Stories of Resilience Through the Arts from the YA Network - Part 5

May 01, 2020 |

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.   


Little girl dancing inside wearing paper crown

Kansas City Young Audiences

 Kansas City, MO

As the original provider of arts education programs for children and youth in the Kansas City metropolitan area (and throughout Western Missouri), Kansas City Young Audiences (KCYA) serves approximately 100,000 students annually, offering many their first encounter with the arts. Typically, KCYA teaching artists visit schools, libraries, and community centers to deliver curriculum-aligned, arts-integrated workshops, performances, and residencies. Further, the organization’s Community School of the Arts (CSA) offers children a dynamic gathering place to learn, explore, and develop their own creative interests and talents. Like so many YA affiliates, KCYA was taken by surprise with the sudden cancellations and closures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its first thought was to focus on its teaching artists whose school programs and CSA classes were cancelled. KCYA surmised that between March 15 and mid-May, its artists lost a total of $58,000 in income. In response, the organization created the Teaching Artist Emergency Fund to assist those who lost specific bookings. Funds raised will be shared among the artists directly impacted.

In April, KCYA hosted a Facebook live event, Band Together, which featured 14 KCYA teaching artists performing and leading arts activities through the organization’s Facebook page. The day went remarkably well, according to Director of Marketing & Business Development Marty Arvizu, considering KCYA had never done anything quite like it before. Each artist was assigned a "set" time and announced their program to their own social networks. The artists made a direct request for donations, mentioning a matching grant of $10,000 from the Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts.

During the event, in addition to raising crucial funds, KCYA gained more than 100 new online followers and had more than ten thousand minutes of video watched. Having artists perform under the official KCYA banner (which Arvizu admits was somewhat challenging) also provided the organization with great content to share with its audiences beyond the life of the fundraiser.

Looking forward, and building upon its recent online experiences, KCYA has kicked off a pilot session of virtual dance, music, theatre, and visual arts classes, with plans to offer summer programming virtually as well.

The organization’s staff remains committed to finding creative solutions to the challenges of distance learning, and its talented teaching artists are eager to contribute their passion, skills, and artistry to the larger effort. “As we support each other during this crisis,” said Arvizu, “we are confident that we will find ways to provide the arts education programs and creative outlets children need now, more than ever, for their health and wellbeing.”


Pink, purple, and green painted on wood

Arts for Learning Connecticut

 Hamden, CT

Each year at Arts for Learning Connecticut (AFLCT), over 100 teaching and performing artists serve in 60% of towns across the state, reaching students in schools, libraries, and community centers, and through other community-based engagements. Like many small nonprofits, Hamden-based AFLCT is doing everything it can to endure the current crisis’ financial implications – securing federal relief funding, reigning in expenses, and raising funds for its artists. It remains hopeful that it will be able to ramp back up once Connecticut schools reopen.

In the meantime, the organization is working diligently and innovatively to adapt its curricular-integrated programming to best serve students and schools during this period of distance learning. Staff members have been wearing multiple hats, and working in multiple capacities, and many AFLCT artists have been producing and sharing daily musical performances, dance recitals, visual arts lessons, stories, poems, and more. This content is shared through the organization’s social media platforms and video channels, including YouTube and Vimeo

AFLCT has also been holding bi-weekly calls with its teaching artists to touch base on the relief programs and resources available to them. During these meetings, participants also discuss ways of connecting students to new arts learning resources. There has been much great brainstorming and idea sharing, and so far, several AFLCT artists have successfully delivered programming to students who are learning from home via its virtual classrooms. Many others have adapted their pre-existing programming to virtual formats.

In these extraordinary times, as it turns to web-based learning, AFLCT has found museum websites to be a tremendous resource for its teachers and parents. However, it has also discovered that finding ways to use these resources effectively as arts curriculum support can sometimes be a challenge. To address this issue, storyteller Tom Lee created an entirely new digital learning program, Museums of the World.

Lee is also a museum educator with extensive experience and a far-reaching knowledge of art resources from museums around the world. He will work with teachers to create customized “tours” of internationally-renowned museums’ online galleries, investigating images than can support and enrich at-home and online learning. The program includes a live-streamed interactive discussion as well as web-based resources created specifically for different schools, grade levels, and classrooms. With strong links to Social Studies and English Language Arts curricula, the possibilities are endless. Topics include: American HistoryAncient CivilizationsLegends of the Middle AgesThe Life and Work of Charles DarwinChinese Poetry and ArtClassic Fairy Tale Illustrations, and The Origins of Hip-Hop.

AFLCT is happy to announce that, next week, it will be hosting a virtual concert fundraiser through The Great Give, a community-based fundraising initiative led by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. On May 5, a dozen AFLCT artists will join forces for this one-time event to share songs, stories, and performances for viewers of all ages, while offering some healing and artistic inspiration during these challenging times.


