Sponsor Spotlight: True North Gear

The True North Gear team at an Earth Day clean-up event earlier this year.

Why would a company that designs and sells protective fire gear sponsor Arts Corps year after year? The short answer is that they deeply value creativity, imagination, and risk-taking; core skills that Arts Corps cultivates in students through our arts integration and out-of-school time programs.
True North Gear’s origin story speaks to how intrinsic these values are in the company’s DNA. With a sewing machine from Goodwill and an idea for a new type of pack he wanted to create based on his outdoor experience, founder Alyx Fier launched his company in 1992 out of his garage. While working full-time as a carpenter, he spent six months teaching himself pack design, patterning, and prototyping on nights and weekends. With time and persistence and innovation, he was able to design and sew his own designs.
Fast forward 29 years and True North Gear is a multi-brand corporation with a global reach whose products save lives. As Fier proudly describes it: “Everything we make is either used to protect the life of the person using it, or they are using it to protect someone else’s life. That is so consequential and intrinsically meaningful.”

Their products range from chainsaw packs to radio harnesses to flame-resistant pants, and they have dealers across the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Even with their growth, they continue to be a family-owned company, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Way S, just a few miles from the garage where it all began.
When asked if arts education influenced his development as a young person, Fier unequivocally associated it with his success in business. He shared, “I’m living proof that studying and being engaged in the creative process as a student can provide the foundation for an intellectually and financially rewarding life. My college education focused on film, theater, music and audio engineering, none of which would seem obvious choices as a precursor to a successful business career as opposed to getting an MBA.”

Fier continues: “The common denominator of my studies is that they all involved the creative process and what I learned is understanding and appreciating that failure is an intrinsic and important part of success. Knowing that emboldened me to risk taking. You have an idea, you try it, it doesn’t work the way you expected, you learn from that experience and apply it to the next attempt. It’s only failure if you don’t learn anything and don’t then try again. Fear of ‘failure’ is what holds most people back from actually being successful.”
Arts Corps is so grateful to have corporate partners like True North Gear who value the importance of cultivating creativity, imagination, and risk-taking among youth. Thank you, True North Gear!


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Back to school. How is that possible?

I’m writing from our West Seattle office where I can hear music and muffled laughter coming through the huge open windows as our team sets up in the parking lot. Masked shouts of love are coming from folks who haven’t seen each other in person for over a year. The energy is contagious, the rhythm is palpable. We’re giddy, maybe even a little awkward, we’re just happy to be together. It’s a much needed salve for my heart. 

Today’s a special day. Our Program Team and veteran Teaching Artists on staff are welcoming new teaching artists to the Arts Corps faculty. 11 new teaching artists will join our robust roster of 25 this fall. Among them are poets, writers, storytellers, music producers, visual artists, theatre artists, and even a puppeteer. As we gather in masks outside on a chilly August afternoon to make art, learn together, and share a socially-distanced meal, it’s clear that these are our people. Artists. Creatives. Educators. Folks who thrive off of sharing ideas. It feels like a rebirth of what it means to Make Art Anyway. 

This school year we plan to hold 60% of our classes in-person. We’re also planning to continue virtual classes. Online learning breaks down access barriers for youth across King County, widening the reach of Arts Corps’ classes. We anticipate that we will assemble and deliver over 5,000 art kits, each of which are unique to each student and their curriculum.  

After walking the tightrope of a global pandemic, a major leadership transition, and navigating the ever-changing education landscape, our organization has taken the last nine months to reflect and build. 

In January, we began the year with a period of intentional deep reflection, beginning with an organizational assessment that helped us learn about and lean into our strengths, identify our warts, and supported us in deciding how to move forward as we begin to search for a permanent leadership solution.

After three months of exploration, we learned that we have a team full of passionate staff and teaching artists. We have a collective commitment to the youth in our programs, to anti-racism, and to our community at large, and that despite the pandemic and other challenges, Arts Corps’ programs have continued to offer the highest quality of creative learning opportunities. It was also clear that we value shared leadership. 

We were also left with some questions:

How is Arts Corps creating a sustainable life for teaching artists? What is our compensation philosophy? How do we manage conflict? To answer these questions, we started at the root. We centered our values of community, equity, and creativity to closely examine how we want them to show up in our daily work.

Community: Our team has been talking about the community we want to build together. What makes a community strong, a place for authentic belonging, where each identity and lived experience is valued, and where each person has a place in important decision making? We know that begins with trust. So that’s what we’ve been building. In addition to programming, we’ve been working to establish radical honesty. In March we began working closely with Praxis Essentials, run by our own Co-Director of Arts Education, Olisa Enrico. Olisa is leading us through team building rooted in equity. 

Equity: An important theme at the heart of our staff conflict in 2019 was inequitable pay. It is a critical piece of who we are at Arts Corps to make sure we lead our region in equitable business practices. We need to ensure that our incredibly talented team can not only afford to live and work in King County, but that our families can thrive and have a healthy quality of life. 

This spring we collaborated to draft and pass an equitable compensation policy as part of a more inclusive budget process. Now we have transparent salary bands. This new plan ensures that no Arts Corps staff member will ever earn less than 50% of the median wage for their particular position in King County. Our highest paid staff member makes no more than 2x that of the lowest paid staff member. We have clear pathways to promotions. We also offer a small bump in compensation for every year folks have been in their role, as well as a COLA every other year. In the years without a COLA, we reevaluate salary bands to ensure we are still offering leading wages in the nonprofit industry. 

We took time to reevaluate the way we compensate teaching artists. Some of the feedback that we heard was that there was too much of a gap between our classroom assistants and our most experienced teaching artists, leaving our newest and often youngest teaching artists most vulnerable. Now we offer 3 bands of flat rate wages that not only exceed national industry norm, but are some of the highest paid teaching artists positions in our region. Arts Corps teaching artists now receive access to a 401K with a match from Arts Corps, access to dental insurance, accident plans, and other benefits. 

Our entire team of staff and teaching artists receive a personal and professional development allotment to use as they choose because we know that having a healthy well-balanced life leads to creative expression.

Creativity: We’ve all learned to expect the unexpected, so we will continue to do what we do best. We are here to make art together. We make art at our team meetings, we play theater games, we do scavenger hunts, and show-and-tell on Zoom. This summer, my biggest source of joy were the pop-up performances that we did at four community housing sites — drumming, singing, and dancing with youth and their families is what we all needed. Creative collaboration and expression is where joy comes from.

As we start another unprecedented school year, we’ll learn and grow with our partners as we navigate the pandemic together. We’ll take high level safety precautions to keep each other safe. We care about our community. We care about our students and we can’t wait to make more art. 

— CARRIE SIAHPUSH, Acting Executive Director

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Sponsor Spotlight: Mahlum Architects

Mahlum Architects Staff

For those in the design community, it comes as no surprise that Arts Corps’ longest-running Festa sponsor is an architecture firm. Mahlum, a Seattle architecture firm established in 1938, has supported Arts Corps consistently since 2008. The value of arts education is not lost on those who spend their days designing built environments that foster a sense of safety, connection, and curiosity — the very same outcomes that Arts Corps’ teaching artists work to achieve with students in the classroom!

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Anne Schopf, a partner at Mahlum and longtime Arts Corps supporter. Drawing the connection between Mahlum’s work and Arts Corps’ mission, Anne described that arts education was profoundly formative for both her and her colleagues. She reflected: “I can’t imagine not having it. Many of us are all so committed to understanding art itself. If not art, what are we living for? We [Arts Corps and Mahlum] care about the same things. We’re just doing it in different ways.”

Equity and community are two values shared by Mahlum and Arts Corps, and a specific way that they play out at Mahlum is in the firm’s design process. They try to center those who don’t have a voice at the table, honoring the culture and traditions of the primary occupants of the space. For example, in preparation for the design of a new hospital in Nome, Alaska, Mahlum’s design team visited with elders, students, healthcare staff, and local villages to gain a deeper understanding of the values and challenges facing the region’s people. This practice integrated Nome’s rich local culture with the hospital’s ultimate design.

It was clear from my conversation with Anne that curiosity is a core component of an architect’s job. When asked what her favorite thing about working at Mahlum was, Anne responded, “I get to learn something new every day. Right now, I’m learning about autism. How wonderful is that? I get to learn about new ideas that I don’t touch, but I’m learning through the work we’re touching.”

This passion for learning is exactly what we work to nurture through our arts education programming at Arts Corps. My conversation with Anne clarified that we at Arts Corps share a commitment to spaces that cultivate learning and creativity with our friends at Mahlum.

We’re immensely grateful for their partnership!


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Why We Must Renew the Best Starts for Kids Levy


Most people, when asked what ‘M.D.’ stands for, usually answer: ‘medical doctor.’ Although this is true, it’s not the whole definition. An M.D is also classified as allopathic doctor, or a primary care physician who uses drugs, radiation, or surgery to heal. When asked what ‘N.D.’ stands for, they usually take a little longer to answer definitively. ‘N.D.’ stands for naturopathic doctor, or a primary care physician who blends centuries-old knowledge and a philosophy that nature is the most effective healer with current research on health and human systems.

