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Davidson Students Travel the World with Youth in Arts!

The 6th grade students at Davidson Middle School have been learning about Ancient Cultures in their Social Studies classes, and through our Passport event, their curriculum came to life! Throughout the day, every 6th grade Social Studies class took turns participating in a one hour long immersion into art forms of Ancient Cultures, engaging in both Visual and Performing Arts Activities.

Chinese Lion Dancers introduced students to the gongs, symbols, drums and dance movements of Ancient China; scaring off evil spirits with loud music and movements. Participants were given the opportunity to play the instruments and even get inside the Lion to dance!

YIA Mentor Artist Michelle Levy gave students a glimpse into the music of Ancient Mesopotamia and the Roman Empire, including the rebab, vielle, violin, saz (Turkey), Tambura (Macedonia), drums including dumbek, frame drum, riqq and the zurna. Students learned to count in different time signatures and the significance of various instruments in ancient time.

Students also participated in various styles of classical Persian dances with Shahrzad Khorsandi. Moving to the beats of the Daf (a traditional Persian frame drum), dancers moved in unison, learning social dance steps, hand movements and even a new way to snap their fingers!

For Visual Arts, students also explored two different activities.

YIA Mentor Artist Gabrielle Gamboa presented the ancient Greek art of Sgraffito – a technique traditionally used to adorn clay vessels, produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colors, and then in either case scratching so as to produce an outline drawing. Students explored this by etching designs in Magic Paper.

In honor of the ancient Japanese art form of Chinese Brush Painting, YIA Mentor Artist Julia James taught students the various techniques of using Japanese brushes and traditional mulberry paper to create images of Mount Tam.

Every sixth grade student had the opportunity to participate in each activity, and most of them did exactly that! Students flowed seamlessly from one activity to the next, absorbing the information and partaking in the festivities. It was indeed a wonderful Passport to explore our artistic world!

Success for Tam High performers!

This past weekend May 17 & 18 Arts Unite Us premiered an original production which combined educator Ben Cleaveland’s advanced theatre students and students from educator Michael Lovejoy’s Special Day Classroom.  Students engaged in a collaborative theatre program, written, created, designed and performed by the youth under the leadership of Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs.  The packed performances received standing ovations and praise from all involved.

Tam High student creators Victor, Glyn, Julia, Jake, Cate, James, Maribel have some words to share with you about their experience writing, directing, producing and performing as an integrated ensemble of young artists from Conservatory Theatre Ensemble and Marin County Office of Education!

We took two of the most atypical programs in the county, and mashed them together, and it was extraordinary.”

At the beginning, “I was a little afraid of making new friends. I wasn’t sure we would get a long but by week two I felt so welcomed into the process.”

Spring rehearsal

“I liked rehearsing, all the exercises and breaking up the scenes.” Working hard together in rehearsal was “one of the reasons the performance went so well. But even when things on stage didn’t go so well we were there for each other.”

“It went perfectly! I wasn’t nervous. For this one I wasn’t nervous coming into the process knowing whatever happened would happen and it will be great. Something different will happen and you have to react accordingly.”

“It was more about the process more than the product. That is something I’ve learned to value the most.”

Together on stage

My feeling in performance “its good!”  I felt “happy”.  But “the writing part.  I like it cause the writing part was hard, the best.”

“I liked the acting part cause I like to dress up.”

Rehearsing a favorite scene

“It was a different experience. I felt really accomplished afterwards.”

One student was scared to go on stage for his cue with the packed audience. He finally worked up the courage and exited the stage whoop!ing it up! He said afterwards “I felt great!  And happy!  And I did my line!”  He was also quick to praise his classmate’s funny delivery of his lines.

Another student praised her castmate too, “Maribel inspired me.  I know she was always there for me on stage and as a writer.”

“I want to keep doing my lines!”

Actors playing campers

One of the co-directors had an interesting insight; before seeing the play some Tam High peers seemed to plan on “seeing it as if it was a kids show. It was like they didn’t really want to see or really think about it. I don’t know what to do to change that.”  You want to know what to do to change that?  You are doing it!

Other people would say our collaboration is going to be “so cute or sweet.”  When people talked about the play preparation in a patronizing way “I got angry and stopped talking. It was discouraging.”  Another said “you just have to see us working in rehearsal to know our work is just as hard, just as good!” But “The people who saw it and really thought about it, they loved it. They felt something. One guy said he had a horrible day and our play made him happy!  They saw we worked so hard for so long together. We made people think and feel something!  And I think that’s like the whole point of theatre.”

A moment backstage

Feedback on campus was super positive all around. “A lot of people say they heard it was good even if they didn’t see it. People were really talking about it, like, everywhere. Everyone said it was really entertaining to watch.” The audience “liked the ensemble aspect of it. How we were there for each other.”

Castmates and friends

“Everyone was so generous with themselves. Everyone put their peers before themselves but still worked hard on their work, their part of the pie. I think the world could use a little more of that. We put so much of ourselves and risked so much and the audience got to see that.”

