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.
Springboard to Learning
St. Louis, MO
St. Louis-based Springboard to Learning (Springboard) is driven by its mission to develop young peoples’ abilities to think critically, create, collaborate, and communicate. With nearly 70% of students in its programs defined by state guidelines as economically disadvantaged, the organization has a strong commitment to serving children who might not otherwise have access to cultural enrichment opportunities. When Missouri announced statewide school shutdowns, Springboard’s subsequent actions were deeply embedded in its mission: thinking critically and creativity, it sought out meaningful collaborations, not just within its communities, but across the Young Audiences network as well.
During last month’s call among Young Audiences network leaders, Springboard Executive Director Cathy Hartmann learned of Arts & Learning Snacks, a program developed at Young Audiences of Maryland (YAMD) which distributes interactive arts-making and assembly kits to students at meal sites across Baltimore. The concept resonated with Hartmann, who brought the idea back to her staff. One of Springboard’s greatest concerns is centered around reaching St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) students on the other side of the digital divide – those that might not have reliable access to internet or other technology necessary for digital learning. “After city schools closed, our first instinct was to ask ourselves, what about those kids who don’t have access to digital learning?” said Marketing & Development Manager Lauren Wiser. “So when we found out about the Arts & Learning Snacks initiative in Baltimore, we were really excited to see how we could adapt it for St. Louis.”
Springboard enthusiastically reached out to YAMD, and the two YA affiliates collaborated to develop an offshoot of the program. Each kit includes activity materials, printed step-by-step instructions (in English and Spanish) for completing the project without internet access, and applicable fine arts standards addressed in the activity. To facilitate Arts & Learning Snacks locally, Springboard partnered with social services nonprofit Operation Food Search, the area’s largest distributer of free food. Through this partnership, Springboard is able to provide SLPS students and their families with 1,000 individual snack kits a week at meal distribution sites around the city. The organization hopes to extend operations through the summer months, bolstered by additional innovative partnerships.
Springboard has also been active in the realm of digital programming. Teaching artists have been submitting proposals for online arts learning material – whether brand-new or adapted from existing content – and the organization will soon begin the process of putting together a digital learning catalog. Springboard has already converted several of its signature programs to interactive digital formats, allowing the continuation of residencies that were booked before school closings.
In addition to addressing the current crisis, the expansion of digital programming also represents a means to reach as many students as possible, including those in rural communities without access to centralized, municipally-funded resources. This new focus on adaptable learning platforms will help the organization expand its reach into under-resourced regions in Southern Illinois and Missouri’s largely rural and impoverished southeastern Bootheel.
Through innovative and collaborative learning solutions, Springboard’s efforts are poised to have a lasting impact, throughout and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Young Audiences of Northern California
San Francisco, CA
Young Audiences of Northern California (YANC) is committed to creating arts experiences that inspire young people, expand learning, and enliven communities. Having just celebrated its 60th Anniversary, the organization is proud to serve nearly 35,000 students throughout the Bay Area, relying on its dedicated roster of teaching artists and arts partners. In the wake of the coronavirus shutdown, YANC has been working to build a sustainable bridge to keep its teaching artist community and its school and after-school partners connected.
One aspect of this effort has entailed providing YANC’s partners with new distance learning opportunities. Since early and extensive measures to flatten the curve were implemented across the region, each school district has had to navigate the challenges of establishing its own distance learning norms, while considering important factors of equipment, equity, and accessibility. Now several weeks into of the shutdown, with the individual needs and challenges of districts becoming clearer, YANC is working to curate the appropriate programming for each partner. So far, common requests are for a combination of live experiences and recorded content.
The organization has developed a variety of at-home arts learning resources and services that assist the broader community of YANC family and friends. YANC's teaching artists are providing virtual programs and activities to share with school partners, parents, and students learning from home. Looking ahead, YANC is preparing to navigate a new summer school landscape. With the support of major school district partners, the organization is also exploring the possibility of offering an Arts Camp at Home.
Meanwhile, YANC is taking steps to provide resources and support to its teaching artists at this critical time. The organization established an Emergency Artist Fund, which supports artists directly by compensating for lost income during school closures. YANC is also offering socially distant opportunities for its teaching artists to meet and connect as a community. Through 90-minute virtual meet-ups, they will continue to convene throughout the shutdown period to brainstorm and share experiences and ideas virtually. Longtime YANC teaching artist Kirah Caminos reflected, “I am just so grateful and honored to be a part of YANC...watching the organization now grow through this specific, unprecedented challenge gives all us teaching artists even more resolve and reason to move forward and keep the performing arts platform moving for students, schools, and communities.”
