We Are Arts Corps


The allure of Arts Corps was, and still is overwhelming. I can’t believe such a place existed outside of my brain. An education organization that used arts as a tool to address inequities in a K-12 environment. When Elizabeth Whitford suggested that I apply, I thought no way that they would hire a brotha from Chicago/Brooklyn with only one good ear, and a love for expletives. 

Somehow they hired me, and I moved my family across the country to work at this glorious organization. The first two years were magical. I breathed fresh air for the first time in my life. I went camping. I saw a snake. My kids didn’t have to wear a uniform to school. It didn’t rain as much as New York. I tried Pho, and I went to my first caucus. There were some hiccups: I couldn’t make friends and we were the only folks of color in our zip code. People thought my way of talking was improper. I didn’t under passive aggressiveness. People had emotions I never experienced. I went to my first caucus. 

But we still thrived at Arts Corps. That is until about 3 months ago, or more when we started to spiral out of what I had envisioned for Arts Corps. What I embraced several years ago began to look like a different organization. Something went askew and we tried some new things to help us get back to what Arts Corps was about: revolutionizing education and igniting youth voice. We felt lost as an organization, and I was afraid we were heading towards our demise. I realized I couldn’t let this happen to Arts Corps, to our community, to my family that took this strange trip with me, and that’s when I realized we needed to do something different.

With change, comes a lot of pain and sometimes anger and resentment. Looking at the staff, I knew that though it would be difficult, I had to made a decision to help us grow, as an organization. So  I had to make some staffing changes. I had to fight for Arts Corps the same way that Arts Corps fought for me. 

It wasn’t fun, nor easy, but it was decided that two of our staff members could no longer be part of the Arts Corps fight. They have done so much for Arts Corps, but our paths had to separate. I will always consider them part of our community, and I hope they will consider Arts Corps part of theirs. I know we will bounce back and it will take some time, but I am confident, we will do it. I will need to work closely with programs team to do that. I see us reaching new heights with PDs and workshops that we offer to other schools and school districts. I see us deepening our amazing cs lab work. I see LIT becoming a model for the city and other regions to implement. I see The Residency venturing out on its own, with our support. I know Youth Speaks will still be a platform for unfettered youth expression. I see us shaping the education system to be more culturally responsive and engaging to young people and their families. I see us working in places we have never worked before, that could help subsidize the work we are doing in our communities. I see us working with local government to shift policies and practices. I see us changing the region, the country, and the world.

I am excited for the future of Arts Corps, and I know there may still some lingering thoughts or feelings. If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to me and/or the Board President, Tanisha Brandon-Felder. Arts Corps is the best thing that happened to me, and I hope it can continue being the light that guides us towards a better future.