“I know what we should do for our next play…”

Well… this project may be over, but high school students of all abilities from across the Bay Area are invited to apply for admission to a groundbreaking new integrated Dramatic Art Project (iDAP). This two-week intensive will be led by a professional artist and will culminate in a live multi-media performance. This is the beginning of the Youth in Arts Performance Company.

Your world isn’t typical.
Your art shouldn’t be either.
Exceptional young people with diverse experiences and abilities collaborate to produce an original piece of dramatic art. Explore elements of playmaking and filmmaking in this exclusive intensive at Youth in Arts in San Rafael this summer. Create an impactful live performance using forms of theatre and digital filmmaking.

Mentor Artist Melissa Jones Briggs will guide a small ensemble of students as they explore their collective authentic dramatic voice. Young artists will also work with professional guest artists to create, design, produce and perform an original piece of dramatic art. The Project meets at Youth in Arts Studio in San Rafael July 22nd – August 2nd, M-F, 10AM-3PM.

Many voices, one story: come share yours!
Apply @

Project Based Learning: Designing a Compass Rose with Third Graders at Willow Creek Elementary

A Compass Rose is the diagram on a historical map that points the way north. The Compass Rose is also a way for a map maker to express themselves. So how can we tell future map readers about ourselves (as mapmakers) with our own personal Compass Rose? Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal worked with third grade teachers Anne Siskin and Maya Creedman at Willow Creek Academy to design this art project integrating Social Studies (mapping the local area), Math (fractions), and Art (self expression, drawing, composition and design).

What is most important to us? That idea should be facing True North, as marking is the most prominent aspect of a compass rose. What is also important? Draw those images around the edges. The Compass Rose can be your signature as a map maker.

Basketballs, puppies, paintbrushes, flowers, baseballs… What can you find in the pictures below? What would point north on your own personal Compass Rose?

Arts Unite Us – Across Marin

“Arts Unite Us” is a special initiative at Youth in Arts that brings students from Special Day classrooms and their General Ed peers to learn and create art together.  “Arts Unite Us” was first envisioned in 2008 by VSA Director Nydia Gonzalez, as a way to bridge gaps in understanding and interaction between students of different abilities and combat the isolation that many of them feel on their school campuses.  Youth in Arts has been developing the idea ever since, creating pilot projects that provide amazing opportunities for young people to learn about each other and work together like never before!


This year, “Arts Unite Us” classes are in full gear at Tam High, Terra Linda High, Redwood High and San Ramon Elementary.  Students from Special Day Classrooms are working together with their peers from General Education classrooms, learning art and performing together.  The first culminating event from this year’s classes will be held at Tam High School, where students from Mr. Lovejoy’s Special Day Class and Ben Cleaveland’s Conservatory Theater Ensemble have been working with YIA Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs in Theater. They will be performing their original play “Camping Out in Nature with Friends and Family and Animals” on Friday, May 17th and Saturday, May 18th as part of the Spring One Act Festival.

Students at Terra Linda High have been learning Samba Reggae with Mentor Artists Stephanie Bastos and Nydia Gonzalez and will hold a celebratory presentation dance/party during lunch time on June 4th.  At Redwood High School, students working with YIA Mentor Artist William Rossell will perform their original percussive composition, opening for the Advanced Performance Workshop Concert on May 29th at 7PM.  At San Ramon Elementary, students from Gen Ed and SDC classrooms have been working together with YIA Mentor Artist Suraya Keating, working on their interpretation of a folktale, “The Laughing River”, focusing on Community and Inclusion.

Youth in Arts has raised the funds to provide these programs in our community from a mix of institutional and individual donors.  We thank the Green Foundation, Marin Community Foundation, Kenneth A. Lester Family Foundation, Macy’s and Target for their generous support of this program, as well as our many individual community supporters. If you have any questions about this program, or would would like to support programs such as this one, please contact Nydia Gonzalez at

Haitian and Caribbean Dance

Mentor Artist Djenane Saint Juste worked with children from kindergarten through grade 8 this year:

Dance is a powerful art form that allows the true self to shine and be happy. It is a way of communication that transcends any kind of barriers that our ancestors have used for many generations.  It is a way to bring the community together.

After each residency at a school I discover new artists aware of their body and learning to translate their emotion through movements. I saw happy children and teachers who feel safe and confident to share their new dance moves.  I saw respectful middle school students who learned to enjoy partner dancing with their classmates.  And I spent a year working with the Cascade Canyon community who enjoyed traveling and learning about Haiti and other remarkable Caribbean cultures.

I am very thankful that I had the chance to grow up with a mother who is an amazing artist who taught me the passion for dance. And I am so happy to bring my family with me to each residency. My mother Fofo is a singer and dancer, my brother Jeff is a percussionist and my son Hassen is a dancer.  I think it is very important for children to see four generations of family working together as artists, and to understand that dance is for everyone and is the true language of love.