Both are classified as physicians. Both practice medicine and have the same goal, which is to heal the patient. However, they have different approaches to this healing. Different yet complementary. When seeking healthcare, our choices are often limited by the information that we hold. I use this as an example because we relate to it.

In our school system we face similar challenges with the primary-room teacher and the teaching artist. We have the same goal, yet different and complementary approaches. In the school system, we have the primary classroom teacher (my vision of allopathic) and the teaching artist (my vision of naturopathic). We are all familiar with and understand the role of the primary classroom teacher. Yet as a teaching artist, most times people will ask: “What is a teaching artist, please explain?”

A teaching artist is a teacher and educator, who is trained (usually college educated or higher) and equipped to use their artistic discipline (dance, visual, poetry, music, theater, etc.) as a vehicle to learn and educate groups of people. In this instance, K-12 students. As a teaching artist myself, I strive to activate curiosity and consciousness in students, equipping them with tools that are useful in navigating not only the classroom, but also life experiences and circumstances. I emphasize play, exploration, examination, and self-referral as primary ways of educating and teaching.

Best Starts for Kids (BSK) funding allows the primary classroom teacher and the teaching artist to coexist and expand the circle of learning for a well-rounded education with the student. I have years of experience as a teaching artist, working within school systems that are usually limited by city and non-profit organization funding. Although appreciated, the resources and support are usually time-sensitive, and as a result, services go away.

BSK allows teaching artists the time, funding, and resources to provide a variety of arts opportunities that cultivate both relationship and trust building, two things that are imperative for successful outcomes in young people. 

BSK supports multiple avenues of learning during school time as well as out-of-school time — a period of the day that is high-risk for adolescence and youth. It is not one dimensional. Providing opportunities in the school building and in other community spaces like housing developments and community centers is an integral ingredient for teaching artists and educators to take the art to where the students already are. 

BSK provides arts organizations like Arts Corps and professional teaching artists the opportunity to serve Black and Brown children, youth, and families.

BSK ensures that we as educators have the infrastructure and support necessary to create and develop culturally-sensitive pedagogical lesson plans designed for the populations we serve. Cultural and visual arts, etc. expand and complement primary classroom teachers’ knowledge, skills, and lesson plans.

BSK benefits our region’s schools by offering additional resources when budgets for the arts are cut in favor of other priorities. The multiplicity of art, whether dance, poetry, visual art, sculpting, music, theater, or song, adds an element of surprise, curiosity, excellence, and possibility for the student.

We hope you will vote ‘YES’ on KC Prop 1 in the upcoming August 3rd Primary and Special Election so that the learning can continue!

— SUMAYYA E. DIOP, Teaching Artist Coordinator & Teaching Artist

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Sponsor Spotlight: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center

Deborah Sepulveda

For the past several years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center has supported Arts Corps as a sponsor for our annual Festa event. The Discovery Center is a free public space that takes visitors of all ages on an interactive journey, bringing the connections we share with others across the globe to life. 
With a vision to educate, inspire, and motivate people to take action through storytelling, the Discovery Center is a key partner in Arts Corps’ work to revolutionize arts education by igniting the creative power of young people. In the words of Deborah Sepulveda, the Discovery Center’s Manager of Youth & Public Programs and long-time Arts Corps partner: “We believe our programs amplify powerful stories of our local community in order to foster inclusion and belonging, convene and connect people, share unheard stories, and highlight opportunities to act.”
Despite having to close its physical doors last spring, the Discovery Center has continued to provide powerful programming. Last March they kicked off a series of free, virtual lunchtime events called In Community We Flourish that highlight community organizations creating change every day. The upcoming series will be in partnership with the South Seattle Emerald and Civic Commons.
The Discovery Center shares Arts Corps’ commitment to youth leadership and prioritizing youth voice. Every year, the center hosts the annual Teen Action Fair, which provides youth with a platform to tell their stories of making a difference. As Deborah sees it, “Youth want to be involved, taken seriously and deserve to be heard. Young people have led the charge on some of the biggest shifts in social change and justice throughout history and we continue to learn from their ideas to change the world… take the time to listen to their questions, ideas and feedback and we will definitely have a better world.”
Arts Corps is grateful to have partners like Deborah and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center working with us to cultivate youth creativity and leadership. Their sponsorship helps bring us one step closer to our vision of a world where barriers to arts education no longer exist and all young people can creatively lead the transformation of schools, neighborhoods, and beyond.


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LIT: Why I Came Back as a Class Assistant


I come from a high school that specializes in helping students to become self-reliant and learn skills through the student’s interests. This is often done by having students search for internships or be an apprentice. When I was a freshman in October of 2018 I had a vague interest in game development and was short on opportunities. 

One day my advisor Steve announced a new opportunity being offered to Big Picture Students. He told us it was an arts program that taught audio, story writing, and virtual reality development. That last one felt like a wild card. I didn’t know much about virtual reality beyond a few brief appearances in online videos or tucked away in some corner of an arcade. No matter where I saw it, it always seemed out of reach like watching an owl perched on a tree. The fact that it was offered to youth out of all people in this high school made it feel like a one-time calling. But because of my lack of experience, I hesitated to raise my hand when Steve was handing out the tour sign-up sheets. I’m not sure what took me so long to finally raise my hand, but it would change my life forever.

Arts Corps is an arts education organization whose mission is to break educational boundaries and allow youth creative minds to use their art to influence the world through various programs. I joined the first LIT program in January of 2019. LIT specialized in teaching students how to use audio software, film equipment, and virtual reality tools to make their art with the help of specialized teaching artists. It was the first year of the program so some things fell a little off track sometimes, but overall it felt like an artist’s journey. It felt like the program was growing alongside you making it; it felt less like a training course and more like it was your program. 

Each session, we’d have morning check-ins, and even though we didn’t always have much to say it helped establish great community vibes. I loved when we went into the larger parts of Seattle on our trips to art studios. Even though meeting people who work in the careers you see yourself in the future is always a motivating feeling, traversing the streets and buses made it feel like the kind of stories you’d tell your grandkids when talking about your career. I don’t get to be on foot in the bigger parts of Seattle that often so that’s what probably amplified the experience for me.

The first major VR project I worked on when joining LIT was a simple exploration experience where you could move across dream-like worlds, which is my way of saying nothing made sense or followed a theme. It was mostly me trying to get my footing with the technology but it helped that VR is totally badass.

The greatest memory I have of the program was the final presentation of my first year. I wasn’t too confident in my weird VR project. It was also a way later time to present than I was used to so I was ready to go to sleep. To make matters worse we had a lot of trouble getting our showcase equipment set up like finding out who’s headset even belonged to someone. We cycled through students each presenting what we’ve been working on for the past six months. 

When my turn came I felt a strange calmness and pride flow in. Suddenly my project didn’t seem like a failure and I started to see with the smiles of the attendees that it was a success. Whereas once, I was some lonely kid in a computer lab, now was able to work on something most people don’t even know exists. It helped that the presentation room was literally a theater, the whole thing felt like a triumphant cinematic moment on film with lights shining on us. 

I’m one of those people that beats themselves up a lot, but I always seek to improve myself. This was the first time in my life I felt like I’d made it. It started off a long chain of future successes and I realized that I could be an artist if I tried. Since then I’ve only felt my progress of self-discovery moving further.

Arts Corps has helped me find what being an artist can mean and the joy it can bring to people. They helped me get my first taste of what it’d be like to pursue my passions professionally. And it’s given me hope that more and more youth have access to their resources so the world doesn’t miss out on the creations of a young person’s mind before their creativity is limited through adulthood struggles. 

I feel the least I can do is help out Arts Corps the best I can as a classroom assistant so that when I eventually become ready to join the games industry I will have helped make the Arts Corps better for youth than when I first joined LIT. So now I’m helping the LIT team with an upcoming week-long intensive. From April 12th – 16th we’ll be helping students from grades 10-12 learn about using immersive technology for storytelling and game development. Applications are due March 19, 2021. Apply here. 

— FABIAN HERNANDEZ-ANGEL, Classroom Assistant LIT 2021

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See Me After Class

It’s funny how you can lose track of someone for years, and then bam! Something can bring their memory to mind with such clarity that it almost overwhelms your senses. That’s how I felt this weekend upon learning the news that my beloved college professor, Dr. Theodora Ayot, had recently passed away.

Instantly, my mind conjured up a vivid image of Professor Ayot. Standing in front of the classroom, she was wearing colorful African dress from her homeland in western Kenya, as she always did. Her deep red lipstick popped in contrast to her rich brown skin, and she had a warm smile on her face. Her eyes shone brightly beneath her glasses that were slightly askew.

It might be surprising that my recollection of Professor Ayot is so strong when I only had one class with her; some kind of history class, the subject and title of which I can’t even remember now. But in the short time she taught me, she left an indelible mark. One that I realize only now, in her passing, has a lot to do with why I’m so passionate about my work at Arts Corps.

It all stems back to the first mid-term she assigned us. When she returned our papers, I flipped mine over to find a big “C” on the top with the words “See Me After Class” written in large letters on top. My heart pounded wildly. I had never received these words on a paper before.

