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Weaving and Printmaking at Oak Hill

by Mentor Artist Gabrielle Gamboa

The young artists I have been working with at Oak Hill, a school for students with Autism and other learning differences, have been learning weaving and printmaking techniques with our last few sessions of the year.

Student work in progress.

Student work in progress.

Student weaving.

Student weaving.

A finished student weaving.

A finished student weaving.

Each student had a small personal loom. I brought a selection of richly textures yarn for students to chose from to weave bold patterns. We finished the weavings off with tassels we made, and mounted the weavings on sticks gathered on a walk. Weaving was just one option for the older group of students. Some chose to finish previous art projects.

One student weaves, another finishes a kaleidocycle, and a third sketches a personal logo.

One student weaves, another finishes a kaleidocycle, and a third sketches a personal logo.

A student draws a pattern on a kaleidocycle.

A student draws a pattern on a kaleidocycle.

The next group of projects involved printmaking. First we rolled ink on sheets of acrylic to make monotypes. We drew on some of our paper with oil pastel before printing for a layered result. Next, we made simple block prints, drawing on foam scratch sheets to make printing plates. We printed on top of some of our monotypes for more texture. The final project for the younger students was to combine both types of printing into a monoprint. They had developed strong printmaking skills by this time, and made bold color choices! The older students branched out even more for their final project, silkscreen printing. They made abstract designs using tape stencils, and made runs of colorful prints on beautiful Japanese printmaking paper.

Student printmaking.

Student printmaking.

Student monotype prints.

Student monotype prints.

Student monotypes and mono prints.

Student monotypes and mono prints.

Student monotypes and monoprints.

Student monotypes and monoprints.

Student pulling a screen print.

Student pulling a screen print.

I had a great semester at Oak Hill, and I am going to miss these dynamic young artists very much!

Creative Problem Solving in the Land of Gee-Jo! Theatre at Harding Elementary

P1040680by Mentor Artist Thomas Arndt

There’s something special about Harding Elementary; a shine, a willingness to jump in, an eagerness to share and collaborate.  Starting in February, I worked with 30 amazing 4th – 6th Graders every Monday in the Arts Unite Us Performance and Playwriting Group.  Using directed free-writes, group discussions, acting lessons, improvisation and partner work, together we decided upon the issues we wanted to tackle and the way we wanted to tell our story.  I think this is one of the brilliant ways in which theatre works: we take ideas and issues and explore them in creative, engaging ways.  We don’t even have to come up with all the answers, but we grow in our understanding through making it all come to life.

“There’s Something Wrong in the Land Called Gee-Jo” follows a young girl, Lydia, who’s being bullied at school for dreaming up fantastical creatures.  One day, one of her books takes her through a portal to that land that even she thought was only imaginary. Her Animal Guides take her through the major issues facing their world: pollution, self-image, not talking through conflicts, and people being afraid to just be themselves.  She literally pulls back the curtain on the real story at a destructive factory.  She helps two princesses, stuck in a castle–and an argument about who’s escape plan is best–, realize that they should join their ideas together.  For a group of creatures who fear that they aren’t good-looking because they don’t look like the pictures in popular magazines, Lydia offers them a new kind of “magazine”– a mirror, to which they reply, “Hey, I look like that!  Awesome!”  She encourage a group to grow their self esteem and dance it out (excellent choreography from assistant, Ms. NeeNee).  And ultimately, they get to the root cause of bullying and people causing harm: loneliness, isolation, and histories of pain.  The students performed 2 terrific shows on Wednesday, May 21st, for their classmates and families.

The process of writing this show was beautiful: for example, one student wrote early on that he is made fun of for dancing, adding “but when I dance, I feel graceful and like I’m on top of the world.”  More and more as a teacher, I see these as the golden opportunities, not to console or counsel, but to invite a creative challenge to take these feelings and put power into them.  Together, we wrote a monologue for him, followed by a dance to Michael Jackson’s (his favorite musician) song “Why You Wanna Trip On Me.”  It was a profound experience to see his small, private thought jotted down in a notebook become a huge, central piece of the show, with him BEAMING out at the audience as he and his classmates rocked the dance!

