Stories of Resilience Through the Arts from the YA Network - Part 6

May 08, 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.   


Cans of colorful paint seen from above

Arts for Learning San Diego

 San Diego, CA

Arts for Learning San Diego (A4LSD) believes that the arts are a critical part of a child’s education and can also help during times of crisis and confusion. Now that schools in San Diego are closed, the organization is putting into practice everything it says an arts education fosters – innovative thinking, collaboration, and creative problem solving. Its staff has been working to ensure that children can still access arts content to uplift and focus their intellect, emotions, and energy.

Spring is typically the busiest time of the year for A4LSD, and, by way of distance learning, the organization has been able to continue its programming and finish out most of its contracts. A4LSD is continuing to serve local partner schools, including Rowan Elementary, a Title I school in the San Diego Unified School District. After school closures, dance teaching artist Kanna Burch began instructing students there virtually, meeting with 10-15 kids twice a week to teach them the basics of hip hop dance. She also teaches modified dance to special education children each week, and provides recorded content so that all students can keep up with their dance lessons.

Further, the organization is developing a new partnership with Girl Scouts San Diego. Through an online platform, scouts have opportunities to earn virtual badges by participating in different arts workshops and activities. This program has also allowed A4LSD up to reach girls from other parts of the country, as scouts can participate the organization’s digital programming if their local branch does not have a comparable offering. 

A4LSD also remains committed to continuing to provide service and education to families connected to the military and some of the most vulnerable students – kids who are incarcerated, pregnant or parenting, or impacted by homelessness – in the Juvenile Court and Community Schools

The organization’s efforts have been praised in local news segments. “We want to continue to serve these kids, and we really believe in the power of the arts, especially at this time of uncertainty,” said Interim Executive Director Adrienne Valencia. “It’s a huge pivot for us, but if we don’t do it, who will?”

In support of these efforts, A4LSD was recently awarded five grants from the California Arts Council, which will fund programmatic residencies and performances as well as professional and organizational development.

During times like these, A4LSD still feels strongly that the arts and artists are essential community resources deserving sustained advocacy and investment. Through its innovative efforts and dedication, the organization hopes to connect people with one another, to deepen learning, and to provide safe and positive methods of expression.


Girl drawing with pen while seated at table

Young Audiences of Abilene

 Abilene, TX

Young Audiences of Abilene (YAA) brings together schools, communities, and professional teaching artists, creating programs that help make the arts an integral part of education for area students. Operating as part of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council (ACAC), home to the nation’s largest collection of outdoor sculptures based on children’s literature, YAA works in close partnership with the Abilene Public Library and the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature. Abilene, Texas, is known as the “Storybook Capital of America” for its efforts to celebrate literary works for children. It is no wonder, then, that this aspect of Abilene’s identity is reflected in many of YAA’s partnerships, programs, and new initiatives under development.

With sudden school closures leading to program cancelations and lost income for many teaching artists around the country, YAA was very fortunate to have completed the majority of its in-school programs for the year. With only two weeks of instruction remaining on the calendar for YAA’s Art Shines, an arts-based intervention program for targeted students, and Arts Afterschool programs, the organization was glad to be able to compensate its teaching artists through the remainder of their contracts.  

Unfortunately, the pandemic has posed greater challenges with regard to YAA’s plans to keep kids learning through the arts over the summer. Each year, a highlight of the organization’s summer programming is the free Summer Library Performance Series, featuring public programs delivered by YAA teaching artists in partnership with the Abilene Public Library. With the 2020 series canceled due to COVID-19, YAA is now exploring new ways to keep local youth engaged, while platforming the work of its teaching artists.

In the realm of fundraising, YAA has also had to switch gears. The organization hosts its annual signature fundraising event, Enchanted Storybook Café, each June in conjunction with ACAC’s Children’s Art & Literacy Festival (CALF). With CALF postponed until June 2021, YAA doubled down its focus on Abilene Gives, an online giving initiative to raise money and awareness for Abilene nonprofits. Thanks to generous donors, YAA was able to raise an incredible 138% of its fundraising target during the 24-hour giving event.   

Looking ahead to next year’s CALF, ACAC has launched a yearlong celebration of children’s storybook author and illustrator Loren Long. YAA looks forward to helping plan and facilitate the celebration’s activities for the community in order to continue this Abilene tradition.


Boy holding paintbrush, painting green paint onto cardboard

Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern PA

 Princeton, NJ

Young Audiences Arts for Learning NJ & Eastern PA (YANJEP), the leading provider of arts education in New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, offers over 4,000 programs – performances, residencies, professional learning, and family events – each year.

During these unprecedented times, YANJEP’s priorities have been to support students, school communities, and teaching artists, while finding innovative ways to connect children with arts experiences wherever – and however – their schooling is taking place. The Princeton, NJ-based organization is currently working with its diverse group of teaching artists to channel their collective creativity, artistry, and educational mastery into developing dynamic and engaging online resources.

Soon after schools transitioned to remote learning, YANJEP launched ARTS CONNECTION, a weekly interactive, student-focused video series that allows teaching artists to continue to be a bright spot in every child’s day. Every Monday, YANJEP releases engaging new assembly program content, free on YouTube, to help children across the region stay connected and inspired by the arts while learning from home. ARTS CONNECTION is also being shared through public library systems, school district websites, teacher classroom portals, and other platforms. Thanks to the popularity and sharing of the video series, YANJP has seen a 50% increase in new YouTube subscribers and a 220% increase in views over the past month.

YANJEP is also developing student-focused Live Virtual Arts Experiences, with assembly performances and workshops offered through Google Classroom, Flipboard, and Zoom. YANJEP staff is working closely with an initial cohort of teaching artists to develop, rehearse, and implement virtual school programming, which will be available to schools in June.

With its teaching artists facing an estimated losses of $400,000 in wages, YA collaborated with funders and donors to offer artists financial support. Generous individual donors and foundations were flexible in providing unspent grants funds that YANJEP allocated to artist relief. Further, YANJEP moved swiftly to launch its Artist Innovation Fund. The Fund’s first initiative was a call for YANJEP teaching artists to create online resources to get students, teachers, families, and fellow teaching artists through the period of school closures and beyond. One of the many programs in development is Freestyle Repertory Theatre’s video series, Home Fooling: How to Teach Your Family to Play Improv Games with You. The series will be designed to help families play improv games together and to practice live theatre.

“We know the arts are essential to education,” said YANJEP President & CEO Michele Russo, “and we are determined to be part of children’s learning, even when buildings are closed.” YANJEP believes that, during these challenging times, children need the arts more than ever. The organization remains committed to keeping its community of students, teachers, and families connected with its teaching artists and the creativity they offer.