As our network and our nation face unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, we know that the arts remain more vital than ever in keeping young learners engaged and enlivening us all. We are deeply proud of, and inspired by, the efforts of our affiliates as they navigate new realities and forge new and innovative ways of expanding student learning through the arts. The stories below demonstrate Young Audiences’ continued dedication to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA), and our core belief that, even and especially in challenging times, all young people deserve a well-rounded and arts-rich education.
Young Audiences of Louisiana
New Orleans, LA
While faced with heavy times, Young Audiences of Louisiana (YALA) is working ardently to continue its programs in a manner that will support not only YALA teaching artists, but all of its New Orleans stakeholders and partners as well.
Mid-March marked a very significant change for students, families, educators, and artists in the Greater New Orleans Area, as Gov. John Bel Edwards announced statewide school closures. Despite these circumstances, YALA found itself uniquely positioned to make a positive impact on the New Orleans community, and build upon its previous work in the distance-learning arena, by extending its resources to the community at large.
Several funders worked quickly to assist in the revision of grant deliverables to allow YALA to shift many of its programs online, allowing the organization to compensate both salaried and contract teaching artists for work they expected to complete during the closures. Thanks to the generosity of The Helis Foundation, Institute of Mental Hygiene, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education, YALA is poised to produce extensive home-based and virtual lesson plans for students and early learners, crafted in partnership with educators and YALA teaching artists. Meanwhile, YALA Baby Artsplay!™ at Home will connect young children and their families to the online collections of local arts and cultural institutions, while also fostering cognitive and emotional development through the performing arts.
Additionally, YALA’s Art to Heart Workshops were designed to help New Orleanians through uncertain times brought on by major disruptions, such as the current COVID-19 crisis. These workshops allow families to assess the social and emotional well-being of their children, prepare educators to navigate new pathways toward learning, and simply bring the joy of art into homes across the city.
Due to high rates of limited internet access among local students, YALA teaching artists will work with educators at partner schools in Jefferson Parish to provide arts enhancement projects that teachers can easily share with all students. While the current circumstances were unimaginable one month ago, YALA is equipped with a spirit of undeniable resilience and innovation. YA’s New Orleans-based affiliate looks forward to the ways it can connect with its community in these nontraditional times.
Arts for Learning Miami
At Arts for Learning Miami (A4L Miami), the response to COVID-19 has been an ever-evolving process of outreach and action. At the get-go, through phone calls, surveys, and emails, YA’s south Florida-based affiliate reached out to all its partners, and to as many students and families as possible, to better comprehend and determine these groups’ needs.
A4L Miami found that the teens in its ArtWorks internship program wanted wholeheartedly to resume their work learning essential career skills while creating and performing art. As a result, the program was re-vamped – adapted to a digital format – and launched online last week. The same held true for the students at A4L Miami’s Lewis Arts Studio, a year-round studio-based program for middle schoolers. Likewise, after reaching out to families enrolled in the parks-based All Kids Included program (an inclusive, socially-oriented arts program for youth ages 6-17 with and without disabilities), A4L Miami learned that the children and families were eager to continue their Saturday classes virtually. In fact, A4L has yet to find a partner not interested in providing students with continued artistic engagement.
A hallmark of A4L Miami’s programming is the sense of community and belonging that the children experience. "We are doing our best to not let this fade,” says Executive Director Sheila Womble. “Sustaining a sense of community and social distancing do not need to be in opposition to one another. Our challenge is to find the meaningful ways to help children and youth remain connected.”
As the organization continues to re-imagine its on-site programs in a virtual format, A4L Miami is committed to upholding that sense of community, while continuing to deliver high-quality arts learning experiences. For example, in an after-school program run and managed by A4L Miami at a local elementary school, children identified as struggling readers will still receive ongoing, online support from their A4L Miami literacy instructors. The organization also plans to offer its arts lesson up to 3 times a week online, with “hangout times” facilitated by after-school counselors, so that the kids have a chance to catch up and share in small groups.
