rest of their lives. It’s pretty great to watch unfold.