Alum Spotlight: Xandra Yugto

Arts Corps alum Xandra Yugto sits in a pink dress.

What Arts Corps program were you involved in? What impact did the experience have on you?

I was involved in the Arts Liberation & Leadership Institute (ALLI). Being part of the ALLI cohort felt very freeing. I was able to express myself and I had the tools and guidance to do so. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity. The teaching artist, Adam Jabari, taught different photo techniques and challenged us to tell stories with intention. Additionally, I was part of a partnership Arts Corps had with Teaching Artists Guild that involved developing and facilitating virtual professional development for teaching artists. It gave me a space to teach about my passion for filmmaking and it’s how I started to pursue this passion. I even got to meet an actress who was watching the presentation that worked for one of my favorite directors — the very director that inspired me to take a chance with filmmaking — Alice Wu. Her film, “The Half of It,” is what inspired me to take a leap towards the film industry. 

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Arts Corps?

My favorite memory from my time at Arts Corps was presenting my photos from the ALLI internship at the virtual showcase. I started out by introducing the whole showcase, and my heart was pounding. But I wanted to embrace this feeling and it made me realize how much I love to chase things that challenge me. When it was my turn to talk about my photos, it felt natural and it brought me joy to express the thinking behind my creative process. One notable photo I took is called, “Drowning w/ Flames.” I remember when my teaching artist Adam reacted to my photo and said, “Well done.” It is a photo that I am proud of, especially since it was chosen to be on one of the posters promoting the showcase.

You’ve continued your journey as an artist since being an Arts Corps student. What have been some challenges, moments of growth, and opportunities for exploration you’ve been able to encounter?

In 2020, I achieved my dream job of becoming a Production Assistant for the second season of the popular teen show, Hetero. It was a miniseries about queer teens trying to save their schools GSA. One week before filming started, the show was canceled. I was crushed, but since then, I am so thankful to say that I have had many more opportunities to learn and grow.

In 2021, I became a part of the Digital Production Lab at the Vera Project. This internship was dedicated to giving mostly BIPOC & LGBTQ+ youth artists the ability to be trained by industry professionals in the filmmaking and music community. In this program, I wrote, sang, and recorded a song called, “Two Girls in Love,” that was meant to give representation to the LGBTQ+ community, from my experience as a young queer person. In addition to that, I created a short film that looks into the struggle of feeling like I have to be the model minority as an Asian American and the struggle of accepting my own identity as a queer person.

My most recent internship was with Youth in Focus and I was part of the Creative Career Cohort. In this program we learned about uplifting our own voices and telling our own stories. I created a self-portrait named, “my garden” that highlighted my Filipino culture through a necklace and embraced different aspects of my identity. This program was dedicated to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students, so I learned so much just from interacting with the other interns in my cohort. Additionally, we were given a curriculum from BIPOC teaching artists and it was inspirational to learn from people with similar experiences to my own. 

Lastly, I have been working for Ascendance Pole & Aerial Arts since May 2022. It is the only nonprofit pole studio in the region and the goal is to empower a diverse community through a safe artistic place. The energy and mission of the studio is what brought me to work there. I am part of the front desk team and I am in charge of social media. In our social media, I strive to post pictures of a wide variety of people and I create graphics that help bring awareness to what we do. We have programs for scholarships to help low-income prospective students take classes at our dance studio and we have community classes that are on a pay-what-you-can basis. This gives a wider variety of people the opportunity to engage in pole and aerial fitness and to build confidence.

I am dedicated to supporting and being a part of organizations that give BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth like myself a voice. I have learned tons from these experiences, as I continue my art journey. 

Recently, you’ve been producing and working as cinematographer for “The Astute Observations of Samuel J.R. Wellington.” Tell us about it! What has the project been like?

I have spent over 70+ hours putting my passion into this project. There are so many twists and turns to a production that I would not have expected. It’s difficult to manage and communicate with a variety of people to get things done, but we just wrapped our final shoot and I couldn’t be more proud of my team. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. The project included interviewing people for our crew, watching auditions, getting gear, securing locations, and more. We are on to post production work, and we accomplished so much filming, huge learning lessons, understanding what we can fix, and the things that we can’t fix. I got to work with my good friend Ruby Lee who I had met in 2021 in an internship with the Vera Project. The last thing I told her when the internship ended was that I hoped we would work together some day and we did! It feels amazing to be part of something that I put my all into and to know that one day, in the near future, we will watch the finished product. 