I nervously lingered after class while all the other students gathered their things and left. Then Professor Ayot ushered me to her tiny office. (Or maybe it was just tiny in my memory because I felt trapped?) She offered me a seat, looked me straight in the eyes, and said intensely, “I’ve heard the questions you ask in class.”

I can remember to this day what a strange and surprising statement I thought this was. But Professor Ayot continued on and clarified her point. My questions, she felt, reflected a deep intellectual curiosity and scholarly critique. The work I turned in, not so much.

I was a freshman in college and my social nature was getting the best of me. I was staying up late hanging out with friends and talking on the phone with my long-distance boyfriend, and I was not taking my studies seriously. More importantly, and what I think Professor Ayot knew, was that I didn’t take myself seriously.

I always got good grades in school. Honor roll and all that. But, despite the awards, I never saw myself as smart. Nice? Sure. Hardworking? Sure. But an intellectual? Someone to be taken seriously in the classroom? No way.

The conversation with Professor Ayot in that tiny office started to change that. She had heard my questions. I was bright, she thought. I had real promise as a scholar. But I had to take myself seriously, put in the effort, and do the work. It was a life-changing conversation.

The grief and sadness of these past 11 months has felt unbearable at times. For our family, news of Professor Ayot’s passing comes after losing two family friends to COVID related illnesses. We haven’t seen my parents or other extended family in Chicago in over a year. And the social isolation of quarantine and challenges of online schooling are taking an immense toll on the mental health of my elementary aged kids.

Throughout these difficult quarantine times, my work with Arts Corps has been a lifeline. It’s a privilege to work for an organization as flexible, compassionate, and creative as Arts Corps.  Even more, I’m deeply grateful to work for an organization whose mission I believe in so profoundly.

The work that our teaching artists do with young people every day is the same work that Professor Ayot did we me: building confidence, cultivating curiosity, encouraging risk-taking; helping them to see themselves for the smart and gifted young people they are. And like Professor Ayot, Arts Corps teaching artists model pride in their individuality and cultural heritage. In doing so, they open up to new worlds to the students- within and around them.

These are not easy times. But as I reflect on the legacy of Dr. Theodora Ayot, I am encouraged. Our lives matter. The choices we make matter. We can choose to invest in young people- their curiosity, their creativity, their self-expression, their brilliance. And if we do, twenty years later they may just remember it, and attribute much of their academic success and passion to it.


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Change is in the Air for Arts Corps

The fifth inning of the World Series had just ended, with the Chicago Cubs taking a 6-3 lead over the Cleveland Indians. It was game 7 of a seven game series, and if it’s not clear from my numerous tattoos and all that I talk about when people ask me about anything related to Chicago, I’m a HUGE Cubs fan. I love the Chicago Cubs since I was a baby. Growing up in Chicago, close to the baseball field, Wrigley Field, the one aspect of my life that was certain was my allegiance to the best baseball team in the multiverse, the Chicago Cubs. 

I happened to be in Chicago, with my colleague and dear friend, Jamel Mims, to pitch a hip hop education project to the International Education Funders Group. The presentation was the following day, so we were able to enjoy game with some my high school friends. Though the game was in Cleveland, Chicago’s streets were crowded with everyone spilling out of bars and their homes to celebrate a run for us, and decry a run for Cleveland. 

By the 8th inning, the game was tied. I was bent over at the waist, crying, because Cleveland was looking strong. I hadn’t eaten food really and only consumed beer, which seemed to have no effect on me. All of my Chicago friends looked the way I was feeling: lost and depleted. Executive functioning was limited as our hippocampus refused to hold memories. We repeated the same conversation over and over again. We were all prone to drastic mood swings. Time was mutable for us and each minute seemed to last either a second or an hour. Though the 8th inning ended, we didn’t fully grasp that the 9th inning was the last inning of the World Series. I was fixated on each individual play as if I alone had control over the outcome, and my computational skills were minimal.

Maybe I was feeling the beer after all…

With the game tied after the 9th inning, the rain started to come down hard in Cleveland, causing a rain delay. Time slowed. We waited. We drank more beer. I ate a hot dog and some chips. We barely spoke. Jamel looked at all of us warily, not sure of what we would do next. 

The tenth inning began with Cubs at bat. They started strong and scored two runs, which we celebrated loudly with tears. Cleveland was up at bat next and after two outs, they scored another run. The entire city of Chicago was silent for 2 minutes as the final Cleveland player stepped up to the plate. The pitcher threw the ball, Cleveland hit a groundball up the third base line, which was caught and thrown to the first baseman, who tagged the base for Cleveland’s third and final out. 

Time stopped when we realized the Cubs won the World Series! This was the first time the Cubs won, since 1908!! We jumped in the air, yelled, cried, and immediately went outside to hear others celebrating and crying and screaming too. We hugged strangers, laughed loudly, and even high fived police officers. It seemed as if everyone and their mother, including my own, was outside smiling ear to ear. It was the happiest day of my life. The next day, Jamel and I had a fantastic presentation, made some wonderful connections, and flew back to New York. My euphoria lingered as I went back to work, proudly wearing a Cubs hat and  nothing could bring me down. 

A week later, an alleged criminal was elected to be the next president of the United States of America, and all of the happiness and joy I was feeling disappeared, almost instantaneously. Those same pangs of distress I felt watching the World Series game increased 1000%. My amygdala was overexcited and my cortisol levels increased. My generally healthy lifestyle went by the wayside, my skin broke out, I was depressed, I was angry, and felt this way for the next four years. 

One of the only positives during the past four years has been working at Arts Corps. A month after the 2016 election, I flew to Seattle to interview for the role of Executive Director, and three weeks after that, we moved to Seattle. I started on January 21st, 2017, to coincide with Inauguration Day. I counted my days in office, and compared them to our new president’s. Every vile policy, he enacted, we worked to address those actions using creativity and empathy. As he tried to divide, we sought to unite. We brought love into schools, and appreciation into the lives of young people. We shed a light on the power of arts to make change. We resisted and remained resilient. We sometimes bumped heads, but we all believed in the work we were doing. We believed in young people. We grew, we shrank, we grew again. We had good times and we had bad times. We experienced fracture and we made steps towards healing. We worked shoulder to shoulder, until we were asked to stay 6 feet apart. We shifted and we adjusted. We prevailed.  We made art anyway. 

Quickly, November 2020 was coming closer to being a real date, and a feeling of unease built. My family became more emotional and scared of what would happen. Every time I saw one of my neighbors, we could barely manage a congenial hello.The schools where we work were struggling with maintaining normalcy in abnormal times and the election added to their concerns. The future was uncertain. The whole country voted, and then we waited. My screen time increased 120% over the past week, constantly checking the results of the election. It was impossible for us to see what tomorrow could hold because of this sense of inertia.

My parents In Ohio called everyday to check on us. My friends in NYC and California texted regularly that they couldn’t get out of bed. Then on Saturday morning, I hear fireworks going off. I looked at my phone and saw 75 texts. My wife said we elected a new president, a different president, a president that wants to heal, and I felt a release. We felt a release. As an organization, as a city, as a state, as a country. We can see a future where there’s more possibility. Where there’s a black woman in office. Where the White House could look more like the people that it serves. We see a path forward. It will be hard work, progress will be slow, but I think we can all feel a collective weight off our shoulders. I know, this is the first time I breathed a deep breath in a very long time. 

Yet, I also know that racism, hetero-paternalism, and xenophobia didn’t disappear overnight. On Saturday, I was just as likely to be pulled over, arrested, and potentially killed by police as I would have been Friday evening. My kids would still see images of whiteness as a default, and told their brown skin and African curls aren’t ‘beautiful.’ Many of the youth we serve would remain outsiders inside the only country they’ve known, and my non binary friends and colleagues would still have to click ‘other,’ on medical forms. There may have been a historic election of many firsts, but until we no longer need to add the moniker of ‘first (fill in the blank)’ there is still work to do.

Arts Corps will continue the work we have been doing for twenty years, serving over 3000 youth in south King County. Arts Corps will remain one of the only organizations consistently employing teaching artists and providing creative outlets for families across the region. Arts Corps will still make strides in providing our culturally responsive arts based framework to educators across the world. Arts Corps will do all of the above and more, but it will happen without me, as the Executive Director. 

Though the timing is coincidental with the election cycle, my decision was not predicated on the outcome. Working on advocacy and policy has been of interest to me since I quit acting and became a full time educator in New York City. As happenstance would have it, I was recently presented with the opportunity to be the Executive Director of Mentor Washington, and organization that does advocacy and policy work centered on youth development. At the same time, Arts Corps became a tighter and stronger organization, and most importantly, a stable organization.

Leaving Arts Corps has been one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make, yet I realized that like the White House, new leadership was required. That leadership will come from Carrie Siahpush, our current Director of Development and Communications, who has been with Arts Corps for over four years. She will step in the role as our Interim Executive Director, and I have nothing but faith that she will steward Arts Corps through the next phase, and into another 20 years of amazing arts based programming. Carrie brings with her a focus and acumen needed to keep pushing towards meeting Arts Corps’ mission. She is both an incredibly successful fundraiser and astute at administrative management. She is passionate and she is thoughtful. She is awesome. 