Thank you and Much Love,



Read More

An American in Germany

I just got back from Germany and I’m upset!
But, I didn’t know why, until just now.
Several months ago, I led a workshop in Montreal, Canada, called “Can Hip Hop Save Lives?” I was invited by my colleague and fellow Open Society Foundation grantee, Merith Basey, whom is the Executive Director of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines(UAEM). On face value Arts Corps and UAEM may seem to have little in common, but our interlocking themes of access, equity and youth-driven campaigning is clear. Our work is stronger and more impactful through out creative connections and shared vision. UAEM’s tag line is “We Have a Drug Problem,” and their mission is to bring awareness to, and change policies that create unequal access to drugs, like insulin, that people need, in order to live.
Our workshop led participants through how to use youth culture aka hip hop culture to create social media campaigns that could be used to highlight the inequities in the health care system, in a thorough, yet easily digestible way. In order to do that, we first had to explore our relationship to hip hop culture and the ways that is manifested in the media we digest. For example, there is something called Hip Hop Cupcakes that Duncan Hines sells. Snoop Dogg sells Pepsi. Busta and Missy Elliott teamed up with Tyrion Lannister and Morgan Freeman to hawk Doritos and Mountain Dew. In Seattle, there’s Trap Vinyasa. Obviously, the target ages 18-34 love hip hop culture, yet we often ignore that culture in our schools and in “professional” settings. I proposed we use global culture to make the public aware of public health inequities such as the fact that 1 in 6 people globally have a neglected disease. Those one in six are typically low income, people of color, immigrants, and/or women. The participants were inspired and created songs, Instagram Stories, memes, gifs, and visuals that helped highlight the public health issues facing the world. 
The workshop was such a success, that I was invited to present at UAEM’s European conference, held in Hamburg, Germany. However, my first stop was in Berlin, where Merith introduced me to the European ED, Priscilla Li, and their staff. In between planning conversations, I was able to see the sights around Berlin. I saw the Brandenburg Gates, which reminded me of Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. I saw the Berlin Wall and the US inspired graffiti that decorated the walls. As I was walking along the Wall, I was able to read(in English and German) about the rise of Nazism, Communism, and it’s impact on the city and the country. It reminded me of the 9/11 memorial, also in NYC. I saw the memorial to the young people that died in the Holocaust, and to relax, I tried German schnitzel and very tasty schwarz bier that complemented the food very well. Everyone was very nice, spoke English, and when I spoke German, they were very supportive and helpful, even though my German was god awful. 
After a day and a half we went to Hamburg together, and I was equally blown away by how nice everyone was, how everyone tolerated my German, and the numerous signs in pubs and establishments that said, “No Nazis Allowed.” 
Oh! And both cities were incredibly diverse, much more diverse than Seattle. With the number of refugees that came from Syria other parts of the Middle East, and Northern Africa, I heard multiple languages spoken, and saw multiple cultures represented. I learned that because of socialized medicine and education, everyone was provided free health care and education. Even universities, which are costly compared to other services, are still 100 times cheaper than schooling in the states, and therefore affordable. 
I knew I had to modify my workshop a bit, because of Germany’s relatively equitable health care and education system, but it wasn’t until I experienced it first hand, that I realized how much I would need to modify my workshop. I was still able to focus on youth culture, which unsurprisingly, was similar globally. (Everyone loves Migos. Go figure 🤷🏾‍♀️). However I did have to edit the access portion because of socialized medicine and focus on how drugs were tested, and to whom they were readily available. For example 80% of drugs, even those for women, are tested on men. Though health care is free to refugees, they have to pay for things like insulin. It is much cheaper than the states, but it does come with a price tag. 
Amazingly, the participants were as inspired as their North American peers. They even recorded a rap song about drug pricing, set to the tune of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise.  The participants and the UAEM team were ecstatic, and they would like for another Arts Corps presentation at their next conference..
Yet, I was still upset. 
When I landed back in the States, went to work, and took the bus around Seattle, I reflected on my experience. The entire time I was in Germany, I acted like a typical impatient American, saying everything reminded me of the US, and was loud and irritable. I took up too much space in places and while I was sightseeing, I barely enjoyed the monuments, memorials, and views around town. What I realized a week or so later was, that I was jealous. I was very jealous that this country has tried to come to terms with their historical atrocities. They didn’t shy away from them, but addressed them head on. They acknowledged that some really bad things (I know that’s an understatement) took place and they have worked for the past 30 years to rectify that. This hasn’t happened in the USA and I’m not sure if it will ever happen. I still see confederate flags. White supremacists have their own social media channels that are widely accepted, because of free speech. I still have to be wary of police officers, as do my 10 year old children. Andrew Jackson is still on the $20 bill. “Make America Great Again” is a slogan that we don’t bat an eye at, even though, in that America, my grandparents couldn’t vote, go swimming in public swimming pools, or even live in the same neighborhoods as their white counterparts. 

I’m aghast at the situation in the USA right now, so I’m going to challenge myself and you to use art to help us come to terms with our history. I’m thinking of the Songs of Civil Rights music that broke color lines and brought awareness to the issues facing society. I’m thinking of the art made by the children to help make sense of the atrocities that they experienced at the Japanese Internment Camps, in Puyallup. I’m thinking of how the documentary, “Surviving R Kelly” successfully ended the career of a predator. 