More Mask Making at Laurel Dell

This Spring, the 4th and 5th Grade students at Laurel Dell made animal hybrid masks. The process took some work! First, students researched and sketched a mask design. Next, they molded the mask in clay. After a thick coat of petroleum jelly, the masks were carefully covered in strips of plaster, and left to harden. Finally, after being released from the clay molds, the plaster masks were then painted and adorned with fake fur or feathers to bring out their animal features.

After making a series of paper masks, the K-3 student artists had room for a quick, one-day project. I switched it up…instead of a mask, we made a Super Hero Power Hat, which we pretended would give the wearer a special ability, such as flight or invisibility. The students had a lot of fun constructing and embellishing this special headgear!


3-D Animals and their Habitats at San Ramon Elementary

Mentor Artist Angela Baker facilitated a clay residency with 1st graders at San Ramon Elementary in Novato. The teachers suggested a theme of animals and habitats to connect with grade level curriculum and link to a field trip to the California Academy of Sciences.

Students first explored various clay techniques such as squeezing, rolling, pinching, and smoothing with an air dry clay. Students could create anything they wanted but were encourage to pay close attention to how to make their piece strong. What happens if pieces are too thin? Some solutions for strengthening pieces were demonstrated.

After practicing with the air dry clay, students created animals in a beautiful terra cotta kiln fire clay. For these pieces students also learned how to use clay tools such as a wooden pencil and a metal scratching tool. They practiced the “scratch and attach” technique; a method for attaching two pieces of clay together.

While the clay was in the kiln for the glaze fire students were shown some paper folding techniques and made mini collages. These were great practice for creating a 3-dimensional structure and helped with the construction of the final dioramas of animal habitats.

At the end of the last class together, the animals were placed in their dioramas and the class did a gallery walk. Many students had created habitats so rich in color and detail that the animals were camouflaged.

Angela asked “What do you see?” One girl answered, “Details.” She then asked if they thought details were important in art and if so, why. Here are some answers: “Details make it look more like the real world.” “Details make it beautiful.” “Details give you more information.”



Preparing for Performance at Tam High

Students at Tam High are preparing to perform this weekend, Friday May 17th and Saturday May 18th at 7PM at the Caldwell Theatre on campus.  Following a rigorous playwriting course and extensive rehearsals, this group of rad kids of all abilities let loose and created their own set piece under the mentorship of visual artist Suzanne Joyal.  This piece of stagecraft is central to the dramatic action of their student-written one act play, and is functional as well as beautiful.

Stagecraft art together with Suzanne

2nd Annual Marin City Skate Day!

On Sat. May 25th, the Marin City Recreation Department & The Hood Games present another day of skateboarding, youth performances, music, art-making & community love. The 12 noon – 4 p.m. event is all about keeping our youth safe, active & creative. Local co-sponsors include: Youth In Arts, Prooflab Skateshop, Triumph Skateshop, Marin City Health & Wellness Center, Marin City Health & Human Services, CA4Health, Venture Trucks & Big Thanks to S-One Skate Helmets! – Let’s Roll!!!

Rehearsing at Tam High 2013

Students of all abilities are deep into rehearsals at Tam High!  After a successful pilot program in 2012, Youth in Arts is continuing development of an integrated playmaking project at Tam High.   This year students of all abilities are collaborating to write, produce and perform a one act play for their school’s Spring One Act Play Festival. Arts Unite Us, indeed!

Mentor Teaching Artist Melissa Jones Briggs began the AUU Playmaking Project in Mr. Lovejoy’s MCOE Special Education class with a beginning drama lesson for the whole group. This “Elements of Theatre and Playmaking” mini-class served as an introduction and lay the groundwork for later participation in rehearsals and performance. In breakout sessions a playwright team (formed based on experience) collaborated to write a one-act play. Jones Briggs continually looped Mr. Lovejoy’s class into theatre exercises, read thru’s, etc. to involve them in the playwriting process.

Playmaking inspiration board

Playmaking inspiration board


Playmaking together

Students collaborate on their script

Proud playwrights

Proud playwrights

Once the play was written, rehearsals began!  The student written play rehearses and performs as part of the Tam High Conservatory Theatre Ensemble’s Spring One Act Play Festival. Other mainstream CTE students joined in at this point and the program opened up to all special needs students interested in participating.

Blocking the play

Blocking the play


Rehearsing fun

Early rehearsals

Early rehearsals

Because the Festival is student-produced, the play is being co-directed by two CTE students. Collaboration between the CTE, MCOE educators and YIA’s teaching artist continues throughout the rehearsal process and also includes at times a YIA visual artist Suzanne Joyal, MCOE Speech Pathologist Sophie Miles, department chairs, among others.

Please join us for the performance!  Friday May 17th and Saturday May 18th @ 7PM!  Caldwell Theatre 700 Miller Ave. (Near the back parking lot) Mill Valley, CA. Tickets available at the door only.