Staff Spotlight: Eris Eaton

Eris, you’ve been part of the Arts Corps community for a while in various ways! Tell us about your journey with the organization and what it was that made you come back?

Finding Arts Corps was a bit of a journey in and of itself. At the time, I was getting my degree in Positive Youth Development at Highline College. I wasn’t in the degree with the goal of starting non-profit work. The larger goal was to get my Master’s in library science, but I felt the degree was relevant and interesting, so I went for it. I was also 19 at the time, which was wild, being a youth and studying about… well, myself. The more I learned, the more I became invested and passionate about community work. 

In the second half of the program, you have to find a place to intern. They just kind of unleash you and say, “Reach out!! Do your best!!” I was so nervous and lost, I just started looking for places that focused on art and music, since those are things I personally enjoy. When I reached out to Arts Corps, they immediately responded with such interest and enthusiasm. I tend to believe I’m imposing on people a lot, but from the beginning, the folks at Arts Corps saw things in me that I had never thought of as valuable and that continues to be a big reason I keep coming back.

I learned one of my biggest life lessons during my time as an Arts Corps intern. When you’re young, there’s a lot of mystique around working, especially around being a “professional.” It’s like being an “adult,” you don’t really know what to expect, but there’s a lot of grandeur spun around it while growing up. What coming into Arts Corps taught me is that the world is just made up of a bunch of people trying their best to get stuff done. Whether you’re a CEO or in customer service, it’s not really any different. There’s no secret code or revelation; we’re all just people doing our best. 

When it came to staying on as a classroom assistant and teaching artist, or coming back to be a program manager, my reasons were always the same. Regardless of what I was learning about myself, what I wanted, or who I wanted to be, Arts Corps had my back. The folks here have always been there for me, cheering me on, and believing in me more than I believe in myself. And hey, they do awesome work. They’re giving something to the world that it really needs: A place to do art and feel loved. Not just to the youth, but to the staff, too. Every day when I come home, I find myself thinking “Wow, I’m so very blessed that my life led me to Arts Corps.”

How did your experiences at Arts Corps prepare you professionally? How did they connect to your journey outside the organization?

Being at Arts Corps taught me a lot about what work is involved in running a non-profit. But, honestly, I think the best thing it did was give me standards! Standards on how to treat each other, on how to uplift those we work with and for, and what it really means to be an “equitable” and “anti-racist” organization. The short time I was gone, I started to see very quickly that not everyone sees the world like Arts Corps does. I was taught here that honesty, bravery, accountability, love, and the desire to grow are the true pillars to being a “professional.” Outside of Arts Corps, I ran into a lot of places that seemed to believe being professional means keeping your head down and your heart closed. People think those systems exist for safety and comfort, but all it’s keeping safe is the system of power itself. Arts Corps taught me that being an “artist” (which is really just being “human”) is all about challenging those systems of power. 

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

I just really enjoy the logistics of it all. Someone reminded me we needed to figure out food for a class, and I immediately got excited to plan it. Making connections, providing folks with information, keeping everything together with duct tape and staples if you have to it’s all so satisfying when you know what you’re doing. I’m looking forward to learning more and more so I can confidently claim I know what I’m doing! Then I’ll be able to reach that most satisfying place, where even if I have 10 different projects to juggle, I know exactly what’s happening in each one, and can leap right into whatever needs to happen next.

Everyday though, I’m just excited to help people. As a kid, whenever I came up with a new answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my parent’s follow-up was always “How does that help people?” It was drilled into me that what you do to make money should always help people somehow. So, unless I’m being of service to someone, I don’t really feel that I’m working at all. In that way, I’m looking forward to becoming more capable, so that everyone around me can think: “Whenever I need help, I know I can rely on Eris to be there for me.”

What are some of your personal creative practices? What do you like about them?

I like to enjoy a lot of different art forms! I draw, write, dance, video edit, and I recently began my journey in cosplay, which involves a lot of types of sewing and fabricating. I’ll be learning to craft armor with foam this year, for example. There’s little I feel I’ve mastered, but that’s alright, since art is about expression and enjoyment rather than perfection. I can be satisfied with things like sewing and video editing as long as I get to see my artistic vision become tangible. Then I can say I’ve learned something new.

