“Photography and filmmaking for me have been those outlets to express myself, to share stories, and to encourage others,” says Marcos (‘23), pictured here with Photography Teaching Artist Dennis Grantz.

After nearly two decades teaching in WMCAT’s Teen Arts + Tech Program, Dennis Grantz has mentored hundreds of students. “There are so many kids who come in and don’t believe in themselves . . . They haven’t really learned to see where their power is.” But when you give teens the space to explore, the support of peers and teaching artists, and professional equipment, Dennis says, “miracles happen.”

This is the story Dennis tells of Cierra, Mariah, and Marcos Barrera, siblings and alumni of the Teen Arts + Tech Program who each built a creative foundation at WMCAT as high school students.

Marcos, Mariah, and Cierra celebrate with their parents, Sherry and Robert, at WMCAT’s iBall 2024 where they were presented the WMCAT Award for Inspiration.

Mariah (‘20) and Cierra (‘18) pose for a photo together as students in the Teen Arts + Tech Program.

“When I started going to WMCAT,” Mariah remembers, “my family was homeless, and it was almost like WMCAT was an escape from what was going on and a motivation that there was something bigger.” Mariah and Marcos found their creative homes in the photography studio, while Cierra explored songwriting and singing in music production.

The three recall that had the program not been tuition-free, it would not have been accessible to them. “There’s no other program like this to this day,” Cierra says of the creative freedom, community connections, and access to professional networks and equipment.

The Barreras are continuing the journeys they began at WMCAT: Cierra travels the country with her dad sharing their music and family story and is a content creator; Mariah is a student at Columbia University with a blossoming career as a filmmaker; and Marcos is finishing his first year at Michigan State University, celebrating recent national awards in photography and film. “I can’t say enough about how much [WMCAT] has done for me personally,” Marcos says.

Cierra, Mariah, and Marcos are combining their complementary skills to launch a creative agency, BREAKBARRIERS, focused on filmmaking, photography, and social media content creation. “If it wasn’t for WMCAT,” Cierra says, “I don’t think it would’ve been a possibility for this to be where I am right now.”

Learn more about BREAKBARRIERS at breakbarriers.productions and watch the WMCAT Award for Inspiration video tribute at wmcat.org/iball.