I’m thinking of how Beyoncé used her platform as an artist to shine a light on black excellence, black colleges and black humanity. Her Homecoming performance breathed a sense of belonging into the culture at a time when we were all feeling distraught and beat down. I daresay that her celebration of the HBCU experience may have indirectly led billionaire Robert Smith to promise to pay off all of the school loans for the graduating class of 2019, at my proud alma mater, Morehouse College. Of course, that is just conjecture, but I know the power of art, and its ability to inspire and empower.

So what are YOU going to do, today, tomorrow, next week, that changes the world so that our children won’t travel the world upset? So that our children won’t feel distraught and beat down. So that our children won’t have to doubt their own humanity. Instead they can say “yeah when the ish hit the fan, my folks promised to Make Art Anyway.” 

Bless up,
Read More

Apply for The Residency Hip Hop Program!

Applications are now open! Youth ages 16-19 with an established desire to pursue hip-hop and music as a career must apply online and meet all criteria in order to be considered. This year’s intensive will take place at MoPOP from July 22nd – August 16th.

All participants receive:

  • Fully-funded month long summer intensive, regular workshops, performance opportunities and other industry experiences
  • $600 stipend upon completion of the program
  • Complimentary bus tokens
  • Daily lunch and snacks provided during most Residency programming

2018_theresidency_pinon_308The Residency is designed exclusively for rising teen artists from the greater Seattle area who meet King County low-income verification standards. Aiming to directly address the access barriers many underserved youth and families face when asked to choose between paying for an experiential learning opportunity beyond their means and getting a summer job this residency is an opportunity to provide up to 45 teen artists with a high-quality arts experience that supports them pursuing their artistic development and be compensated for their talent. Additional opportunities and programming exist beyond the summer intensive for each cohort.

The Residency will be accepting new applications for the 2019 cohort until May 31, 2019. Applications are now open HERE.

Read More

Why we’re not participating in GiveBIG

We have decided not to participate in GiveBIG this year.

It is a privilege to be able to opt out, and we know that many organizations depend on the revenue generated on this day, and we will continue to support them and the community, with whom they work. However, the most visibility goes to nonprofits that are large institutions and have dedicated development and marketing staff. Additionally, the new fees imposed on nonprofits to participate in GiveBIG are cost prohibitive to many smaller organizations, so Arts Corps has decided to step back and shine a light on others.

mostresroucesVu Le wrote a piece about the Nonprofit Hunger Games, that highlights the fight for survival that many nonprofits have to undergo, just to exist. Nonprofits are forced to compete with each other for funding, so that their programs can keep running. Often, these organizations are doing similar work, but those that have the most resources, generally come out on top. This leads to further siloization, and sometimes the demise of smaller organizations that do great work, but have not found the means to stay open.

May is Arts Education Month, and we shouldn’t relegate the support of the arts to a single day. According to new U.S. government data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the arts and cultural sector contributed more than the agriculture, transportation, or warehousing sectors, to the US economy. The power and impact of the arts, in the region, can only be maintained if we work together to amplify our collective vision. Nancy Chang, ED of ReelOften, these organizations are doing similar work, but those that have the most resources, generally come out on top.  Grrls once said, “nonprofits make up the cultural fabric of the region,” and for that to happen, we must weave that ‘fabric’ collaboratively.

In the spirit of collective impact, if you plan on giving during GiveBIG, I urge you to look for other organizations that have a budget less than $500,000 (you can find this info for free on Guidestar.org). For the sake of the region, we should feel compelled to support these organizations all year round, in order to maintain the cultural fabric of our area.

If you feel compelled to support Arts Corps, you can do so via our secure online donation form, or simply text “GIVE” to 206.472.1235 at any time, all-year round, fee-free.

Read More

Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam – Sweet 16!