The one thing I try to “perfect” is singing! Music has been in my life as early as I can remember, whether played by friends and family or just on the radio in the car, and singing has always been a part of that. You don’t need any special tools to do it, you just need to raise your voice and go for it! It’s something that’s incorporated throughout the day for me. It could be singing in the car, or while cleaning, or in the grocery store, or anywhere really. Breathing, being loud, and letting the world hear you, there’s nothing else really like it. Singing with others is also a really special experience, which I do mostly in the Level Up! Vocal Ensemble (LU!VE) which I help run in Seattle. These days I’m simply grabbing any performance opportunity I can find and have time for, so I can keep sharing that love for music with other people.

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

The main opportunity I’m thinking about these days is the potential to integrate nonprofits in with our local library systems more. Local libraries are nuclei of community, but I haven’t heard of any non-profit so far consistently partnering with them. I’d really like to see organizations turn to librarians to discuss how we can connect and deliver what our community members need. If more of us can walk hand-in-hand when it comes to programming, our net of supporters will become tighter-knit, and more and more people will be served and uplifted.

I find I can’t really speak on challenges, though. A challenge is just another thing to get done, right? I mean, sure, I could write a paragraph here about the fact arts education still isn’t properly funded, the need to restructure the education system to improve the lives of both teachers and students, the effect on youth of growing up in a world where privacy doesn’t exist, or the rise of puritan politics, but what would be changed by that? 

I simply choose to believe in my heart that there is a world where everyone has the opportunity and time to enjoy art. One where everyone loves each other and grows closer because of it. Where everyone values each other and what we have to say. If I work a little harder, and talk to more people, and spread the word, that world is going to exist, it’ll get a little closer. Will there be challenges? Probably. When those eventual challenges appear, we’ll just roll up our sleeves and climb over it. And then one day, on the other side of those walls, that world will become real.

It’s a new year! As we move into 2023, what are some things that you are holding onto or reaching toward?

Last year, my goal was to do everything!! I wanted to push myself to try things I’d never done before, take risks, and never say no. I grew a lot and found a lot of awesome opportunities. I definitely don’t want to let go of that mindset. At the same time, trying to manage everything is exhausting. So I’m learning, now that I’ve piled on so much, how to carefully set some things aside. In 2023, I want to keep up on pushing myself, but also to focus on learning how to pace myself for the many more years of exploration to come.

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Arts Corps Announces its Co-Executive Directors

We are beyond enthusiastic to welcome Naho Shioya and Shawn Roberts as Arts Corps’ Co-Executive Directors, both of whom started in January 2023. This exciting new leadership follows the organization’s decision to create an executive staff structure that better represents our practice and values of shared leadership and collaboration. 

Shawn Roberts will be our Co ED of Education and Advocacy. Shawn has been serving the Seattle community through dance, arts, writing, and personal development programs for the past 25 years. In that time, she has built and directed exceptional programs including the School of Spectrum Dance Theater and STG’s AileyCamp and Dance for Parkinson’s. We are impressed by Shawn’s passion, experience, and knowledge. We have heard from teaching artists and parents of youth that she is a steadfast and inspiring leader. Shawn’s work in the community demonstrates both commitment and love for arts education that has a lasting impact on the lives of participants.
Naho Shioya was our Interim ED starting in September 2022 and will now be our Co-ED of Development and Operations. Naho is a theatre artist, educator, and racial equity consultant, who brings a wealth of experience in teaching artistry, strategic planning, and equity work in Seattle, including Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, YWCA, and Associated Recreation Council. In her interim, Naho was already asking important questions that demonstrate true care and concern for our work at Arts Corps. We are moved by Naho’s work on the Ethnic Studies/Theater of the Oppressed program and the ROOTS Culturally Relevant Antiracist Arts Education Framework with Seattle Public Schools as they are close to the heartwork of Arts Corps. 
Naho and Shawn come to us with incredible programmatic and development experience. They have both spent their careers cultivating arts education environments that expand access to the arts. We know they will collaborate with one another, our teams, and our partners to further Arts Corps’ mission. We know they will take on challenges with enthusiasm, grace, and determination. We know they will inspire us with brilliance and creativity. 

