Dance to Learn students at Wiggins Elementary School in Camden, NJ.

Dance to Learn students at Wiggins Elementary School in Camden, NJ.

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

Programming

Jeannine Osayande & Dunya Performing Arts Company

YA Assembly Artist Group Jeannine Osayande & Dunya Performing Arts Company performing “Diaspora West African Drum and Dance Traditions” at YA’s Fall Artist Showcase.

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.

Operations

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.

Leadership

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.

FY19

Boom Buckets Around the World workshop with Teaching Artist Hector Morales and students from Haledon, NJ

Boom Buckets Around the World workshop with Teaching Artist Hector Morales and students from Haledon, NJ

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.

Organizational Accountability

  • Updated assessment tools with an anti-bias education lens.

Communications that Include

  • Updated new staff recruitment practices to reach a broader network of candidates.
  • An audit of program descriptions removed biased and exoticizing language and imagery.

Continuous Learning

  • 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.

FY20

Mary Knysh Teaching in a Drum Circle

Teaching artist Mary Kynsh leads a percussion circle at a “United We Discover” event held at Morris-Union Jointure Commission.

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.

Organizational Accountability

  • Developed a Cultural 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.

Communications that Include

  • 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.

Continuous Learning

  • 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.

FY21 Goals

Fiscal year 2021 will be guided by the following Arts United strategic goals:

Impact on Students

  • Develop arts programming in anti-racism, social justice, and LGBTQ+ and disability history.
  • Continue to fund-raise to bring programs to students in all schools in our region and remove financial capacity barriers.

Organizational Accountability

  • Codify YA policy for hiring vendors and outsourcing that reflects commitment to DEIA.
  • Board or board committees have broad stakeholder representation of age, Disability, ethnicity, geographic location, and race.
    • Complete audit of approximately 75% of YA performances and workshops.
  • Arts United work is integrated into all aspects of the organization, forward-facing partnerships, and communications.
iam Halstead, Philadelphia based juggler shines a spotlight on Disability Arts with a live performance during a "United We Discover" event held at Morris-Union Jointure Commission.

Liam Halstead, Philadelphia based juggler shines a spotlight on Disability Arts with a live performance during a “United We Discover” event held at Morris-Union Jointure Commission.

Communications that Include

  • Staff will codify language for internal and external communications in alignment with DEIA best practices.
  • Assess and develop a plan to reduce access barriers to learning in virtual programming.
  • Continue cultivating relationships/aligning with other organizations/leaders in the field.
  • Arts United work is included in board communication as part of the recruitment process.

Continuous Learning

  • Continue learning and reflection practices for YA staff, artists, and board.
  • Run monthly artist meetings and periodic DEIA professional learnings for the artists roster.

Continue piloting United We Create, our arts programs aimed at connecting Muslim and non-Muslim children. Halted by the pandemic shut down, we plan to complete the pilot year in 2020-2021.