Besides the film, what is something you are currently excited about?

Currently, I am working on a podcast at TeenTix. It is a medium that I haven’t explored before, so I am extremely excited to see the endless possibilities. Additionally, I would like to explore what it takes to be a pole instructor and I plan to find an apprenticeship program that will allow me to learn more. Another part of my pole dance future is my goal to be a part of a competition. I am excited to train as best as I can and build strength and eventually compete someday! Lastly, I am excited to go to college to study filmmaking. College has been something so terrifying for me, yet it is also something that motivates me to learn more. Since I am passionate about filmmaking, I believe that going to film school will be very beneficial and will bring me a lot of happy experiences.

How can people support your work?

People can support my work by checking out my website, booking me for photography & video work, following me on my socials, and donating to my Paypal to help me fund new projects and go to college! Please reach out to me anytime! I love to hear words of wisdom and support. 

Website with short films & art I have created:

Socials & Paypal: @xandrayugto 

Is there any other project or anything else you would like to share?

I am truly grateful for the opportunity to share my work. I never thought I would be here and it makes me super emotional to think that I was even asked to be spotlighted for this. Thank you so much to everyone who reads this through and for the opportunities brought to me. I am infinitely grateful.

Thank you for sharing your many talents with us, Xandra. We’re eagerly awaiting your next moves! Check out her photography work below:

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Faculty Spotlight: Divya Rajan

Teaching Artist Divya stands in front of a plain background with side lighting. She wears a red top and gold earrings.

This month, Arts Corps wants to celebrate teaching artist, Divya Rajan, and everything she has been doing in and out of the classroom!

As the world re-emerges from the pandemic’s lockdown, our faculty have been busy at work not only creating spaces for our youth to express themselves in, but also creating their own art.

As an Arts Corps teaching artist, Divya is currently working with our programs Best Start for Kids, Out of School Time, and Creative Schools, engaging students of all ages in theatre and storytelling. As a performer herself, Divya has been working in multiple projects. 

We’re grateful to Divya for sharing more about what she does and how she does it!


You were involved in various storytelling partnerships these past few months. Tell us them! What did you do? 

It all started with FESTA this year – that was my first performance for the year, as well as one in a very long time. 

“Lost and Found” happened soon after. Organized by the Indian Embassy Spouses Collective, this was an exhibition of personal objects and the stories behind them. My audio story of a broken comb that I have been holding close for fifteen years now was one of the featured exhibits.

7×7 by Griot Girlz and Finding Trails by Penguin Productions gave me the opportunity to create and collaborate on devised, immersive and site-specific pieces.

With Pratidhwani’s Two Minutes of Your Time themed Coming Home, I came home to the stage, lights and a full-house of live audience. And, I also shot for my first commercial this year.

What made you decide to become a teaching artist?

Call it accidental or call it serendipity, but that is really how I became a teaching artist. I taught my first class as a teaching artist in 2011. I took it up because it felt like a fun thing to be a storyteller to visit schools and play games with kids. However, what I saw, experienced, learned, and received from kids impacted me forever.

I didn’t quite have access to art education as a child. Art was always that “extra-curricular” activity. It was exotic for people to call me creative and artistic; and yet life always boiled down to how much I scored in Math and Science. I also grew up being told that all those who pursue arts and humanities are those who are incapable of pursuing important faculties i.e. science or math.

I wanted to pursue architecture as a child. I wanted to design spaces. When a child is passionate about something, as adults we have the choice to create an environment for this passion to flourish or for this passion to be destroyed. I was that child whose passion couldn’t flourish in the environment that I was in.

From starting off as an accidental teaching artist, today I am a teaching artist by choice because I want to do my small bit to create an environment for children’s passions to flourish. Being a teaching artist is the opportunity life has given me to be that person I wish I had in my life while growing up.

How do you approach a new project or a piece that you are creating? Do you have certain processes you like to undergo?

Devising is my thing. To put it in simple words, I like to intuitively start with multiple creative exercises and allow for narratives to emerge. Once there is something I have hit upon, I start to deliberate and build a frame-work around it.