Like the release I felt during the 2016 World Series, like we all felt after the 2020 election results, we are excited about the future of Arts Corps. Though I will no longer work here, I will hold it dearly in my heart, and “stan” from the sidelines. Much love to Arts Corps, to the teaching artists, the board, the staff, the youth, the community, and to our supporters. As I am writing our catchphrase for the final time, I hope we can all continue, no matter what, no matter who, no matter how, to Make Art Anyway. 

Bless up,

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Out of the Storm

A tractor was upside down on the street, the top of the license plate scraping the concrete. Trees were knocked down, as were power lines. Sand and dried salt water dusted everything, in sight. A house was somehow on the opposite side of the street from where its foundation lay. 

SuperStorm Sandy hit NYC in 2012, and to prepare for the storm, my family and I stocked up on food, water, candy, and beer. We didn’t know what would happen, and we didn’t want to freak out our three-year old twins, so we turned the lights out and played in-the-dark singing. When the storm actually touched down, the wind whistled past our windows, and the frames shook. There was some heavy rain, but that was the extent of the storm, from our perspective. When we turned the news on, we saw the real damage to the city. Subways were flooded and the Hudson River splashed onto western side of Manhattan, Statue of Liberty in the hazy background. Trees fell down, and homes were demolished. The parts of New York closest to the water were hit the hardest and it was there, in a part of Queens called The Rockaways, where I saw that house on the wrong side of the street.

I was working as a teaching artist for many different organizations in NYC at the time and had worked with some of the students in The Rockaways. I felt a sense of inertia because I didn’t know if there was anything that I could personally do, besides donate to food banks and housing assistance programs. One of the organizations, the New Victory Theater, called a handful of us and suggested we go to The Rockaways and do some playmaking with the youth. I was more than happy to offer my services, but wondered why the hell we would do some play-making when kids were hungry and living in shelters. 

The trains weren’t able to go to The Rockaways because there was no electricity and buses were very much delayed because of the damage to the areas. So, we woke up early, got into a large rented van to drive from midtown Manhattan to The Rockaways. The news coverage showed some of the damage of the storm, but it was nothing compared to what we saw when we arrived.

In addition to the wrongly situated and damaged personal items that I mentioned, there weren’t any lights on anywhere and it was desolate. Those that were able to evacuate did, but not everyone had the means to do that. Fifty- three people died and many, many more were displaced. Thousands of homes and several hundred vehicles were destroyed. It is estimated that 19 billion dollars worth of damage was done to the New York Metro area. When we arrived, days had passed since the storm and the impact was still very raw and real. 

We arrived by van and parked several blocks from the ocean, where there were several housing project buildings in close proximity to each other. People were outside, and they watched us approach. Most of the faces were black and brown with a mix of old and young. Some of the youth must have been in the same clothes they had on when the storm hit because the clothes were stained white by the saltwater. On the ground there was sand everywhere, and it was blowing softly down the street. After we parked the car, we headed inside of the dimly lit recreation center, where there were tables filled with packaged foods, drinks, plates, and utensils.

We were guided to a couple areas where we could set up activities. The visual arts station had crayons, paper, scissors, and other items. We also had a skills section set up where youth could work on creating a clowning skit, and learn juggling, hula-hooping, and balancing skills. Lastly, there was the physical comedy/ acrobatic station where youth could create pyramids with their bodies or attempt a new physical skill. 

I headed to the clowning area outside, ready to begin teaching some physical comedy and object balancing. We pulled out feathers, scarves, and plates to juggle, as the young people started to pick which area they wanted to focus on first. Not more than 3 minutes passed before there was the familiar sound of children laughing and smiling. Parents and elders were called and told to ‘Watch’…’Hey, look at me!’ and some of the adults started to participate, as well. During a break to grab some water, I happened to look around and saw happiness and joy, where earlier there was sadness and gloom.

One hundred people or more were gathering in the middle of the street, participating in some form of arts education, and though they may not have had electricity or running water, they had each other and they had the arts. It was at this moment, that the power of the arts to change lives, even during dire circumstances, was showcased and embraced. I had been considering a retirement from acting to focus on education, full time, and this experience confirmed my decision. I saw the New Victory Theatre lead that charge in these communities that had been suffering, and it cemented my love for that organization, specifically, and for arts education, in general. 

Eight years later, we are in the midst of another life altering event, this time on a much larger scale. The novel coronavirus has accounted for 30 million infections and almost 1 million deaths, worldwide. Businesses have been shuttered since March and many remain unemployed, most of whom are artists and gig workers.  The New Victory Theater closed its doors in March 2020 and remains closed until theaters can reopen. They have released online resources which are amazing, and it continues to be a source of inspiration for me; yet I worry about the organization that has brought so much joy and love to youth and families. 

Many artists and hourly employees remain without an income. Actors Equity Association, the union where I am a proud member, has an unemployment rate of 97%. Predictions state that two-thirds of restaurants and bars in NYC will close by December 2020. Despite the fact that Washington State boasts 10 of the wealthiest people in the world, and Bezos’ net worth almost doubled over the past year, we are faring no better. If anyone has been to downtown Seattle recently, they will confirm that it’s a ghost town. Over a hundred businesses have closed their doors permanently. This, in addition to theaters, performance halls, museums, nonprofits and those they employ struggling, and I am afraid more businesses will close before the end of 2020. 

Add to the list of issues hitting us in 2020 a revived and continued effort to end police violence, wildfires and smoke on the West Coast, hurricanes and storms on the East Coast, climate change in general, murder hornets, zombie cicadas, horrors of remote schooling, an upcoming election, and now the passing of feminist hero and judicial icon, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We are all feeling sad, depressed, hopeless, and withdrawn. We are searching for a light. We are searching for a better tomorrow. We are searching for the feeling those families had in 2012, after their lives were changed by Superstorm Sandy. We are searching for an answer. We are searching for the arts.

The arts have the power to create something out of nothing. The arts can uplift, ignite, and inform. The arts provide us with the ability to imagine a better tomorrow. When we hear music, it hits all four lobes of the brain, particularly the corticospinal portion that makes us want to move and dance. That affects the brain evoking emotions and memory. It provides a release and it unites through a common song. When we are drawing or doodling, our cortisol levels drop and our stress levels decrease.

Visual arts send a jolt to the reward pathways of our brain, decreasing our anxiety, which increases our ability to process new information. Albert Einstein said “play is the highest form of research,” so when we play, our executive functions are strengthened, helping us plan, pay attention to details, and organize our thoughts. Play enhances our gross motor skills through movement and helps with coordination. 

The arts are so essential right now, and we should do all we can to ensure the intrinsic value of the arts is accessible to all of us. Where other regions have drastically cut arts from schools, thankfully Washington State has mandated that the arts continue to be part of every student’s schooling. However, a mandate isn’t enough, as only schools with enough funding can afford to make that happen, which is where Arts Corps steps in.

Thanks to our donors and supporters, we are lucky enough to help bridge the access gap to the arts. We are also lucky that we have been able to transition to a new way of teaching and learning this year. Our classes at 6 Interagency High school sites started on the 14th. Arts Corps provides synchronous remote arts classes to the students enrolled at these schools, and we are their art credit, a credit needed to graduate from high school. Soon, we will continue our Creative Schools programs at several Highline Public Schools providing culturally responsive arts integration. We have been doing this work in Highline since 2014, and we will continue to boost academic mindsets and strengthen social emotional learning, much needed during remote learning.

Our LIT program will be entering its third year of providing hands-on training in tech skills needed to work on video game design and virtual reality filmmaking. Based on student feedback and last year’s successes, we plan to expand the number of youth from different schools that can participate, by hosting two week-long intensives during school breaks, and then a month-long summer intensive. In two weeks, the ALLI program starts, where students are paid to work in visual arts, music, and digital storytelling pathways twice a week, for ten weeks. This is different from the usual in person, two- week summer intensive, though it will be just as impactful and inspiring.

Arts Corps’ partnership with Southwest Youth Family Services remains strong and we hope to build on our work with four of their sites by also working with some of the older youth and adding an additional site, pending funding. Most of our work will be remote, synchronous teaching this year, yet we are also addressing some technology access gaps by delivering thousands of physical art kits to schools and sites in King County. This has been very successful, and this summer we were able to facilitate several live drive-through performances for youth and families  in collaboration with our partners at SWYFS. 

Complementing our work with youth, Arts Corps will provide more professional development to teachers, this school year, as well as collaborate with other sectors. We have joined the Free the Vaccine campaign with UAEM and C4AA, to help ensure that when a covid vaccine is available, it will be safe, effective, and accessible to all, regardless of income. Health Secretary Azar stated that he won’t promise that the vaccine will be affordable, which is utterly reprehensible. If this country truly wants our students and teachers to go back to school, we must make sure that a vaccine is accessible to the school communities, particularly communities where we work, as the CDC reports that of the children that have died from covid, 73% were Black and Latinx. Lastly, we are working with a network of national guilds to promote voting and voter registration. Similar to the REACT work which was a response to the murder of George Floyd and others, our Voting Values initiative will launch soon.  