With much still under development, A4L Miami knows it will continue its work adapting and responding to the needs of its students and their communities.
Young Audiences of Massachusetts
As distance education becomes the new normal for students across America, Boston’s Young Audiences of Massachusetts (YAMA) is working with its partners and teaching artists to continue bringing arts learning to students of all backgrounds, talents, and abilities.
For students taking part in YAMA’s year-long expanded access residency programs, the statewide closure of learning centers last month left those residencies in progress and unfinished. That was the case for YAMA’s Expanding Horizons Through Music (EHTM) program underway at Horizons for Homeless Children’s early learning center. Focused on building literacy through music, the EHTM program aims to help close the kindergarten-preparedness gap for children in under-served, urban neighborhoods. EHTM typically serves kids experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty, engaging their families and teachers as well. While Horizons for Homeless Children works to support families in shelter at this critical time, YAMA’s dedicated teaching artist is adapting the program to continue reaching these preschoolers, utilizing the center’s virtual classroom on ClassDojo. This free platform is accessible from any device and provides the center’s teachers, students, and families with a way to stay connected and engaged in the learning process. By offering familiar songs, YAMA helps provide children and their families with much needed routine and comfort.
In the quest to make arts learning accessible from a distance, YAMA is dedicated to supporting and partnering with its roster of teaching artists, who have demonstrated tremendous resourcefulness in the face of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. While they work in tandem to develop new program offerings and delivery models, YAMA is bringing its teaching artist community together through Zoom meetings, as well as providing cloud-based collaboration spaces to help them share ideas, resources, and experiences. “We’ve heard from artists who have already experimented with live streaming, artists who are teaching online lessons, and artists who have yet to figure out the adaptation, but are eager to figure it out,” says YAMA’s Communications Manager Jason Rabin. “Our artists are excited to have a network with whom they can share tips and challenges.”
Meanwhile, the organization is embracing #ArtsLearningAtHome, sharing daily posts on social media and YAMA’s homepage providing resources, online learning content, and live streams with teaching artists, which offer a glimpse into their programs. With strong partnerships, a positive attitude, and ample creativity, YAMA continues to educate, inspire, and empower youth through the arts.
Arts Ed Collaborative
YA's newest affiliate, Pittsburgh-based Arts Ed Collaborative, is dedicated to partnering with educators to unlock the transformative power of the arts in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The organization serves a diverse network of educators and districts, each facing collective as well as individual challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading up to, and in the wake of, statewide school closures, Arts Ed Collaborative has focused on its relationships, meeting each partner where they are, and understanding their needs to offer tailored support.
To coordinate different aspects of its response and keep its collective impact moving forward, the Arts Ed Collaborative team stays connected virtually through weekly meetings on Zoom. The organization has turned to the same platform to shift its professional learning programs to a distance learning format, recently facilitating Zoom-based curriculum planning sessions centered on the National Core Arts Standards for Pittsburgh Public School teachers, as well as leading Pop-Up PLN (Personal Learning Network) sessions, hosted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which provide virtual opportunities for educators to explore new technologies and teaching practices.
As the full duration and impact of the COVID-19 shutdown remain unknown, Arts Ed Collaborative is planning ahead to ensure that its programs planned for the months ahead can move forward, regardless of circumstances brought on by the pandemic. Having just opened applications for its 2020 Leadership Academy scheduled for this summer, the organization is taking steps to make the program as accessible as possible, by offering scholarships to participants who need them, and by readying distance learning tools and digital resources to enable remote professional learning if necessary.
In the coming weeks, Arts Ed Collaborative is also stepping into an important new role to support teaching artists, a community suffering from a significant loss of income as a result of school closures. The organization is embarking on an innovative partnership with Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time and The Legacy Arts Project, made possible with support from The Heinz Endowments, to develop new work opportunities for teaching artists during this difficult time. Expected to roll out in mid-April, the initiative will offer a number of opportunities in phases over the coming weeks and months.
Arts Ed Collaborative remains committed adapting their work and forging new ways to support its partners, educators, and learners through the challenges ahead.