2018_grandslam_pinon_115When you are out in the town, whether at a community event or at meeting, when someone says, “Youth Speaks”, you respond, “Youth Speaks!”.  And while it is fun to make someone stumble and pause in between their words when they say, “Youth Speaks” (Youth Speaks), it is actually calling on 16 years of a culture created by youth for youth.  The call and response of “Youth Speaks” (Youth Speaks) signals to the speaker that they are seen, heard and supported by folks that have felt that they were part of something much larger than themselves because of Youth Speaks (Youth Speaks) community.  When you start to catch onto the call you’ve accepted an invitation to be part of the rich history of Youth Speaks Seattle.

ig-artsedweek-mimiFriday, April 19, 2019 is the annual Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam. For 16 years, Seattle has sent a team of youth to the international festival, Brave New Voices to metaphorically set fire to stages across the United States to show other cities that Seattle has some things to say too.  We can’t stop, and we won’t stop now.  But this show is more than just a competition to determine a team, this is a showcase of young people and the power of their storytelling.  Ten youth will tell stories of survival, of love, of hope, of calling someone or something out or just telling us how they see this wonderful but hella messed up world of ours.  I invite all of you to see them, hear them and support them.  Honoring the legacy built by the youth of Seattle, we will feature singer, songwriter and community organizer as well as Youth Speaks Alumni, JusMoni.  Our featured DJ is Stas Thee Boss, who is a town favorite, legend and longtime friend and supporter of Youth Speaks. 

Another call and response we use at Youth Speaks (Youth Speaks) is “The Youth Right Now Are the Truth Right Now!”.  Can’t we all use some truth from some of the most brilliant minds in our city?  Come through to the largest youth poetry event in the 206 of the year. 

When I say Youth Speaks, you say Youth Speaks…

Youth Speaks



The 16th year of the Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam will take place on April 19, 2019 at King’s Hall (2929 27th Avenue South, Seattle) at 6:00pm.


Contact slam@artscorps.org for discounts on groups of five or more youth.

Read More

We’re hiring teaching artists for The Residency!

Program Description

The Residency breaks down the barriers of access to equitable arts experiences for underserved teens in the Seattle region in order to build their skills in collaboration, self-expression, technical acumen, leadership identity, and confidence as cultural change-makers. The intensive residency will serve 45 emerging artists through two tracks over four weeks. The Vocal Track will  foster self-expression through lyricism, rhyme structure, and delivery and the Production Track will emphasize audio engineering, beat-making, and song construction. Following the Residency, youth will participate in four monthly 3-hour cyphers (from September through December) as a way to advance their collaborative learning, workshop ideas with their cohort artists, and sustain the sense of shared community and motivation after the completion of the three-week residency.

Job Description

The Residency Teaching Artist specializing in either the production track or the vocal track will deliver high quality hip hop arts curriculum which engages and develops participants’ creativity, builds technical skillset, provides leadership opportunities, and helps to shape their identities as cultural workers.  Partnering with fellow teaching artists, youth interns and program managers, this person will work collaboratively to meet the objectives of the program including: curriculum development and implementation, support with youth recruitment and selection process, classroom management, and event planning & production.


Production Track

  • Lead the production track of the Residency
  • Be able teach on multiple beat production software platforms
  • Be competent in a studio setting
  • Skilled in audio engineering.
  • Be a teaching artist who is a skilled producer, dj and educator
  • Lead curriculum development and instruction for up to 15 students during the month long Residency intensive.

Vocal Track

  • Lead vocal track of the Residency
  • Impart techniques for enhancing artist confidence and competence
  • Teach stage presence and performance techniques
  • Be a teaching artist who is a skilled rapper, lyricist and songwriter
  • Ability to workshop musical content and encourage artist creativity
  • Lead curriculum development and instruction for up to 15 students during the month long Residency intensive.

For more information and to apply, VIEW THE FULL JOB DESCRIPTION HERE.

Extended deadline to apply is May 3, 2019.

Read More