I must reiterate that Arts Corps is lucky to be able to keep our doors open and continue to operate our programs. Like everyone else, we are worried about funding, sustainability, and the future of our nation, so we rely on foundations, grantors, and our community to keep us alive. My experience eight years ago in The Rockaways gave meaning to our hashtag #MakeArtAnyway. With your support, we will continue to live and breathe that motto, long into the future. 

If you believe in the power of the arts to bring something out of nothing, then help us #MakeArtAnyway by joining Art Corps’ Culture Club today. Your monthly investment will fuel our work to ignite the creative power of young people in our community, making space for them to lead us out of the storm and into the streets.

— JAMES MILES, Executive Director

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A Note from Windsor Heights

Realizar un programa para después de la escuela es muy gratificante cuando uno tiene la oportunidad de trabajar con  los chicos en persona, tengo haciendo este trabajo durante casi 20 años y nunca nos habíamos enfrentado a una situación como la que estamos viviendo ahora debido esta pandemia. Una parte importante de nuestro programa son nuestro colegas de otras agencias que nos ayudan a proporcionar diferentes actividades durante nuestro programa. Uno de nuestros grandes colegas es
Arts Corps, normalmente ellos vendrían a nuestro sitio a realizar sus diferentes actividades, pero como lo mencione anteriormente ahora tenemos que adaptarnos a esta nueva realidad. Cuando la directora de programas me hablo de una actividad que se llevaría a cabo en nuestro sitio donde viven las familias, mi primera reacción fue escéptica, los maestros del arte vendrían a hacer dos presentaciones para los estudiantes y sus familias. Honestamente no pensé que esto funcionaria debido a que teníamos que tener en consideración toda la logística para llevar a cabo dicha actividad.  Además, que no estaba segura de que tanto las familias participarían.

Fue  muy grato darme cuenta de que estaba equivocada,  las dos actividades que los maestros presentaron, no solo fueron hermosas, sino que además trajeron a las familias mucha alegría. Fue maravilloso ver a los chicos asomándose a la ventana, cantando, bailando, tomando fotos y videos y disfrutando de las canciones que una de la maestra presento. La actividad de la segunda semana fue increíble ya que estaba relacionada con la cultura de las familias con las cuales trabajamos, yo pude inmediatamente darme cuenta de que ofrecerles algo culturalmente relevante para ellos es muy importante.  Mi corazón se alegro mucho al ver a los padres bailando en su balcón y a los chicos salir de su apartamento a bailar. En estos momentos de angustia y soledad poder proporcionar un poco de alegría a las familias es maravilloso. 

Gracias Arts Corps por su gran trabajo, es un placer trabajar con ustedes.  

— LUCIA MARTINEZ, Site Manager at Windsor Heights

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Why You Should Join the 2020 Arts Liberation & Leadership Institute

“A big takeaway form ALLI for me was an ability to envision happy, healthy, shame-free learning environments, and that has led me to pursue systemic changes within my school, public education in general, and other education programs.” – ALLI participant 2018


Join Arts Corps after-school this fall for a paid teen arts internship focused on creating social change through art.

The Arts Liberation & Leadership Institute (ALLI) is a paid 10-week teen leadership intensive where 25 youth are trained in artistry, social justice and organizing. Youth leaders develop as cultural workers in chosen arts pathways–Visual Arts, Digital Storytelling, and Music. This cohort of youth hones their arts and organizing skills, while deepening their understandings of race and social justice issues. They collaborate, build community and create art that challenges oppression and envisions a more just world.

Sound like you or a youth you know? Apply today! Applications open now until Monday September 14, 2020. 

ALLI 2020 takes place online via zoom. Tuesdays and Wednesday afternoons October 6th – December 9th, exact time TBD but around 3:00pm-5:30pm. Final ALLI showcase Saturday, December 12th. Youth are paid a $350 stipend for participation.

What’s awesome about ALLI? Here’s what one participant had to say last year:

 “The guidance from leaders, the connections with people in my community who are just as passionate about art and authenticity as I am. The welcoming space created that allowed me to be open and vulnerable, to share and explore without fear.” –ALLI participant 2019

This year’s master teaching artist mentors include Adam Jabari Jefferson for Digital Storytelling, Maria Guillen-Valdovinos in Visual Arts, and Erica Merritt for Music. Learn more and apply here: www.artscoprs.org/alli 

Questions? Email programs@artscorps.org 

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Why We Do What We Do

I’d be lying if I said the last few weeks have been easy. I’d be lying even more if I said the last 40+ years of my life have been easy. I’d be lying if I said I had the answers. Or any answers. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel emotions. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wake up with sweaty hands every morning, and I have since I moved to Seattle. I’d be lying if I wasn’t worried about my children, or my brother’s child, or any child, especially Black and Brown children stuck in an educational system that doesn’t value their humanity or existence. I’d be lying if I ever felt calm. 

But I’d be telling the truth when I say I am scared.

At age 10, an officer held a gun to my head because I was racing my cousin as we left a mall. He pulled out the gun and asked if I’d stolen anything. And when he couldn’t find anything on me, he said I was “lucky” because he could have told my parents. It would be several years before I realized he had no reason to stop me, let alone conduct a search.

At age 17, I went to jail for looking at graffiti while waiting on the train:

Cop: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Nothing.”

Cop: (Referring to graffiti) “Did you do that?”

Me: No.

Cop: “I don’t believe you… prove it.”

Me: (Taking off my bag) “OK.”

Cop: “Why are you removing your bag? You trying to run away?”

Me: “No.”

Cop: “OK, smart guy. You’re going downtown for destruction of property and resisting arrest.”

I ended up in jail for the night. For no reason. 

In my mid twenties I was enrolled at Brandeis University’s MFA program. I worked at the local movie theatre in Waltham, MA, 10 miles west of Boston. Our uniform at the movie theatre consisted of a white shirt, black tie, slacks, and dress shoes. Although it was a laid-back work environment, we were all avid film fans and therefore took our work very seriously. We often argued over whether The Godfather or The Godfather II was the best movie ever made; we resoundingly hated The Blair Witch Project, which, unfortunately, was showing on two screens. Our distaste stemmed from the fact that before patrons could acclimate to its handheld camera work they would vomit in the aisles, leaving us to take turns sweeping up human bile in the darkened theaters. One night on my walk home from work, two police officers pulled up and blocked my path with their cruiser.

“Where you going?”


“Oh, really? And where, pray tell, might you live?” (I pointed at my house, which was across the street.)

“And where were you before… if you’re going home now?” (I turned around and pointed at the movie theatre, 20 feet from where I stood.)

“You sure you didn’t rape anybody? We got a call that there’s a rapist matching your profile.”

“My profile? In Waltham? I’m the only person in Waltham that looks like me. I work twenty feet in that direction and live twenty yards in that direction. I know that can’t be true… sirs.”

“Watch yourself. Don’t want you getting into trouble. We suggest you go inside and don’t come out.”

I walked away from the cruiser and toward my house. My roommates were hanging out in the kitchen and I told them what happened. They were outraged but not surprised — they were also Black and two of them were from Boston proper. During the school-sponsored “House Hunting Weekend,” we were the only Black grad students in attendance. Understanding that it was Boston, and that we were definitely “other,” we figured there was strength in numbers. And somehow we were able to find a place not too far from campus, though if I remember correctly, only the other light-skinned roommate and I ever met the realtors in person — she was accompanied by her parents and I wore a shirt and tie… the same shirt and tie I had on when confronted by police and accused of rape.

Those are just a couple stories from my experiences with the police, and are tame compared to the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jamel Floyd, Charleena Lyles, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and… many, many, many more.

In fact, I almost didn’t share these stories because I didn’t want to add the trauma of other folks that have been lost loved ones due to police actions. I am only sharing to write about how I dealt with these traumatic experiences. It was through art. All of the above stories have been taken from other pieces of writing I have done. By writing about these interactions, I have been able to find a way to process my grief. Using my art form of theater, I have been able to translate those experiences into characters I have portrayed, and stories I have told to audiences. It has helped me navigate the life I live through creative expression. It has helped capture an archival moment of my life that I have passed onto my children, so they know that though this may happen to us, it doesn’t define us. We are more than our interactions with police. We are more than a hashtag. We are more than what they see(and don’t see) on TV. 

We are the wildest dreams of our ancestors. Art has the power to uplift, incite, and change the world. That’s why we do what we do at, Arts Corps. To provide a platform for youth to talk about and through things that they are unable to do, in a typical classroom, or school setting. It is why during school closures, we didn’t miss a beat, and immediately started to make online content for students. We made culturally responsive coloring books. We made activity books, and passed out art kits where free lunches are distributed. It is why we have kept paying our teaching artists, our wonderful amazing teaching artists, because we know that the work they do provides a beacon of light for youth and families in our region. It is our raison d’etre. It is why we Make Art Anyway.