More than anything, I saw collaboration in this group.  We had a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds in the group, but it was clear from Day 1, that everyone was there to learn, work together, and create something brand new together.  I think this is one of the greatest things about this work: it’s not a chore for the students.  They engage in a true group activity, problem solve, make offers, make compromises, and build a brilliant story together.  Overall, I was awed by their inner-motivation and focus, and look forward to seeing what they come up with next year!

Many thanks to the Thomas J. Long Foundation for their support of “Arts Unite Us” at Harding Elementary.

Creative San Rafael Selected by CAC

Youth in Arts Receives California Arts Council

CAC_Color_JPG_For_Web“Creative California Communities” Grant

Youth in Arts is among 24 projects funded statewide in support of transforming communities through the arts

The California Arts Council announced it plans to award $30,000 to Youth in Arts as part of its new Creative California Communities program. This award will support Youth in Arts’ Creative San Rafael project, which will link multiple arts organizations together to revitalize San Rafael through the arts.

Projects supported by the Creative California Communities program represent a wide range of arts disciplines, and aim to revitalize neighborhoods through the arts, foster new arts engagement, stimulate tourism, create jobs for artists, invest in young people, and build relationships between local arts, business, and government entities.

“Creative San Rafael” will use arts to make downtown San Rafael a destination point. Youth in Arts, the City of San Rafael, business and arts organizations will collaborate to create a series of arts installations and events. Using quotes from famous San Rafael artists as inspiration, the city will come alive with community arts activities engaging people of all ages. Professional artists will work with children and adults to create banners and murals throughout downtown.

“We know that arts has long been a vital part of San Rafael with a deep history of artists who live, work and create here. Creative San Rafael will showcase these artists and create multiple wonderful opportunities for the community to celebrate this wonderful city,” states Youth in Arts Executive Director Miko Lee.

“The Creative California Communities program supports many significant projects in large and small communities across California, demonstrating the power of the arts to transform our state,” said Wylie Aitken, Chair of the California Arts Council. “Our Council was inspired by the overwhelming response to this program, which revealed the scope of unmet needs for the arts in our communities.”

The California Arts Council received 157 applications for this highly competitive grant program, which is supported by one-time funds from the California State Assembly. After an open application process, a peer advisory panel reviewed all grant applications, followed by a review and vote from the Council at a public meeting in Los Angeles on June 18, 2014. The twenty-four projects supported by this grant program will reach nineteen counties across California.

For a complete listing of projects supported by the Creative California Communities program, visit the California Arts Council website.

Youth in Arts is the leading arts education nonprofit in the North Bay, offering students experiences and instruction in the visual and performing arts, and enriching the community with cultural events. Programs include Artists in Schools instruction in visual, performing and new media arts; Arts Unite Us, bringing together students of differing abilities in shared arts experiences.  Youth in Arts Presents theatrical presentations and school assemblies; `Til Dawn award-winning teen a cappella and YIA Gallery, featuring one of the only children’s art galleries in California.

Laurel Dell Students Introduce their Families to Dances of the Caribbean

Mentor Artist Djenane Saint Juste spent the Spring teaching students at Laurel Dell and Short Schools Carnival dances of the Caribbean. Each grade learned a dance, and the story behind the dance, of a special part of the Caribbean.

Students performed for a cheering crowd of family and friends to Laurel Dell’s Fiesta Del Sol on June 7th. Students finished their performance with a parade throughout the playground, drawing family and friends in to dance also.

boys danced also

boys danced also

Djenane with her students

Djenane with her students

grade 3 girls

Third grade girls keeping in time

grade 5 girls

Everyone wore a costume.

Everyone wore a costume.