What is something you are looking forward to about joining Arts Corps?
Shawn: I’m excited to be working with Naho and spending time with and getting to know the Arts Corps staff. I look forward to experiencing the beautiful work being done with our partnering schools and students. 
Naho: I am looking forward to working with Shawn and continuing to get to know the amazing Arts Corps staff and their work in schools and our communities.
What are you reading, listening to, watching right now that is bringing you joy?
Shawn: Now that I’ve completed my Master’s, I’m enjoying reading books that are not part of a syllabus, but of my choosing. With this, right now I’m reading “My Grandmother’s Hands,” by Resmaa Menakem. In terms of what I’m watching, I love watching movies, the latest being “Ticket to Paradise” and “Wakanda Forever.” Music has always been a big part of my life. India Arie, Nas, Miles Davis, Raphael Saadiq, Jill Scott and many other artist’s work fills our home.
Naho: I’m not much of a TV person but am patiently waiting for Season 3 of “Reservation Dogs.” I’m also binge-watching Marvel movies with my 12-year-old. (It’s actually part of my assignment for the doctorate program I am currently in.) Since we have a musician/percussionist in our family, we listen to a variety of world music and are surrounded by musical instruments (that means anything that will make sounds from a percussionist’s viewpoint) 😊
Thank you to the Executive Search Committee — a team of teaching artists, board members, and office staff — for their hard work in hiring Naho and Shawn. 

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Q&A: The Importance of Arts Education in Schools

A pencil drawing of a woman with curly hair and freckles surrounded by stars. Around her, "My Universe Revolves Around Change"

Sylvester Middle School, located in Burien, Washington, is in its fourth year partnering with us and chose to allocate a substantial portion of its budget to Arts Corps programming. In the following conversation, interim principal Chad Kodama and classroom teacher Tatiana Hahn reflect on the impact of arts integration in education and youth development at their school.

Arts Corps: Tell us a little about Sylvester more broadly, for those who may not be familiar.

Chad Kodama: Sylvester is a part of the Highline School District and we’re a 6th through 8th grade middle school. There’s a portion of students on free and reduced lunch plans and we’re also pretty diverse comparatively, serving around 50% white students and 50% students of color, the largest groups represented are from Latino and/or Hispanic, Black, and Pacific Islander communities.

Arts Corps: What were your impressions of the arts in school prior to the Arts Corps partnership?

Tatiana Hahn: I just celebrated my one year anniversary here last week, and before that, it was really limited. We only have the one art class and we have some art clubs and after school groups, but there are many, many, many kiddos here that have a lot of artistic ability — a lot of drawing, a lot creativity, stuff like that — and there just aren’t a lot of outlets for that kind of thing. Kelly, another teacher across the hall, was telling me about Arts Corps curriculum when I first got here and she was like, ‘Just wait until [Arts Corps] gets here, it’ll be a blast.’ That’s how I first found out about your work. Kelly got me all jazzed because she’d had such a positive experience every time.

Arts Corps: Sylvester Middle School recently designated $6,000 to Arts Corps programming. Why?

CK: Right, so I’m the custodian of public funds, meaning that I decide what to prioritize based on both community and staff input. Having worked with Arts Corps in the past, we saw the immense impact that it had on our core content areas. It was very important for us to keep the program up and running and to expand it beyond just one grade level, so now we’re doing three grade levels! Our teachers love it and our students engage with the lessons in a way that they might not otherwise in a more traditional setting. It’s really about making sure every child has something, an activity or interest, that they can connect with at school.

TH: You all just do amazing work with our kids. After I sat in on a lesson, I was like, ‘OK, I understand why kids love this and I understand why classroom teachers are totally willing to give up their teaching time to have Arts Corps come in. It’s a lot of time, but it’s worth every minute.

Arts Corps: Can you take us through what it’s like to sit in on an Arts Corps class?