But the future is uncertain. We don’t know when our economy will recover. We don’t know when we will be able to be back in schools. We don’t know when we will be able to shake each other’s hands again, hug each other again, hold each other again. We will need to make some serious shifts in programming to better meet the needs of youth and their families. We will need to reimagine what Arts Corps will do, and potentially what Arts Corps can no longer do. 

We do know that we will continue to center the voices and experiences of the youth we serve. We know that we will still prioritize the TAs that lead the work in the communities, in and around Seattle. We know that gig workers have been hit the hardest, during this pandemic, so we are dedicated to hiring more part time salaried TAs, providing them with a steady income and health insurance. As we are in the midst of financial recession, coupled with loss of expected revenue for the coming year, we have had to make some cuts and shifts in programming.

Below is a list of we will plan on doing in the upcoming year: 

    • Thanks to secure funding, we will continue our Creative Schools LAB program at Hazel Valley, Mt View, and hopefully MLK Elementary Schools.
    • Although we will continue to work with Interagency sites, it will be in much smaller doses, and we will be providing curriculum, career exploratory learning, and the arts credit these students need to graduate high school. 
    • Provide professional development for HPS, SPS, other school districts(TBD). 
    • LIT will move from a six month long program to a Spring Break Intensive and Summer Intensive, pending funding.
    • ALLI will be postponed from Summer 2020, to Fall 2020, so that we can best plan for virtual workshops that would be engaging to the youth, as we probably won’t be able to meet, in person.
    • We will deliver Art Kits to all New Future sites and Art Space sites, as we won’t be able to meet with those youth in person.
    • We will start Strategic Planning, ASAP, to further align our mission and work.
    • We continue to facilitate workshops, write blog posts and journal entries, speak at international conferences, and advocate for educational policy shift in Olympia through emails, calls, letters. 
    • As some of our partner programs have successfully become their own non-profit organizations, we are left critically thinking about how we work with teens in our community. We will take time to reimagine our Teen Leadership programs to be efficient and stronger. 

Things are changing so quickly, and so drastically, this list might evolve and change again, as we work to best serve our community and partners. What will stay the same is that we will stay to true to our mission of revolutionizing arts education, and our creativity and innovation will guide us forward. 

Stay safe and healthy.

— JAMES MILES, Executive Director

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Arts Corps COVID-19 Art Kit Project

Does a freshly sharpened pencil make you want to write? Did your childhood imagination ignite when dipping a brush into an untouched oval of watercolor paint? Do you still get excited about a colorful stick of chalk that hasn’t yet been worn down or broken?

Brand-new art supplies inspire a unique sense of joy and possibility, among children and adults alike. And it’s these feelings that Arts Corps had in mind when we launched our COVID-19 Art Kit Project this spring, which ultimately resulted in the distribution of 1,321 free art kits to families in South King County.

The spring quarter is always busy for Arts Corps programming- it’s short and condensed- so when schools were forced to shift to distance learning, our Director of Arts Education and  program managers had to quickly work to narrow the arts education opportunity gap in our region. With the need for children to have opportunities for creative expression greater than ever, we needed to find an immediate solution. Distributing art kits for students to enjoy at home with their families became a key strategy for Arts Integration Program Manager, Sabrina Chacon-Barajas. 

Given our limited resources, we chose to focus most intensively on our relationship with Highline Public Schools (HPS). This was not only because we have long and deep relationships with the communities in Highline, but also because Arts Corps is a major funnel for arts education in the district. In certain communities within the district, we are the only funnel of access to arts education.

For several years now, Arts Corps has partnered with the City of Burien to help remedy this inequity by providing integrative work in Burien elementary schools. When it was clear that we needed to find a way to engage students in arts learning remotely, Heleya de Barros, Director of Arts Education, immediately reached out to Gina Kalman, Cultural Arts Supervisor for the City of Burien, to inquire about reallocating funds toward an art kit project. Her office agreed, and plans were made to use funds to support the design, assembly, and distribution of art kits centered on the themes of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math), community, gratitude, and healing.

Given the immense amounts of creativity and resourcefulness among Arts Corps’ teaching artists, the design aspect of the art kits was the easy part. The hard part was how to distribute the kits in a way that respected social distance guidelines and kept HPS families safe. Thankfully, the district connected us with Anne Baunach, Executive Director of Highline School Foundation, and with their help, we were able to distribute hundreds of art kits via their free meal sites in White Center, Burien, SeaTac, and Des Moines. Additionally, OST manager Olisa Enrico worked with our partners at Southwest Youth & Family Services and Mt. View Elementary to reach approximately 100 additional families.

The greatest number of kits were distributed to students at Hazel Valley Elementary (HVE), a school with which Arts Corps has worked very closely for several years, including on our Department of Education-funded Highline Creative Schools Initiative. With support from foundations who share our commitment to deepening family engagement in school communities (thereby increasing student sense of belonging), we were able to build an art kit for EVERY SINGLE STUDENT AT HVE. As a graduation present, 5th graders received extra special art supplies in their kits. Arts Corps Veteran Teaching Artist Carina del Rosario designed the kits and worked with HVE to have them passed out this week, the final week of HPS’ 2019-20 school year.

In the midst of a global pandemic and pronounced racial tension and injustice, we hope that these art kits provide a glimmer of hope and inspiration to the 1,321 families who received them. We’re so grateful to our teaching artists, funders, volunteers, school and community partners for helping make this innovative project happen so quickly. A special thanks to Laird Norton, Horton Foundation Fund, Discuren Foundation, 4Culture, Arts Fund, and the Ketcham Family for their support of this project.

Given the success of Arts Corps’ COVID-19 Art Kit Project this past spring, we hope to continue the project into the summer. Under the leadership of Meredith Arena, Arts Corps Veteran Teaching Artist, and Olisa Enrico, Arts Corps OST Manager, we plan to distribute approximately 300 additional art kits for summer learning at 4 sites  in partnership with Southwest Youth and Family Services. 

Arts Corps COVID-19 Art Kit Projects at a Glance:

  • Total art kits distributed = 1,321. 
  • Art kits distributed to 10 sites across South King County
  • Partnered with Highline School Foundation to distribute kits at meal sites in White Center, Burien, Des Moines
  • Each of the 475 students at Hazel Valley Elementary received art kits. 5th graders received special art kits to celebrate their graduation from elementary. Kits included a mixed media paper pad, micron pens, and either skin tone crayon set, maker set, or chalk set.
  • Teaching artists, classroom assistants, Arts Corps staff, and volunteers dedicated approximately 90 hours to construction of art kits 
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Confessions of An At-Home Teaching Artist

I recently traveled home to New York City amidst this whole COVID-19 pandemic. Although my friends and family were fortunate enough not to contract the virus, some of their friends, family, and friends of friends were not so lucky. I decided to bring my 15-year-old nephew and 8-year-old niece back to Tacoma with me. They are both doing remote learning for the remainder of the school year and I thought it be an appropriate and fun trip to take while practicing better social distancing here in the Pacific Northwest than is available in the greater Tri-state area. 

I began to learn the different online learning platforms and requirements for each of my siblings’ children and I quickly understood that this adjustment posed new challenges. Aside from needing to wake up at 5:30AM because of the time change, I never knew how many apps and platforms existed for online learning, let alone how confusing each would be to navigate.

Now, I feel that we have transitioned into a great flow that produces substantial results. Here’s how: around the home, I have introduced many incentives and systems, such as points and rewards, that I use to help me. Putting these in place has allowed me to maintain focus, keeping the children motivated and their minds occupied away from the current global crisis. 

The point system rewards the completion of various tasks, accomplishments through online learning, trying hard, being helpful, household chores, etc. This allows for a healthy and reliable expectation and structure that your new in-home students are secretly craving during this time.

We encourage parents to share stories and methods for helping their remote learners maintain focus and participation during quarantine. Please write in to info@artscorps.org and let us know what works for you!

— SAMUEL CORALES, Teaching Artist

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The Gift of Song

Being Fat
by Erica Merritt, age 8

Being fat is an uncomfortable way

To live your life, day by day

You’re always insecure, about the way you look

You always feel like someone, took……. one too many glances at your body

Your clothes feel tighter, week after week

The scale number gets higher, below your feet

The diet’s get stricter, month after month

The food gets more tempting, mostly the junk

Until finally you’re at, right where you’ve started

Only this time you’ve gained more pounds to be charted

And, so I guess, that is that,

You see it’s all a part of being fat!!

By age 8, I realized that I was very different from those around me. I knew that my body was not what I wished it to be. Self-doubt and insecurity were a part of my reality. Then, I found healing and confidence through music. When I sang, one size truly fit all. I felt triumphant in my ability to transform words into lyrics, lyrics into songs. Music was my ticket to wonderland.

I could write and sing about my heart’s desire. When I sang, I didn’t mind when people stared at me. I was proud of what my body could do! I was “music to my own ears” as well as theirs. I took pride in knowing that I possessed a gift that was special and unique. It was a welcomed distraction to life’s hardships. Singing empowered me to define, and validate, my sense of self-worth. This is why I teach! I want to give a gift that keeps on giving, empowering youth to practice self-validation. In a world where image can often supersede one’s authentic self, the Gift Of Song can fill in the blanks.

