And so another school year begins…

For 22 years, Arts Corps has been immersed in the rhythms of the school year. The excitement and nervous energy of students and educators in the fall, the much-needed breaks peppered throughout winter and spring, and the limp to the finish line when teaching artists use every ounce of their creative energy and brilliance to keep students focused as summer approaches. These are the cadences that serve as our backdrop when engaging young people in programs that ignite imagination, joy, and well-being through art.

Thanks to ongoing support from our incredible partners and donors, we are embarking on another successful school year. From fall through summer, we’ll bring free arts programming to 2,500 youth across the region with the least access to arts education opportunities. We’ll deliver arts enrichment classes to 17 schools, parks and recreation, and low-income housing sites, collaborating with over 30 classroom teachers to integrate the arts into the school day and connecting 100+ teens to digital media arts and creative career opportunities. 

With all that lies ahead, let’s pause and reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. Arts Corps has evolved significantly over the last few years in the face of myriad challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic, a historic recession, organizational tension, and leadership transition. There is much to celebrate and work yet to be done.  

The theme of our 2021 Annual Report was “Becoming Together,” which highlights our ongoing commitment to learning and growing together as an organization. In the face of uncertainty and change, we doubled down on our “staff care,” took time to slow down, reflect on our values, and learn from the past. We implemented practices designed to cultivate a community grounded in trust, equity, and a shared commitment to Arts Corps’ mission.

Our intentional work to cultivate an anti-racist organization grounded in trust and equity resulted in significant changes to our organizational policies and practices. Over the past two years we have:

  • Remained creative and resilient, providing free arts programming uninterrupted to over 2,400 students annually and have kept all staff and teaching artists employed. 
  • Collectively collaborated to discuss, write, and ratify a culture of equity and inclusion statement.  
  • Developed a transparent, tiered pay structure for all levels of Arts Corps staff.  
  • Explored compensation models to ensure we are leaders in teaching artist pay.  
  • Established a compensation policy that guarantees each employee earns a salary that meets or exceeds median salary for comparable positions in King County, and our highest paid staff member makes no more than 2x our lowest staff paid member.  
  • Added 2 board positions reserved for Arts Corps teaching artists. 
  • Decided to pursue a Co-Executive Director structure that more fully embraces our values of shared leadership and collaboration, aiming to reduce burnout in a single ED model.

In November 2020, Arts Corps’ Director of Development & Communications, Carrie Siahpush, stepped up as Arts Corps’ Acting Executive Director, leading our organization through this challenging time of thoughtful analysis, reflection, and change. Carrie’s time as Acting ED wrapped up on August 30 and our entire organization is so grateful for her many invaluable contributions to our community. Carrie carried the weight and stress of Arts Corps’ historic challenges with a strong constitution, humor, humility, strong leadership, and deep love for Arts Corps and especially the youth we engage. The changes Carrie helped usher in, combined with her deep tending to staff care and organizational culture, are truly a profound accomplishment and will leave a lasting impact. 

As Carrie’s tenure as Acting Director ends, we welcome Naho Shioya as Arts Corps’ Interim Executive Director. Naho describes herself as a mission-driven leader and a value focused professional in the field of education, arts and culture, and racial equity. She has immersed herself in identifying, developing, and implementing action plans to create racial equity and dismantle systemic racism in our community, ensuring success for all children and youth, especially in arts education. Naho will work to support the staff and faculty in the interim period while the next phase of the executive search commences. 

The next phase of our executive search will once again be led by a committee consisting of staff, board and teaching artists. This continues the intentional choice we made last fall to veer from the traditional way executive searches are done. Instead of a search led by our board of directors or an external firm, we decided to move forward with a search committee formed with equal representation from the board, staff, and teaching artists. After a season of developing a cohesive co-leadership model and conducting an internal search, the committee is now excited to announce a call for candidates outside of the organization. And we’re starting that call with you; our Arts Corps community.

We are now accepting applications for Co-Executive Directors. Spread the word!

As we start another school year, we at Arts Corps are excited to continue growing together and exploring the untapped possibilities that lie ahead in arts education. We’re committed to the ongoing work of providing equitable experiences in our classrooms and in our workplace, and we look forward to supporting young people in reaching new heights in their artistry, learning, and sense of belonging. 

We know this work does not happen in a vacuum, and we’re so thankful to our ecosystem of partners, donors, and community members who collaborate with us in support of youth creativity and educational equity. Without you, the work to cultivate joy and creativity is simply not possible. And there is so much of each in abundance! As one student said recently about their experience in an Arts Corps class during the school day, “We took time to do work, but that work was more fun than practically anything else in school.”

— CHRISTA MAZZONE PALMBERG, Interim Director of Dev. & Communications