Tabletop view of kid using art supplies

Young Audiences of Oregon & SW Washington

 Portland, OR

With the cancellation of the rest of the school year, and a great many programs left in progress and incomplete, Portland-based Young Audiences of Oregon & Southwest Washington (YAOW) has been busy working on creative solutions and alternatives.

When developing new distance-learning content, the organization knew it was important to first understand what its school districts were doing. After reaching out to districts, it found that the majority had elected to reserve live online instructional time for math and ELA subjects only. This meant that all other subject areas were consigned to pre-recorded formats, and shared out as optional add-ons. Responding to the requirements of its districts, YAOW began developing short-form online arts instruction videos and corresponding PDFs, as many students lack internet access and thus rely on receiving paper packets. 

Fortunately for its teaching artists, the organization was able to reallocate funds to provide stipends, called Innovation Honorariums, to the artists creating these videos and PDFs. Once a sizable body of content has been amassed, YAOW will be reaching out to its network of teachers in the hope of offering important resources while deepening existing relationships.

YAOW is also offering a monthly series of Professional Development Workshops open not only to its own roster but to other local teaching artists as well. First in the series was the conversation-focused Limiting Liabilities as a Teaching Artist, which was led by two attorneys. Next up in the series is Arts and Science: Exploring the Depths of Integration, where participations will be encouraged to conduct hands-on experiments at home. Upcoming workshops include Trauma-Informed Care for Teaching Artists 101 and Self Care for Makers and Teachers.

At the same time, YAOW is working to spotlight its artists as they work independently, and the organization seeing an impressive array of formats and platforms from its artists. To aid these efforts, YA OR is sharing artist material through its social media, newsletters, and online Distance Learning Directory.

YAOW will also be holding its first-ever Virtual Gala on Thursday, May 7. The Broadway-themed event is free for everyone, and will feature performances by teaching artists and a personal story from a student who participated in YAOW’s Live SET, a program that trains teenage students in the art and science of sound engineering. In addition, the organization hopes to offer a creative alternative to its annual Run for the Arts, a spring fundraising jog-a-thon that has been helping bring arts programs to schools for over 40 years. 

Despite the many changes and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, YAOW ’s primary goal is to continue delivering quality arts learning experiences to young people. With kids experiencing massive changes to their lives, which may be difficult or scary for many, YAOW sees these programs as more critical than ever, believing strongly in the power of the arts to overcome fear, sustain hope, and carry us through.


Kid creating a mural, with white backdrop and whimsical design

Arkansas Learning Through The Arts

 Hot Springs Village, AR

Based in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas Learning Through The Arts (ALTTA) provides high-quality arts learning programs that reach students throughout Central Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta. As the large majority of these students live in rural areas with high levels of poverty, often ALTTA programs provide the only exposure to art forms and creative learning opportunities that these students have. With this in mind, the organization’s primary focus has been on continuing to reach young people in rural and remote districts following the announcement that schools would be closed for the remainder of the year.

ALTTA was fortunate in that 80% of its in-classroom programming had been completed before the school closures. Even so, the organization chose to honor all contracts with artists for scheduled programming that could not be delivered in the classroom. ALTTA was asked to adapt several of its classroom residency programs to pre-recorded and virtually led classes. To pilot the process, a handful of artists were selected to develop video residency materials that inspire young people to learn through their art form. The videos were produced under the tutelage of an artistic director, with a videographer performing final edits.

According to ALTTA Executive Director Craig Welle, dance residencies have been especially effective at engaging students virtually, as they offer ample opportunity for students to engage with activities and movements modeled by the artists. In ALTTA’s poetry-writing residencies, teaching artists plan to use digital platforms that facilitate live interaction with the students as they write their poetry. Class sizes will remain at under 25, so that all students can actively participate in creating their poems and sharing them with classmates. ALTTA will apply what it learns from these pilot programs to additional residencies in art, music and theatre arts.

While the Arkansas Department of Education has been developing online resources for schools in collaboration with Arkansas’ local PBS station, these initiatives to not directly incorporate arts teaching and learning. Because ALTTA's programs integrate the arts into literacy and social studies curriculum, the organization will help fill an important gap in what is currently being offered. Likewise, the lessons being developed by ALTTA will serve both as a short-term and long-term resource for schools.

ALLTA had planned to hold its major friend and fundraising event, Poetry in Motion, as part of the area’s annual Arts and the Park arts festival. When the April event was no longer feasible, friends of ALTTA continued to rally in support of the organization’s existing programs and new delivery initiatives. Through its campaign, ALTTA was able to raise over half of the original event’s project fundraising goals. Further, the organization is pleased to announce that Poetry in Motion has been rescheduled to mid-October.