At Young Audiences Arts for Learning, we are taking an opportunity for reflection as we begin the new year. 2020 was incomparably difficult and painful, yet it has also issued a call to action and brought forth the beginnings of necessary change. While systemic racism and inequity are a daily lived experience for many of us, they can no longer be denied by those of us who have benefited from an unjust system.
In this new year (and beyond), we all will be facing many challenges, both professionally and personally. We have come to understand that the necessary skills to carry us forward are those of teaching artists and our school education partners: inquiry, reflection, and responsiveness. All institutions need to reckon with their history and internalized structures that have sustained inequity, and we must pose hard questions and be willing to let things get uncomfortable in order to enact change. We must be nimble and responsive to those we wish to serve, adapting to meet what’s needed now. Not only do we need to listen, we need to hear. And, especially at this time, actions do speak louder than words.
As we negotiate the ongoing transition between online and in-person learning, we are convinced that partnership—with educators, with our colleagues in the field, and with our students—is ever more essential. This is the moment to rethink our teaching to meet the evolving needs of young learners and to create space to lift up the many assets they hold, even as they navigate the numerous traumas of our time.
Each year, YA offers competitive grants for its affiliate organizations, and we have focused these funds on supporting initiatives that promote racial equity. Over a third of the network has proposed new programming initiatives, resulting in such outcomes as culturally responsive curriculum and teaching strategies and professional pathways for BIPOC artists and staff members. Our national office has centered antiracism as a lens as we convene and discuss new approaches to teaching and learning and our institutional practices as a network. There will be much more yet to do, but we look forward to moving forward as a community.
We engage this opportunity with the hope and optimism we feel when we hear the artistry of the young people we serve. It’s their creativity and vision that we aspire to, and we enter the new year leaning into this hard work—both internal and external—in hope of doing them justice.