TH: We spoke with teaching artist Meredith beforehand and then when her and Brian came in, they just had such beautiful control of the class in a way that honestly surprised me. They created this wonderful energy that the kids immediately picked up on, one of discipline and real respect. Even students who usually have problems in class were able to be quiet and positive just so they could participate, which you know, they’re not always able to do.

Arts Corps: What is the value of integrating the arts in with other academic subjects?

CK: Kids learn in so many different ways and so we educators need to make sure to offer multiple avenues to authentically connect with subject matter. When we started partnering with Arts Corps, there were so many robust, culturally responsive options for students to find their entry point into lessons. That is hugely important.

TH: The arts make learning more fun, engaging, interactive, and really accessible. I have many students who won’t say they’re mathmeticians or good readers, but they will say that they’re artists. That’s so awesome, right? A lot of them are willing to take that title of ‘artist’ on and really own it. That pride is beautiful to see in a 12-year-old student. With other subjects, there’s this perception that you have to be an expert or be really comfortable with it to succeed. With art, students get to create something that’s all themselves. No judgement, nothing quantifiable or measurable, just pure creative expression.

This article originally appeared in the Arts Corps 2022 Annual Report.

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Reimagining Teen Programs: Art 4 Life

Arts Corps stepped into our future in 2022 when we launched our revamped teen arts program, Art 4 Life. This program offers youth 13-18 years old paid creative internship opportunities. This summer, Art 4 Life Digital: Art on the Web, was held virtually on Zoom and Art 4 Life Analog: Sustaining Expression, was hosted by Yes Farm, a Black Farmers Collective in Seattle. Teaching artist Meredith Arena got a chance to observe both cohorts:

When I visit the Art 4 Life Analog at Yes Farm, youth participants are scattered around the bountiful garden sketching. They circle up under the biggest tree to reflect on the activity and then buzz around, eager to see one another’s drawings before moving into the greenhouse to continue designs on some garden boxes. Art 4 Life curriculum was designed to replicate working on commission, so Yes Farm tasked them with creating a mural and designing garden boxes as a part of their learning process. The boxes are low to the ground, so most sit or lie down to paint. They collaborate, studying their sketches and planning how to bring them to life.

Hassiel, a youth who wears sunglasses and headphones, paints a strawberry with sunglasses and headphones while his fellow group members paint green vines all the way around the box. Another group paints PRIDE radishes, each radish the colors of a different pride flag. They create endless new color blends –– oranges, purples, a snappy mint green, bubblegum, and fuchsia to name a few. I watch another group split their paint roller into two tones of blue and apply a sky to their box. When the blue dries, they fill the space with sunflowers and butterflies.

Youth creativity is thriving here, saturated in the greens and yellows of the garden, dappled with long awaited sunlight. They break for a hot organic meal, which includes food from the garden made by Chef Steph, a local chef who regularly cooks for the farm. In 2021, teen programming at Arts Corps was at a crossroads. The organization needed to choose between revamping the offerings for teens or turning fully to K-8 programming. Co-Director of Arts Education, Olisa Enrico, describes the process of creating Art 4 Life, named after teaching artist Greg Thornton’s Print 4 Life, a longtime Arts Corps program. “When we stepped back to reassess, we still wanted to work with teens.” Teens are crucial to what Olisa calls the “spectrum of youth development” and she wanted to design a program that was relevant to teen lives and desires.

Olisa and other staff combed through years of student surveys, held focus groups with past and current students, and spoke with younger teaching artists who had participated as youth in Arts Corps’ previous teen programs. What would they create if they had to reinvent teen programs? The idea that emerged is now central to the Art 4 Life ethos: “You can utilize your passion for art, for success in your life. You can use your creativity toward an outcome.” They defined four main areas “like the branches of a tree,” Olisa explains. “Connecting to community, career connected learning, social justice awareness, and creative practice.”

The youth at the farm tell me they joined this program to gain and practice art skills and to get to know other young people. They seem completely relaxed at Yes Farm, moving about with their paintbrushes and sketchbooks in hand, serving themselves cold hibiscus iced tea. I watch them experiment, share ideas, ask questions, and work attentively on the task at hand. Their teaching artists Greg and Vega, along with classroom assistant ZAG, are available with suggestions and support.

