Arts United is Young Audience’s comprehensive effort to examine and improve our programming, leadership, and operations with a focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access.
YA continually strives to create spaces that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive to all students. YA is committed to providing students of all identities, backgrounds, and experiences with arts education.
Our core understandings:
- As an organization that brings arts education into schools, we understand that our work exists within systems that perpetuate inequities, biases, stereotypes, and racism.
- We believe that the arts are powerful tools to remove barriers of inequality.
- We understand that our role is to provide transformative experiences for students, families, and educators within the four walls our artists are working in—whether it’s a school auditorium, a classroom, faculty lounge, family’s home, or virtual space.
With YA artists, our aim is for students to imagine new possibilities for themselves and others, experience their own strengths and talents, foster a sense of community, and remove obstacles that prevent them from understanding and connecting with each other.
Commitments of Arts United
YA’s Board of Trustees, professional teaching artists, and staff share this responsibility and make the following commitments:
- Lifting up the assets of all students, teachers, and family members who participate in our programs, inclusive of all physical, intellectual, and cultural traits.
- Removing barriers that restrict participation in the arts.
- Presenting artists and art forms from diverse and varied cultures and perspectives.
- Supporting anti-bias, anti-stereotype teaching practices that are inclusive of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, socioeconomic status, religion, and any other identifiers.
- Developing and delivering programs that teach empathy, cross-cultural understanding, and acceptance among students.
- Developing authentic programming that disrupts the practice of cultural appropriation and honors the original creators of the art forms we present.
We are committed to assessment and adjustments of our business practices including budgeting, staffing, staff development, recruitment of teaching artists and consultants, and board development, with the priority to create an equitable and diverse environment in which YA programming is developed.
We are committed to sharing our vision and providing leadership in the non-profit sector, the arts education community and the community at-large as we undertake this effort to realize our vision. With the understanding that our path ahead is a shared endeavor, we are committed to ongoing and collaborative learning opportunities for staff, artists, and trustees to continually improve understanding, communication, program quality, and capacity.
Arts United Timeline
In 2017, board, staff, and artists began a comprehensive effort to ensure that we create spaces that are diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible for the children we serve. With facilitation by Yancey Consulting, staff spent six days in learning and action planning to undertake an examination of every facet of our work. We developed a 3-year Arts United Action Plan (AU) that was board approved in 2018. Following board approval, the Arts United Action Plan was shared with our teaching artist roster and with the wider YA Network at the Young Audiences National Conference.
To ensure accountability, we established a cross-department staff committee and a board committee. To date, efforts have made meaningful changes in hiring practices, curricula, compensation, learning, language, accessibility, and fundraising. Arts United continues to guide our evolving practice as one of 4 initiatives in YA’s 2020-2022 Three-Year Strategic Plan.
Impact on Students
- United We Discover programming advanced Disability equity by providing 2606 students with15 assemblies and/or 100 residency days. These programs promoted positive perceptions of Disabled identities, modeled accessible arts-based teaching and learning, while building connected communities.
- To better prepare students for in-person arts experiences, the Media Engagement Project shared on demand materials to support students’ understanding of the cultural backgrounds of assembly artists and their artforms.
- 232 students at Morris Union Jointure Commission’s Developmental Learning Center participated in the final year of a 3-year AIE Arc program. In their final 20-day artist residency students explored painting with teaching artist Molly Gaston Johnson. The school received a NJ Governor’s Award in Arts Education for their commitment to arts learning. School leadership reported they are leveraging the success of AIE residencies to begin discussions on hiring full-time art teachers.
- Artist recruitment included the addition of 12 artists on the YA roster, including representation of two artists from the Narragansett Indian Tribe and four multilingual (Spanish/English) assemblies.
- Created a model for an annual Arts United plan for the organization; quarterly check-ins conducted for accountability.
- Began creation of an Arts United Grievance process for YA staff, board, and partners.
- Conducted staff and board inclusion surveys.
- DEIA Director met with BIPOC staff members to gauge interest in creating a formal support system for BIPOC staff with the goal to engage in professional/emotional support, and collectively bring concerns to YA leadership.
- United We Discover blog post shared through the Inclusive Healthy Communities Grant website and YA LinkedIn and social media.
- Descriptive alt text was added to YA website images.
- During the Creating Change 2023 conference, Michele Russo contributed to the session, How We Got Started and How We Built Resilience: Initiating and Learning from DEI Work at Your Arts Organization.
- Revision of staff recruitment and RFP process to provide welcoming, low-barrier engagement with YA’s staffing and consultancy opportunities.
- Website analyzed for accessibility and received a 93% score.
- Professional learning for staff included accessible design with Kade Friedman, equity level-setting and gender diversity training.
- Professional learning for teaching artists and school partners included accessible teaching and learning with Kade Friedman, and restorative practices with Creative Praxis.
- Board/staff/artist retreat included sessions on Universal Design for Learning, and LGBTQ+ curriculum.
- Teaching artists and staff participated in Young Audiences national Responsive Arts In School Education (RAISE) professional learning and convening.
Impact on Students
- Liberate: Art and Activism, previously titled the Antiracism Programming Initiative, piloted professional learning programs, assemblies, workshops, and family arts events at Mount Vernon School in Newark and Hedgepeth Williams Middle School in Trenton.
