The Spark Awards celebrate and recognize outstanding individuals and organizations from across the Western New York arts community for their dedication, talent, and impact on the arts and cultural sector. This year’s presentation will be streamed for free on our YouTube page on Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 7:00 pm.

Click here to learn more about the Spark Awards.

Aitina Fareed-Cooke was told at a young age that she would be a “failure to thrive” as a result of her biological mother’s addiction to drugs. At 14 months old her and her 2 siblings were placed into foster care and diagnosed as “Emotionally Handicapped”. When Aitina was three years old her and her sibling lost their mother due to a drug overdose. Though the odds were against her she managed to strive due to her adoptive mother’s efforts in keeping her involved in extracurricular activities, community arts programs which introduced her to photography, film, and creative writing. Aitina continues utilizing her camera or “my weapon of mass creativity” and her love of writing music and poetry as a type of “Art Activism” igniting thought and change within her community.

Aitina received her Associates degree in Arts & Humanities at Erie Community College (2009), Bachelor Arts degree in English (2012) and Masters in Science & Education with a focus in Educational Technology (2016) at Buffalo State. Aitina has worked within various non-profit organizations for over 15 years throughout the city of Buffalo NY where she has developed, managed and implemented countless high-quality creative arts programs. Her unique and innovative ideas have assisted countless youth and young adults in fostering opportunities for growth in creative thinking and problem solving, self esteem, self expression, social awareness, and peer collaboration.

Aitina has worked with organizations such as Say Yes to Education serving as a Community Schools Navigator; Young Audiences of WNY serving as the ArtWorks Director & Education Coordinator, Community Action Organization serving as a Youth Services Site Coordinator; CEPA Gallery continuously serving as a Photography Teaching Artist and Board Member, just to name a few. Throughout her tenure at each organization she was able to contribute to the increase in retention rates of youth and parent involvement in programming and activities, the development and increase in community engagement and partnerships, and securing grant funding for the successful longevity of such programs within such organizations.

The skills that Aitina has developed over time has led her to developing Get Fokus’d Productions (GFP). GFP is a creative media arts company dedicated to capturing project-based stories, designing curriculums to teach youth soft skills through the implementation of photography, film, and creative writing programs, and giving back to the next generation of creatives through a movement called Young & Fokus’d . Aitina’s original work has been exhibited at CEPA Gallery , Jamestown Community College, Darwin Martin House, Crzurles-Nelson Gallery at SUNY Buffalo State, Main Street Art Gallery, Blue Plate Studio, and PineAppleCo.

Aitina is now an award-winning photographer, teaching artist, creative director, and lyricist earning recognition through 43North ’s Ignite Buffalo People’s Choice Award, CEPA Gallery Exhibition Award, SUNY Buffalo State Young Alumnus Achievement Award, Canisius College Trailblazer Award, the National Society of Leadership & Success Excellence in Teaching Award, Kingdom Choice Up Next and Breakthrough Artist Award, BULYPNY Entrepreneurship Award, Mayors Citizens Participation Academy Award, and more. Aitina has also been featured in Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine, Upstart New York, Challenger News, Buffalo News, Buffalo State Alumni Magazine, National Young Audiences Emerging Leaders, DJ Booth, Rapzilla, Trackstarz and much more.

Learn more about Aitina!

Who and/or what inspired you to become an artist?
There are so many mentors and individuals within the community that encouraged and inspired me throughout my adolescent years! However one of the major contributing factors to my success is my participation in the YO! Buffalo program. The program created opportunities that introduced me to photography, film and job readiness training. Overall it built my confidence up to believe that there was more that I could achieve. Over time the confidence that I developed through taking part in this transformative program inspired me to become the artist and entrepreneur that I am today.

What motivates you to keep working and creating?
My faith, family, and community motivate me to continue working and creating. It is my understanding that my life is in service to them. I feel that it is my duty to do all that I can to ignite change as I expand perspectives through the arts.

If you didn’t work in this industry, what would you be doing? What other career do you think you would have and why?
I believe I would be working as an educator of some sort in the nonprofit sector. No matter what, I am confident I would be working within youth development in some capacity.

What hobbies or likes do you have outside of the arts?
I enjoy street photography, creative writing, sudoku puzzles, riding my bike, watching and critiquing movies, and creating music.

What is one thing people don’t know about you and/or your work?
People may not know how much of an inner fight it takes for me be resilient. I speak a lot about the trauma that I have gone through and it may look like I have it all together but it is a daily fight to maintain a “fokus’d” mindset. I have to use coping skills to manage myself and my emotions. Capturing and sharing real life stories and teaching others how to do the same is a major factor in how I cope.

Is there anyone you would like to thank or share appreciation for?
Much appreciation goes to my mother, Lateyfah Fareed, who adopted my brother, sister and I. She is the real star. She is the one who taught me to having a strong faith in God which is my standard for living. She also provided us with care and instilled in me the work ethic that I have now.

Much appreciation goes to my husband, Joshua, my son Isaac, and daughter Ailena. They are my core team, my support group, and my foundation. Family is key.