Share your #MakeArtAnyway story to info@artscorps.org so we can spread love with the rest of the Arts Corps community.

— ERICA MERRITT, Teaching Artist

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The Arts are ‘Essential’

On Monday night, Governor Inslee mandated that Washington residents must ‘shelter in place.’ All non-essential businesses were ordered to close and we were all urged to both stay inside and to drastically limit interactivity with anyone outside of the immediate household. These measures were an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. We are in unprecedented times and we need to do a better job of looking out for one another. California, New York, and Chicago instituted the mandate earlier, and I only wish we had done it sooner.

When I awoke today, I picked up my phone, as I’ve been doing more frequently and with more rapacity recently, and checked out what was, in fact, essential business: groceries, gas, sanitation, food, defense, and health care. We stocked up a couple days ago, but with the four of us home all the time, we definitely needed to get more food, soap, and other sundries. As soon as I sat at my computer to start my day, my phone pings to let me know that my local dispensary is open. This makes sense as marijuana helps some people engage in the world around them, helps others express themselves, and releases stress for those that partake. I have a lot of anxiety as a black man raising two black girls in Seattle, especially now that we are living amidst a global pandemic. My local dispensary has been readily utilized.

So, if dispensaries, like liquor stores are open and considered essential for daily life, how do those under the age of 21 engage in their world, express themselves, or relieve their stress? Well, that is obviously the arts.

As Audre Lorde stated, “the arts are not a luxury.”

As Einstein writes, “Play is the highest form of research.”

As Marina Abramović writes: “Art must be life — it must belong to everybody.”

And as author and motivational speaker Brené Brown states, “Art has the power to render sorrow beautiful, make loneliness a shared experience, and transform despair into hope.”

Arts are essential and provide the needed support, relief, and guidance that makes the world tick. Yet, they are still relegated to the ‘Other,’ They are as necessary to our wellbeing as the food we eat, the healthcare we need, and the toilet paper we hoard. The arts are even more essential now that we are trying to derive meaning from a world that we have never experienced. It will outlast all of us and it will tell the story of our times to future generations.

While schools are out, families are at home with their children for an extended time, possibly for the first time in a long time. They are searching for activities for their kids to do. They are searching for learning materials to keep their young people engaged in school work. They are worried about rent, bills, groceries, They are searching for an escape from the monotony of being at home every day. They are hoping for a brighter day. They are seeking more art in their lives.

As we are working with our young ones, let’s please remember to add arts to their daily schedule. Before ‘shelter in place,’ we passed out arts kits to childcare centers in the Highline School District.

Arts Corps is now releasing instructional videos, lesson plans, and other resources on our website, but we aren’t the only ones trying to #MakeArtAnyway. Coyote Central has an amazing list of arts activities. Pacific Northwest Ballet is teaching ballet online. Creative Advantage is creating videos to be shared on SPS YouTube channel. The New Victory Theater is creating Arts Breaks every week for families and children. The Globe is streaming Shakespeare plays straight to the viewer. Artist Home has created a list of virtual music teachers for young people interested in learning an instrument. Creative Generation has also created #KeepMakingArt for their campaign to bring awareness and support to artists and arts organizations. Adobe and Avid are providing free software. Comcast is offering free internet. There are too many to list here, but Arts Corps will continue to post artistic resources to add to the list weekly.

On Instagram Live, musicians have been streaming live performances to get you moving, providing a welcome respite from the newsfeed. From Questlove, 9thWonder, DJ Premier, Erykah Badu, to John Mayer, and Jon Bon Jovi, thousands have been tuning in. The Saturday sessions from 1980s hip hop wunderkind, D-Nice, had 200,000 viewers watching as he deejayed for 10 hours straight. Even Oprah Winfrey and former First Lady Michelle Obama tuned along with a host of other celebrities. It proves that everyone needs art and artists now, and that the arts are one of life’s essentials.

As my own children have started to record cooking videos for their friends, making stop motion movies, I know they are not alone. My brother and sister-in-law did live stand-up sets for Comedy Central. My mom is taking arts classes online.

What are you doing? What does #MakeArtAnyway mean to you? Share your story to info@artscorps.org so we can spread love with the rest of the Arts Corps community.

— JAMES MILES, Executive Director

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Arts Corps’ COVID-19 Response


I loved, loved, loved, Mork and Mindy. I loved the comedy. I loved the characters. I loved the story. To me, Robin Williams was a god. His energetic humor and boundless happiness made me sing. He made me want to be an actor, a comedian, and a human beacon of love.

A couple years later, I saw the play, Merchant of Venice, at the Goodman Theatre, starring Paul Butler, a black actor, as Shylock. His daughter, Jessica, was played by an Asian American actor. It was the first time I saw an actor onstage that looked like me and talked like me. I turned to my friends and said, “yo that’s us!” I was 16 years old.

That’s why I’m here today. To bring love like Robin Williams, and to represent the faces of my students like Paul Butler. I wouldn’t have been the actor I was, the educator I am, the future that my children will be, if the arts were absent from my life. Arts changes live and puts a mirror to the world in which we live. My wife is an artist. My brother is an artist. My sister in law is an artist. Art has shaped the world around me and for others to not experience the power of art, is pure travesty.

I also know the WHO declared that COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and the White House declared the outbreak a national emergency. Restaurants are closing. Hotels are closing. Schools are closed. People are out of work, and we are wondering where our next check is coming from. We haven’t experienced such global impact since the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Everyone is straight up stressed!

Yet still, we must not forget the arts. They make the world a better place. They uplift society. They are the light in the darkness. We can’t neglect art and artists. Art showed me a world I didn’t know could be imagined. It has given me pride and has provided a platform for me to express the humanity of the world’s inhabitants. During this time of uncertainty, it is crucial that we remember our first movie and our first play. The first time we felt seen or heard. Then we must see and understand our children’s artistry and experiences. We must make a better future than the one we have inherited. We must have arts. We must make art. We must keep pushing. In spite of anything, or maybe because of everything, we must #MakeArtAnyway.

Here, at Arts Corps, we are continuing to pay ALL of our staff and TAs. Both the LIT and Spokes programs will continue as students will work online, and remotely with our teaching artists. We are finding ways for teaching artists to support families, who are now at home with their children for an extended amount of time, by providing them with art supplies and activities for families to keep. Our 20th Anniversary Fundraising Gala, FESTA, has been reimagined to now be an online livestreaming event, featuring TAs, staff, and youth alumni performing for a national audience.

If you are a funder, grantor, donor, we ask that you offer relief to non-profits of program deliverables during a time of crisis. We also ask that you do not withhold, or limit, funding at this time of need. We are incredibly appreciative of those that are able to navigate the changing situations daily, by extending deadlines, offering open online support, waiving fees, and finding ways to offer financial support. To paraphrase a recent ArtsFund email, “a loss of revenue is a loss of the funds that provide paychecks for artists, staff, and contract workers.” We are the cultural fabric of the region, and we are woven together through everyone’s support.

Support your local artists and hold us close. We are all that we have.

Bless up,


P.S. Check out our Online Learning page, where our teaching artists are creating online content, step-by-step instruction, and simple activities that you can do from home. 


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A new year marks a new beginning. For the past several years we have been under attack by policies set up by the current administration. There have been upticks of hate crimes in places where our president speaks and counties where he has won. He’s ridiculed and attacked women and people of color that are critical of his work.

The immigration protocols that are supposed to make this country the best in the world have made the US look inhumane: minimizing access to SNAP benefits, threatening civilians overseas, and openly cavorting with foreign governments to interfere with domestic elections. He’s even besmirched a teen climate activist.

Now that our president has been acquitted of impeachment charges, I know many of us are thinking, “will anything change, or will he be held accountable?”

Xenophobia and nativism are not solely US issues. From the deforestation and colonization of indigenous lands in Brazil, to the dismantling of the rights of Muslims in India and China, we are experiencing threats to our freedom, globally.

This year was the last year Arts Corps will have been a recipient of the New Executive Fund. This award is given to new leaders of non- profits that work in human rights. Arts Corps is one of the only arts organizations to receive this grant and we are the only education-focused organization in the last three years.

It has been an honor to receive acknowledgment from George Soros, a known advocate for equity and justice. Recently, he pledged $1 billion to fund a new university network that would tackle nationalism, namely in the countries mentioned above.

My last international trip was several months earlier, in April, in Germany, when I was working with UAEM. As you know, I had difficulties enjoying it completely, so I was eager to have a better time in Spain. Spain had been experiencing some protests and unrest, regarding Catalan becoming an independent republic, separate from Spanish government. Catalan has a distinct language and culture and almost operates as an autonomous community. Yet it is still a part of Spain. The people are split about whether or not this should move forward, but 12 activists and politicians were recently sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for sedition. People immediately took the streets to protest the convictions, or to support the decision.

