The Venice Dream Team, a grassroots youth photojournalism program, has provided experiences other children can only dream about. It is currently made up of nine children with an average age of 11. In the last nine years the group has made self-sustaining trips through four continents, 13 countries, 23 US states and 70 cities.
Initially started in 1992 by Bingwa as the Venice Arts Mecca, he found that other board members “just weren’t getting” his vision. So, in 1995, with 8 children, he continued on and formed what became known as the Venice Dream Team.
The participants, some at-risk and others underprivileged, who don’t have access to a lot of things other children have, are given once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to become exposed to worlds beyond their own neighborhoods. “I was in a school for bad girls,” Corrina Tillmon remembers as stated in “Journeys”, the Dream Team’s 18-month calendar and resource travel directory. “I had to try to pull myself together. Somebody told me about the Dream Team. Everything I’ve accomplished seems to go back to Bingwa. No one gave me so much trust. When you’re working on something you like, it’s not like work.” That attitude landed her a job at Smash Box, a Los Angeles studio. From there, she got a scholarship to the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She is now working as a fashion photographer. And, like a true Dream Team veteran, she is heading for London and Paris to show off her photographs.
Volunteers provide training in photography, journalism, graphic design and social awareness. In turn, the students have become “teachers” themselves by reaching out to other youth groups. In 1999 the Dream Team was invited to Australia where they collaborated on a photojournalist project with the Aboriginal youth there. The Dream Team returned to Australia to document the 2000 Summer Olympics and help their Australian counterparts raise additional funds needed so the Aboriginal youth could realize their “dream” of photographing sites and people in the United States.
In addition to international travel to places such as Italy, Switzerland, France, England, Japan and Germany and tours of cities, such as Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics, in the United States, the Dream Team has been invited to cover local events like the Democratic National Convention and the Academy Awards. They have also photographed and interviewed former Mayor Richard Riordan, Shaquille O’Neil, former President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.
Not bad for kids from isolated environments! Bingwa is quite modest about his accomplishments with the Dream Team. “I’m not really into being a kid person or doing a workshop for kids or even community minded,” he says. “I just had an idea about nine years ago, kind of tinkered with it, played with it and it just grew. Its value is probably more sentimental than practical. When you look at it on paper it does not exist other than people knowing this is what we do.” Bingwa acknowledges that this endeavor is something that he started in his spare time, but “it’s kind of taken over my time … period.” “We’re having fun,” he adds. “If tomorrow it falls apart it’s ok, because we’re not trying to establish an institution of any kind. We’re just doing this right now.”
There are no signs that the Dream Team is going to fall apart. All indications point to its growth. An integral part of this growth is the Ferryboat “Ace”, a 64-foot long, three-deck ferryboat that was built in 1919 and has been used as a houseboat for at least the last 30 years. I was given a tour and came away extremely impressed. Upon my arrival the boat was being decorated for the birthday party for a five-year old participant of the boat program. This unique place that has become a second home for these children will forever change their world. Besides a location for workshops and exhibitions, it is also used for entertainment. A giant projector is put on the deck so the children can watch movies at night. They are also able to catch fish … if the seals don’t get them first.
The boat will serve as a venue for ongoing art, music, culinary and technical workshops open and free to youth. Its acquisition is in line with the Dream Team’s mission “to respond to the growing needs of youth living in economically challenged neighborhoods by drawing upon the community’s own resources, traditions, talents and perseverance to create positive, sustainable ventures for the youth themselves.” There are no government grants or corporate sponsorships to finance the “Ace”. The financing will be accomplished through the sale of Venice Dream Team merchandise … including its 18-month calendar and travel resource directory, printed photographs and note cards or the purchase of new boxed Razor scooters or roller blades. In addition, the boat is available for the public to rent as a unique event location for daytime, evening or weekend functions.
The calendar/travel resource directory is a must for anyone who travels. It provides fabulous information … such as a time zone map, metric/inch/pound conversions, airline ticket discounters, airline toll free numbers and web sites, car rental agencies, cruise lines and ship names, hotel specialty groups, hotel and motel contacts, youth and budget travel, resources for disabled travelers, family vacation planning resources, foreign government tourist offices and sections on “Where to Complain” and “What to Take” … plus wonderful photographs taken by the Dream Team. All this for $15.00!!
“We have no overhead costs except the boat mortgage,” says Bingwa. “All the equipment and supplies are bartered.” This includes their “cyber” van from AT&T that came with $30,000 worth of technology including 19 laptops from “Cable in the Classroom”. It was given to the Dream Team in exchange for them covering various events and reaching out to other youth groups.
“The kids have been very successful,” says Bingwa. “I see them going on individually with their skills and what they’re able to get out of this program.”