Today is the fourth day of a 2-week camp and I can feel the care and commitment that teaching artists and Yes Farm have crafted for youth. Everyone belongs here in a magic that feels distinct from our everyday lives in Seattle. At the western edge of the farm, amaranth plants sway over a busy I-5, cranes and construction frame the eastern edge of the farm, where a condominium is literally being built around the young people as they Make Art Anyway.

Later, when I visit Art 4 Life Digital camp, teaching artist Sorel shares work made by Gran Fury, the propaganda artist collective of the AIDS activist organization ACT UP. Youth discuss the importance of that design work within the context of activism and the AIDS movement. They look at current activist posters too, analyzing the use of color and the effectiveness of design choices. Today is a heat wave, but all students are present at their computers for camp.

Students in Art 4 Life Digital are learning Procreate, Adobe Fresco, and Vectornator. These three apps enable Continued on next page them to design and draw digitally. They are working on Arts Corps-provided iPads with stylus pens. “I draw to show myself. I draw to heal myself,” writes student Ekram in an artist statement. Another youth, Sally, writes: “The world we live in is big and beautiful and should be shared with everyone.”

The posters students design that day showcase Arts 4 Life’s knack for teaching the totality of social justice awareness, from identity outward to environmental and political issues. They read: “Mental Health Matters,” “Proud to Be a Pacific Islander,” “Don’t Hide Your Identity,” “Wear Your Culture with Pride,” and “Beautiful World: Getting Crowded.”

Art 4 Life initially had its test run during Spring Break 2022, when four cohorts (two middle school and two high school) participated in week-long online intensives in digital art. The idea was to integrate career connected learning, which can translate to school credit, résumé building, networking, professional panels, entrepreneurship, financial workshops, and an opportunity to earn money from making artwork. Students sold their artwork through Red Bubble on stickers, tote bags and other marketable items. Similarly, Art 4 Life Analog participants this past summer designed for a specific client, learning how to actualize a vision from a sketch to painting murals.

In the chat, students tell me that they love the daily prompts, the wellness check-ins, and the opportunity to try new things and be creative every day, demonstrating how both the skills and lifestyle required to build an arts practice is woven into the Art 4 Life experience.

I speak with Hayden, a senior at Decatur High School, and Tyon, a junior at Kentwood High School, who took both the spring and summer Art 4 Life. Hayden tells me, “I joined Arts Corps for the spring and summer internships because I like learning new things about art and the process of being an artist.” Tyon adds, “Summer is 10 times better because there is more time.” He likes that the class is doing something new every day and learning more skills. Before Art 4 Life, Tyon didn’t know anything about Procreate, a digital illustration app, but now sings its praises. He jokes that Vectornator, a complex professional graphic design software, made him cry, but that he still appreciates learning it.

When asked what they would take away, Tyon says he is leaving with a better idea of how to maintain a daily creative routine and discipline with art making. It brought structure to his days this past summer. “If I weren’t doing this, I wouldn’t be doing anything,” he says.

Accessibility, availability, and relevance are cornerstones of Art 4 Life. The programs are free and the online option means that youth who don’t have access to transportation or live far from where Arts Corps programming normally takes place in South King County can participate. The need is clearly there. Arts Corps received 560 applications for a mere 60 spots last spring.

Arts Corps Program Manager Cecelia DeLeon says that the success of the program is attributed to its relevance to youth needs: a hearty stipend for participation and “loving, caring” teaching artists who “are aware and know how to ask questions” of the youth. You will not find another program like Art 4 Life in the region right now and Cecelia imagines how popular the program would be if it were available statewide.

Bold imagination –– something the entire team at Arts Corps has engaged with this year. Utilizing our collective experiences in youth development and arts education, we are responding to the ever-changinvg realities of the youth we serve. It is this imagining, listening, and care that will continue to nurture the development of Art 4 Life and all our programs.

We are now challenged to think creatively, just like our young people. The murals students created for Yes Farm depict landscapes with music notes, fiery sunsets, linked hands, and flowers. They are abundant, fertile, life affirming, and they implore us to imagine a future that is big and beautiful.

This article originally appeared in the Arts Corps 2022 Annual Report.

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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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