In Catalan’s biggest city, Barcelona, however, there was little I saw in terms of protest or unrest. It reminded me of a sleepy port town in rural Maine. I was expecting something out of Vicky Christina Barcelona, with vibrant colors, beautiful people in fancy clothes, and delicious food. Instead it was more like… well a sleepy port town in rural Maine.

After eating dinner and recovering from jet lag, all of the new executives gathered for our first session the following day. Looking around, I noticed a big difference, even from two years ago. Most of the executives in attendance were of color and the number of non-binary and trans executives tripled. It was first time that I sat in a room of C Level folks and they looked like me and were from similar communities to the ones Arts Corps serves.

A noticeable exhalation happened as others noticed the same. We were coming from all over the globe and this year also had more representatives from the Global South. It was an amazing feeling to be in a group where you’re not the “other.” I’ll speak for myself, but I’m sure others felt similarly, like we aren’t in this alone.

Then we started talking about our work in human rights and our work as leaders within that field. We spoke of issues familiar to all non- profits: lack of funding, overworked staff, work feeling like its never finished, out of touch funders, and love of our work despite all of that.

It didn’t take long to get deeper though. We spoke of operating within the non- profit industrial complex based in patriarchy and white supremacy. We spoke of the disparity of philanthropic resources available to people like us that didn’t come from those communities. We spoke of the lack of trust funders have in POC, queer, non-English speaking, immigrant, and trans communities. We discussed how the current political environment is making our work more difficult, and for some physically dangerous.

Quite a number of my colleagues talked about armed forces trying to stop the work of non-profits. Some spoke of being forced to leave the country they’re operating in, for fear of violence. While the name George Soros brings some cache to US-based human rights organizations like Arts Corps, his name is anathema to countries and communities being led by oppressive dictators.

For those that inherited the leadership role from a white cis predecessor, we spoke about the difficulties in doing so. Even though, my predecessor was incredibly helpful and supportive, still to this day, there’s no denying we are held to different standards. By funders, by our community, and by our staff. The internal conflicts sometimes matched the vigor of the external conflicts for many of us.

One ED said it best, when she said, “We are in a state of crisis, and there’s no end in sight.”

I sat there staring at the floor, tears forming in my eyes. The work of providing the Maslovian needs to people that have been stripped of their humanity should not be this difficult. We are all working for a better world, but the cards are stacked up against us. A couple of my colleagues were leaving the non-profit sector and others gave themselves a definitive end date, not far from today. We were all hurting, and luckily, we had one another with whom we could commiserate.

The work of human rights is draining but it needs to be done. Communities have had their resources taken from them and we must fulfill those needs, but only by competing with one another and for fraction of the costs that it takes to meet those needs. The disparity between the haves and have nots is growing yet philanthropy overall hasn’t changed much. In fact, the wealthy are giving less and it’s our communities who suffer.

What do we do?

Obviously, using the “master’s tools” aren’t working, and haven’t worked, as Audre Lorde predicted decades ago. We need another tool. My question is can art be that tool?

If art can be the tool for black liberation as Alain Locke writes, can it also be the tool to liberate others?

If we look at Great Depression, and how the Harlem Renaissance provided both pride and a source of income, could we continue that modus operandi in 2020? Look at how Manchester addresses their homeless problem with the arts. How the arts are a central core to Finland’s education system, which is the best in the world. How the work of Amplifier, in Seattle, sheds a light on issues facing us, locally, and across the US. How the group Appetite for Change uses hip hop to bring awareness to healthy living.

How the work of my friend, playwright Mathilde Dratwa, whom provides a perspective to the misogyny of David Mamet writing about #metoo, a world in which he is oblivious. Akwafina winning a golden globe for telling her Asian American story. Bong Joon-Ho winning Best International Film, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay for the Korean language film, Parasite. Art provides voice to those whose voice wasn’t valued. It provides an expression of how we feel and an outlet for how we want to shape the world.

Art is liberation and artists are the liberators. Though we all may feel downtrodden, let us remember the arts. Let’s look to artists and believe in their visions and let’s be artists that make our own world. Let’s Make Art Anyway and know that there is no better resistance to oppression than that of creativity.

— JAMES MILES, Executive Director

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Spokes Application Now Open for 2019/2020

Calling all Youth POETS!

We’re looking for fierce young artists (aged 14-19) who want to create change through community organizing, performance events and artistry!

SPOKES is the youth leadership body of Youth Speaks Seattle. This crew of young leaders commits to a 7-month internship where they lead arts showcases, open mics, writing circles, poetry slams and produce a poetry chapbook. They meet weekly for leadership development in event planning, public speaking, facilitation as well as building their social justice analysis through artistry and cultural work.

Questions? Please email spokes@artscorps.org


Applications due by October 22nd!
#artsed #edquity

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What does revolution mean to you?



What does revolution mean to you?

Some students have already started, but most public schools across the country start school this week. It is another year of the doldrums, where students are equally excited and horrified about returning to their schoolhouse. Another year of 21st century students learning in a 19th century model. Another year of students reading books about people or subjects that have no relevance to them. Another year of students staring outside, yearning to play, but stuck inside memorizing facts so that they may take a test that has nothing to do with knowledge or comprehension. Another year of mostly white teachers teaching mostly black and brown youth. Another year where the achievement gap remains unchanged.

So, what are we gonna do about it? How do we change these modes of educating our youth? How do prepare teachers to be effective and engaging? How do we trust our teachers to do their job, and have their achievement based on student comprehension and not on standardized tests? How do we trust our students to be more than empty vessels that need to be “filled,” and that we, adults, know all of the answers? How do we uplift the black and brown children that have been forgotten and discarded for 400 years and 15 days?

How do we revolutionize education?

That’s a question Arts Corps has been seeking to answer for the past two years, if not longer. We were founded on the principles of providing access to arts education to students that previously did not have it. We were founded to provide a place for teaching artists to work in their field, with youth who did not know that you could be an artist. We were founded to “Make Art Anyway.” 

But what does that mean? 

Author and Nobel Prize winner, Andre Gide said “Art begins with resistance – at the point where resistance is overcome.” Artists are the resistance and by making art anyway, we are combating oppression and creating a better world. By making art anyway, we are telling our education system that our voice matters. That through our expression, we are demonstrating comprehension of the world in which we live, and how we can operate within it. Using art as our tool, we are showcasing cultures of people around the globe, the people that look like our students, the people that are our students. This year, we are going to be working closely with teaching artists and classroom teachers to shift the culture of school to be more inclusive. We are going to work with students and ignite the creative power of youth, and we are going to work with our community to build a better education system for all of our youth.

What does revolution mean to you?

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Accessing Creative Technology with LIT

“The really exciting thing about emerging tech is that it’s constantly changing, and that means that anybody could shape it. And it means that students of color could shape it.” – Netsanet Tjirongo, filmmaker, LIT teaching artist

This year I’ve had the privilege of documenting a revolutionary new program at Arts Corps, in partnership with Reel Grrls, called LIT!

Student holds his arms straight out to his sides while he is scanned by another person with a virtual 360 scanner.
Fabian is scanned so he can be turned into a virtual 360 model.

LIT, which stands for Learning Immersive Technology, engaged students from Big Picture High School in Virtual Reality game development, audio production, and 360 filmmaking in order to develop as artists, technology innovators, and to prepare them for 21st Century Careers in the emerging arts and tech industries. The students were able to explore all three types of technology with expert teaching artists and then dove into one area for their final projects, collaborating between departments as they would in a real-world production environment.

From behind: student and teaching artist look at a music project in Logic on a computer screen and talk about the composition.
Noel works with Matt to create original music in Logic.

When talking with Noel, one of the students focusing on music production, he showed me the four tracks he had created for another student, Fabian’s VR experience. He also mentioned that he really liked music production and that he wanted to continue coming to the studio to make music at Totem Star – one of our partner organizations that runs the recording studio that the students used during LIT – even after the program was over.

Chatting with Vanessa – whom you’ll meet in this short video – I learned that she not only produced music for her friend Faith’s 360 film, but also enjoyed the process so much that she produced music to pair with various paintings that she was creating for a school project on Chicano art murals and the Chicano movement to fight for the rights of farmworkers.

Yet another student, Azariah, recalled how she had been interested in writing screenplays since she was five years old, and through the LIT program, she learned how to professionally format a script. She now sees herself turning her vision into something that people would enjoy watching on screen.

Student helps an Arts Corps staff member put on the VR headset to view the experience.
Eli helps an Arts Corps staff member adjust the headset to view his VR experience.

It’s clear that the students in the program gained much more than the ability to model a virtual world, capture a 360 scene, or put sounds together to make a song. At the culmination, all of the students were finding applications for these new skills in their everyday lives. They were able to talk confidently about the technology, talk about their work, and represent themselves proudly at public presentations in front of friends, family, and industry experts.

This video is a window into these students’ experiences, and it is only a preview. The extended feature will be released later this year.

The extended version of this film will give more context to the landscape of immersive technology outside of just the LIT program. It will explore the possibilities of what the industry could look like if young people who have historically been denied access to emerging technology, are at the forefront of shaping its’ future.

-AMY L. PIÑON, Creative Media Producer



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