Young Audiences Receives Prestigious Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to Expand United We Discover Program


PRINCETON, NJ; May, 2024

Young Audiences Arts for Learning New Jersey and Eastern PA (YA) is pleased to announce its receipt of a significant grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in support of YA’s United We Discover Program. The $15,000 Grant for Arts Projects award will strengthen YA’s efforts to foster positive perceptions of Disabled* identities, increase inclusion and equitable educational experiences in schools, and build connected communities. This initiative is funded in part by an Inclusive Healthy Communities Grant from the Division of Disability Services, New Jersey Department of Human Services.

United We Discover is a transformative school-based arts residency program designed to provide students who receive Individual Education Plan (IEP) services with enriching artistic experiences alongside their peers, educators, and families. Through a comprehensive year-long curriculum of performances, workshops, professional learning, and family programming, participating schools immerse themselves in a culture of affirmation and inclusion.

Student from Salome Ureña Elementary School showcasing their artwork, YA Teaching Artists Erik James Montgomery’s United We Discover Residency – Photo by Michelle Marigliano

“Our goal with the United We Discover program, is to create innovative and inclusive environments where every student’s creativity, voice, and vision are valued,” said Michele Russo, President, and CEO of Young Audiences. “Through this program, we aim to empower Disabled students, educate teachers on inclusive arts practices, and foster a community where differences are celebrated.”

YA teaching artist, Erik James Montgomery, shared the profound impact United We Discover has on students. “I’ve seen students’ lives change inside and out,” Erik remarked. “Their self-esteem grows leaps and bounds, they stand taller, smile more, and discover their identity and strengths. They realize they’re just like everybody else, and they take pride in that.”

Student from Walter C. Black Elementary School painting, YA Teaching Artist Marilyn Keating’s United We Discover Residency – Photo by Michelle Marigliano

Beyond enriching the lives of individual students, United We Discover also seeks to reduce social isolation, boost self-esteem, and promote positive perceptions of disabilities. Studies have consistently shown that arts education not only enhances academic performance but also nurtures social and emotional development.

Veronica Hernandez, an educator at Paterson 15, attested to the program’s impact on students’ perceptions of disability. “I believe the students excelled in expanding a positive narrative of Disabled people as artists and recognizing their artistic expressions,” she noted. “The students want to learn more about Disabled people and their experiences.”

With the generous support of the NEA, Young Audiences can continue its mission of providing specialized programming that enables all students to participate fully and express themselves freely.

*YA recognizes ableism as a system of oppression and acknowledges the generations of Disabled people working to advance disability justice. With guidance from the Social Model of Disability and the lived experiences of disability arts advocates, we learned that an increasing number of Disabled people prefer identity-first language. As an ally and co-conspirator, we respectfully use “Disabled people” instead of “people with disabilities.

Explore the collaborative impact of the Inclusive Healthy Communities grant and United We Discover through the IHC Young Audiences Video, produced in partnership with The NJ Department of Human Services.

For more information about the United We Discover Program, please visit

To discover more projects supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, visit

Michelle Marigliano
Senior Director of Education and Equity
Young Audiences Arts for Learning NJ and Eastern PA
[email protected]

About Young Audiences Arts for Learning

Young Audiences Arts for Learning NJ & Eastern PA, established in 1973, is the leading arts-in-education resource in the region, offering teaching artist-led performances, workshops, residencies, and professional learning programs to schools across New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. With an extensive roster of professional artists spanning various art forms, Young Audiences has impacted over 15 million children in its 50-year history. Committed to inspiring young minds and fostering inclusive learning environments, Young Audiences strives to ensure that every child receives rich and meaningful arts experiences. Through diverse and accessible programs, the organization aims to strengthen arts education, meet curriculum standards, and enrich cultural life in communities throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), established in Congress in 1965, is an independent federal agency that is the largest funder of the arts and arts education in communities nationwide and a catalyst of public and private support for the arts. By advancing equitable opportunities for arts participation and practice, the NEA fosters and sustains an environment in which the arts benefit everyone in the United States.