At a deeper level my process is a lot about confronting my identity, asking questions that matter of myself, embracing my vulnerability and seeking my truth. I weave this into the formal trainings I have had in theatre and what I end up creating is an integrated piece of performance art.

What is your favorite part about creating your art?

Surprises! Every time I create art, it is about confronting my uncertainties. It is chaotic. But, when the work is done, it is extremely rewarding. And, I find myself emerging a little more resilient than before.

What opportunities and challenges do you see ahead for those of us who care deeply about art, young people, and community?

Knowledge thrives when it has an application. The various reputations that art has earned over the years, in my opinion is due to the gap between the art-form and its application. Art has existed for as long as humanity has. So, it is important for us as humans to embrace the artists within ourselves. Bridging this gap between art for the sake of art; and understanding its deeper purpose and impact is a big opportunity as well as responsibility I see as an artist. 

However, although many have trodden down this path, it continues to remain an arduous task. It is going to take unlearning several generations worth of colonized perspectives, oppressive systems of power, regressive mindsets for us to get there. And, arts as a field continues to remain under-funded.

There is work to be done, and we must keep doing what we are doing.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am in conversation with people about potential collaborations. Hopefully, will have something brewing soon 😊

Thank you for sharing your artistry with us, Divya. We can’t wait to see what you do next!

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Volunteer Spotlight: Susan Brown

Volunteer Susan Brown atop of Table Mountain in South Africa, wearing a sunhat and smiling at the camera

This month, Arts Corps would like to recognize our long-time friend and volunteer, Susan Brown! 

From building art kits for students to providing admin support to prepping for Festa, our incredible volunteers gift their time in order to support our youth and make things happen. Susan has been volunteering with Arts Corps for around 7 years! Susan is an embroiderer, as well as a quilter and a sewer. She is a lifetime volunteer, supporting various organizations in our community. After the passing of her late husband 10 year ago, Susan became very active in our local Pancreatic Cancer affiliate and volunteers at Virginia Mason Hospital in various capacities.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Susan, to learn a little more about her Arts Corps experience!

What made you decide to volunteer at Arts Corps?  

A former Board President, Sara Lawson, was a friend with whom I had worked with in Alaska, thought I might be interested. Turned out I was. Arts Corps is a great place to volunteer, and I am always so very happy when you call with some project that needs a helping hand. Thank you for giving me the opportunity. 

Was arts education critical to your development as a young person?

Not art, I was very active in music, and a number of community organizations though. My interests have changed now, and my embroidery machine has become my new place where my art takes place, and I am learning to quilt, not as easy as it would seem I have discovered.

What is one of your favorite memories at Arts Corps?

Listening to the Drum Line at Festa. And just being around the talent in the room. It’s amazing.

What opportunities and challenges do you see ahead for those of us who care deeply about art, young people, and community? 

I think probably funding, always a problem, will continue to challenge, but will also certainly offer opportunities to get even more creative. I know that you are all so very dedicated and that you will continue to work to make it happen. 

Is there an artist or an art piece that has brought you healing or joy recently? 

My home is filled with art, most of it by people I know and it continues to give me joy. Also many photographs of my travels that make me smile. 

Thank you for all the time and support you provide Arts Corps, Susan!

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And so another school year begins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Board Spotlight: Hilary Cherner

A woman poses with her black dog at on snowy mountain close to the peak.

Arts Corps is happy to introduce the newest member of our board, Hilary Cherner!

Hilary is a silo-buster, dot-connecter and philanthropy geek. She has spent the past 15 years shepherding philanthropic consulting firm, Arabella Advisors, from start-up to leader in the social sector. Hilary has a passion for effective giving and, in particular, deploying equitable practices, advocacy, and cross-sector partnerships to achieve greater good. She holds a BA in sociology from the University of Colorado and an MA in public affairs with a concentration in nonprofit and public management from Indiana University. Hilary lives in West Seattle with her husband and rescue pup. When she is not working, you can find Hilary trying out new recipes in the kitchen, enjoying live music and adventuring around the PNW.

Hilary joined us late spring and has spent the past few months learning all things Arts Corps, so we wanted everyone to learn a little more about her as well. 

What made you decide to become a board member at Arts Corps?