- LBTQ+ Programming Initiative created a ten-day residency program to educate middle school students on the historical, economic, and cultural contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals with collaborative support by a middle school teacher focused on LGBTQ+ curriculum design and Garden State Equality.
- Theatre to Learn revised its programming from a culturally responsive and Disability justice perspective, including the creation of an original, bilingual Unit 4 script by Dodge Theatre to Learn teaching artist Summer Dawn entitled “Finding Fotos y Recuerdos”.
- All staff articipated in Building Movement Project’s pilot of the Building Blocks For Change race equity assessment, providing feedback on the assessment process and applying the results to YA’s upcoming strategic planning decisions.
- Board Arts United Committee established annual Arts United Board goals, including Arts United language and priorities worked into all onboarding, orientations, and the annual board-staff retreat.
- YA programming staff revised program pricing and travel fee structure based on artist feedback to provide more equitable fees in the face of ongoing inflation and travel costs.
- Staff members Michele Russo and Joseph Ahmed, with Arts United Committee co-chair
- Mikaela Levons, presented on YA’s Arts United endeavors at the New Jersey Non-Profit Conference and the YA National Convening.
- Through its sharing in YA National’s Equity Working Group, YA’s Cultural Representation and Appropriation policy was adopted by Arts Partners in Wichita, Kansas.
- YA Supported Diversity, Equity, Inclusi, and Access Manager Joseph Ahmed in become a Certified Diversity Professional through the Institute for Diversity Certification.
- The Creativity Consultant Institute featured sessions for staff, artists, and board focused on anti-racist and anti-opression work led by Dr. Denisha Jones, Garden State Equality, and peer collaborations between educators and teaching artists.
Impact on Students
- Developed the Antiracism Programming Initiative to create 10 programs for grades K-8 aimed at communicating principles of antiracism, uplifting Black art-making traditions, and celebrating Black joy. Programs serve students, teachers, and families.
- Work to remove financial capacity barriers by fundraising to bring programs to students in all schools in our region.
- United We Create, aimed at building bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim students served five schools, each receiving two performances, two family arts sessions, two educator learning sessions, and eight student workshops.
- Arts United strategic plan goals tracked across every department through action steps, report-backs, and quarterly reviews.
- Created a Teaching Artist Non-Program Pay Scale based on the W.A.G.E Fee Calculator and the Teaching Artist’s Guild’s Pay Rate Calculator. This document guides fee decisions for contract work outside of our core programs.
- Staff inclusion and satisfaction evaluated by a third-party consultant, with results and recommendations for growth presented to the entire staff.
- Arts Impact Initiative (formerly Adopt-a-School) rebranding is completed. This effort continues a move towards the use of respectful and uplifting language for the communities we serve.
- Developed our Identity First Statement to guide language to dismantle disableism. YA respectfully uses the language Disabled artists and Disabled students to support Disability justice, equity, and inclusion in the arts.
- Three trustees and three staff members attended the multi-month Learning to Applied Practice: Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression program by Yancey Consulting, supported by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
- Offered numerous antiracist and culturally responsive arts education professional development sessions to roster artists, including four sessions through the Antiracism Programming Initiative led by Josh Campbell and Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz.
Impact on Students
- Artists continue to revise their programs through a DEIA lens by removing racially biased content, amplifying the history of historically Black disciplines, and communicating the artists’ cultural connection to their artform.
- Four new artist groups led or co-led by women of color are added to the roster, increasing representation and reflecting students in our region.
- United We Discover advanced Disability equity by offering professional learning led by artists who represent disability. YA added 3 new artists who represent Disability arts.
- Developed a Cultural Representation and Appropriation Policy for artistic work and programs.
- Board formed the Arts United Board Committee. Trustees adopted Arts United Board Goals and hosted the second Arts United learning session.
- Published a Black History Month blog exploring how programs from Black artists are often siloed into February and encouraging partners to incorporate these programs throughout the school year.
- Finance Department conducted a vendor survey to inform spending practices and prioritize businesses reflective of the communities we serve.
- Held staff peer-to-peer learning sessions on the impacts of racism and the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand the needs of our school partners.
- Artist learning opportunities include one-on-one Arts United reviews of curriculum with staff, webinars and professional development on Culturally Responsive Teaching, Gender Inclusion, and Antiracist Arts Education.
- Staff attended a two-session professional development on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access with consultant Dr. Chanelle Wilson, Professor of Education at Bryn Mawr College.
Impact on Students
- Expanded Dance to Learn Curriculum for grades 2-5 to represent non-Western cultures, traditions, and dance styles.
- Raised $50,000 to develop new programs for students centered on Disability.
- Updated assessment tools with an anti-bias education lens.
- Updated new staff recruitment practices to reach a broader network of candidates.
- An audit of program descriptions removed biased and exoticizing language and imagery.
- President and CEO helped plan the National Executive Director’s Council for Young Audiences Network day of learning with consultant Lisa Yancey.
- Teaching artists, staff, and trustees participated in diversity, equity, inclusion, and access professional learning sessions.
- Teaching artists trained in culturally responsive teaching practices.