YANC believes that the arts demonstrate the importance of interconnected roles – and believes that this, in turn, creates an idea of importance to the greater good which carries through all aspects of life.
Arts for Learning Virginia
In the wake of school closures brought on by COVID-19, Arts for Learning Virginia (A4L Virginia) is demonstrating resourcefulness, strategic agility, and an unwavering commitment to its students and teaching artists.
With more than 16,000 students in schools served by A4L Virginia directly impacted by school closures, the Norfolk-based organization’s staff had to think quickly on their feet. The small but solid team came together to confront the situation head-on. The challenges were complex, but the objective was two-fold: “We asked, how can we use the resources at our disposal to reach as many students as possible,” explained Chief Operations Officer Anna Heywood Green, “and, at the same time, create paid opportunities for teaching artists in our community – especially when opportunities are so scarce.”
What emerged from this conversation were the foundations of A4L’s "Take 10!". The program, which began production on March 24, makes arts learning accessible virtually to youth and families through live and recorded performances and workshops. Teaching artists were tapped to produce interactive segments – roughly 10 minutes in length – to engage students at home in dance, storytelling, musical performances, magic shows, bilingual yoga, and more.
This program was not without its own challenges. For one, many artists had little to no experience in the realm of video production, and it was new territory, too, for the organization. Through some trial and error, and with a determination to figure it out, the program team dove in. Arts and Education Manager Aaron Kirkpatrick made his video camera available, and he and Program Relationship Coordinator Aisha Noel worked together to develop new methods for formalizing production techniques, establishing quality control, and devising camera-ready lesson plans, all while following social distancing protocols.
Participating artists are awarded stipends for time spent recording their "Take 10!" segments, and will come away from the experience with video material to enhance their teaching artist portfolios. While these segments do not generate revenue for A4L Virginia, their ongoing production means that a broad segment of students can benefit from having access to quality arts learning content five days a week, throughout the remainder of the school year. “'Take 10!' is not a program of music, storytelling, or visual arts; it’s all of those things,” says Kirkpatrick. “It’s a little something for everybody, and it really speaks to the diversity of talent of our teaching artist roster.”
Local public institutions have taken notice of "Take 10!". A4L Virginia has already received requests for original programming from three different library systems and one school district in Eastern Virginia. “There’s the excitement of the possibility of being able to reach students better statewide through digital means,” Heywood Green said. “There’s a unique opportunity for people to see a nonprofit taking a step into a place that they’ve never been before. We’ve never been here before but we’re doing it for the students, we’re doing it for the artists.”
Despite its small size, A4L Virginia has no doubt that it will emerge from this period stronger, better equipped for the digital era, and more resilient than ever.
Young Audiences of Houston
Serving the nation’s fourth most populous city, Young Audiences of Houston (YAH) represents an expansive network of artists, educators, and community partner organizations. As it works to navigate unpredictable next steps, the organization is staying true to its core values of innovation, collaboration, and accessibility.
Following citywide school closures, which resulted in over 400 program cancellations through the end of the academic year, YAH established an Emergency Relief Fund for Teaching Artists. All funds raised will support teaching artists directly as they transition to new forms of learning, develop online lessons and programming, and expand arts-integration content for the 2020-21 school year. While helping to keep Houston’s vibrant arts community uplifted, the initiative also serves to support area youth, providing students and their families with quality arts-in-education resources during the current period of school closures and beyond.
One new resource is Arts for Learning Creativity Pops!, an online video series developed by YAH teaching artists, featuring activities that drive and inspire arts learning at home. With new content released on a weekly basis, viewers can enjoy a pop of creativity each day. Meanwhile, the commissioned videos provide income to teaching artists, demonstrating YAH’s unbreakable conviction that these talented individuals are essential to its mission, its students, and its city.
With city parks closed, YAH had to rethink its outdoor programming, and has been working with its parks partners at Discovery Green and Levy Park Houston to offer virtual and pre-recorded happenings. These performances and workshops span arts genres, and are led by YAH artists including Ana Maria Barcelo from the Houston Flamenco Collective, Andrew Karnavas of AndyRoo and the AndyRooniverse, and Robb Brunson of iAct Theater Company.
Thanks to funding from the Harris County Department of Education and local foundations, YAH has partnered with the Houston Independent School District to facilitate remote learning through the arts, with teaching artists delivering online lessons to students. Additionally, as part of its Discovery Arts Initiative, YAH is expanding digital arts access to children with learning differences. This week, 20 YAH teaching artists participated in a partnership with Art Spark Texas – a nonprofit serving individuals will diverse abilities – to adapt specialized lessons and develop open educational resources, which will expand teaching artist offerings as schools reopen.
By continuing to offer support where it matters most, YAH remains at the forefront of arts education in Houston.