I am inspired by the work AC does and, in particular, the ways in which it prioritizes equity across the organization. When I moved to West Seattle a couple of years ago, I wanted to find a local organization to get involved with to build a stronger connection with the community. When I first heard about AC (thanks Stone!) I immediately knew it was an organization I wanted to be involved with.

What is something you are looking forward to in your new role?

I am still getting to know the organization – the people, the programs and the impact. I really enjoyed attending Art & Sol and am looking forward to getting to participate in more in-person and virtual events and classes.

Was arts education critical to your development as a young person?

It was! I can’t say I have a lot of talent artistically but early exposure to the arts – in particular music, dance and drama provided me with an important outlet for escape, imagination & community…and they still do today!

What opportunities and challenges do you see ahead for those of us who care deeply about art, young people, and community?

Oof…the challenges are many. In a world of competing priorities, arts can often get short changed. This is why it is so important to have organizations like Arts Corps partnering with schools and communities to ensure programming is accessible for all. On the opportunity side, I think that one silver lining of the pandemic is the way in which the country saw arts in a new light. The arts gained a level or respect and recognition I haven’t seen in the past. I am hopeful we can ride that wave into the future.

Has there been an artist or piece of art which has had a positive impact in your life?

Live music has fueled my soul ever since my first concert in kindergarten (Thriller tour). Too many bands/musicians to name and so many genres included. I continue to explore and love to find new music to both carry me away and help make sense of life. I welcome your recommendations!

We’re excited to have you on board, Hilary!

— GRECIA LEAL PARDO, Development & Communications Coordinator

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Staff Spotlight: Patrick Kang, Programs Manager

Arts Corps is so excited to welcome our newest staff member, Patrick Kang!

Patrick is joining Arts Corps as Program Manager, working on our Art 4 Life and Interagency programming.

Patrick grew up in Southern California and holds degrees in English and American Studies. He comes to Arts Corps with a passion for programming, initiatives, and movements designed for young people, particularly those driven for and by the community. Previous work includes promoting educational equity and building power within local youth leaders. Informed by personal experiences – challenging fears on stage as a shy adolescent/young adult, forming bonds through arts & crafts events, and connecting with family history through studying performance – he has a deep appreciation for the capacity of the arts to promote community, reflection, creative expression, and healing. In his spare time, Patrick likes to swim, eat anything with chocolate in it, and learn new ideas and skills.

What is something you are looking forward to, working at Arts Corps?  

There’s honestly so much I am looking forward to! If I had to focus on just one element, I am really excited to participate in Arts Corps’ 20+ year praxis of social justice and youth empowerment through arts education. Even in the short amount of time since starting, I have already been witness to young people actively and collectively exploring visions of the self, community, and life through Arts Corps programming. Shout out to faculty members Arielle, Sorel, and Adam for letting me visit their Art 4 Life Digital Art Internship and for facilitating such a beautiful space for creativity, expression, and compassionate reciprocity.

In his first few week with us, we got to ask him some questions that let us know him a little bit better. 

Was arts education critical to your development as a young person?  

Absolutely! I was very fortunate to have multiple arts-based classes and after school programs growing up. This included music, studio arts, and, my personal favorite, stained glass. Although these opportunities were more focused on teaching techniques fairly rigidly, being able to even partake fostered my passion for the arts. Then in college (and beyond), I was able to step outside the confines of prescribed methods and allow that passion to become an exploration. My forays into new modalities, including digital arts and photography, were framed less as doing something “the traditional way” and more on growing, testing, trying, failing, practicing. The creative process was synonymous with creating community, building confidence, and reflecting.  

What opportunities and challenges do you see ahead for those of us who care deeply about art, young people, and community? 

This might be a typical answer, but I feel like issues surrounding equitable and inclusive access to the arts will persist. Cuts to arts programs continue to challenge the already limited resources and the tumultuous outlook for the future does not suggest an immediate resolution. At the same time, artists across disciplines have historically been able to adapt to vicissitudes and, in turn, set the stage for a critical re-evaluation of the contemporary social constitution. This pattern unfolded during the pandemic, where arts organizations like Arts Corps not only continued to provide arts access, but also created the conditions of possibilities for new rearrangements and imaginings of community. I have confidence this will continue to be the case, whatever challenges, headwinds, and obstacles may come to bear. 

Welcome to the Arts Corps fam, Patrick!

— GRECIA LEAL PARDO, Development & Communications Coordinator

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