Fun with scarves

Fun with scarves

Youth in Arts thanks the California Arts Council, Artists in Schools grant, as well as the Laurel Dell PTA for their very generous contributions which made this program possible.CAC_YIA_web

Laurel Dell Third Graders Visit YIA

CarnivalGalleryThird graders from Laurel Dell Elementary joined Jen Daly and Suzanne Joyal for a Carnival-inspired field trip on Tuesday. The students’ Carnival costume pieces, created with Mentor Artist Gabby Gamboa, are currently on exhibit in YIA Gallery at Youth in Arts.

Students checked out the gallery exhibit and learned about the Carnival tradition around the world and Mardi Gras here in the U.S. They sang “Iko Iko,” a song about the Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans and learned about Carlotta Bonnecaze, New Orleans’ first female Mardi Gras parade costume designer, who worked from 1884-1892. Students created their own designs inspired by Bonnecaze’s style.

Students also learned about the contemporary constume designer from Trinidad and Tobago, Peter Minshall, who has designed costumes for countless Carnival parades as well as for three Olympics Opening Ceremonies. They worked with large movements to create big costume designs inspired by Minshall’s work.

Visit YIA Gallery with your class or youth group. Free tours are available by appointment only, so contact us!

The ‘Dee Dee’ Song: Art Making at Marindale

by Mentor Artist Sophie Cooper


This spring while making art with the students of the Marindale Special Education preschool, I learned a great deal about how sound, movement, line and color are intricately related, especially in the experience of a preschooler!

Often one of the greatest challenges with working with very young children is that their attention wanders. On multiple occasions, I found myself using sound – tones, simple melodies, a sung version of the child’s name – to bring their attention back to our project. Recognizing the power of sound to gain and focus their attention, I began incorporating music more and more into our art making.

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One day I was working with a young boy who is very vocal and he kept repeating “I’m done now,” after making just a few marks on the canvas. I began tapping a pastel onto the canvas in steady rhythm and sang a simple melody, using the syllable dee. He was immediately transfixed by the song. He joined in by tapping along with a pastel and, when I handed him a paintbrush, he began drawing forms and splotches of color, all the time listening to the song. We went on this way for some time, much longer than I had ever seen him engage in an art project.

When I stopped singing, his movements stopped as well. He looked up at me and said: “I want the dee dee song!”

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Putting on a Show!

Leaper Parachute Play 2014Leaper Show 2014

 by Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Most of the work I do in “Arts Unite Us” classrooms is process based, meaning that the experience of  music or movement activities is the goal of the session.  There are of course many other ways that the students benefit including language, social and pre reading development.  Creating a show is almost never part of the conversation, but there are times when students, even autistic preschoolers want to share what they have learned.  Sometimes organizing a small show for their parents is the best way to give them this opportunity. Jessical Leaper’s preschool students at Marindale Special Day School were one such group.

The question that arose for me was: How does one put on a show with a group of students who are often afraid of social interactions and may not be able to retain enough information to put on a traditional performance?  The conclusion I came to was that we needed to develp a delicate relationship between routine and flexibility.


If possible I think shows like this should take place in a setting in which the students are comfortable.  In the case of Jessica’s class I chose to have the students share their work in their “circle time spots.” We held all of our class sessions in this space, and the students were accustomed to heading straight for their chairs as soon as I walked in the room.  The songs and activities we shared were also in the order we I taught them each session, and I used the visual aids that were present in each class session.  The order is listed below along with a description of the visual aids:

  • Good Morning Song (Picture of the morning with the words “Good Morning” imbedded)

  • Hello Song (Choice board with options for dance movements to perform with each round of the song)

  • Pepperoni Pizzas (Pictures of Rhythmic notation with pictures of foods-Pepperoni is paired with four 16th notes, Pizza is paired with two eighth notes, Pie is paired with one quarter note, Cheese is paired with one half note)

  • Singing Songs (Picture of singing to remind students to sing along)

  • Dance (Picture of dancing to remind students to dance)

  • Penny Game (Picture of Penny and a real penny to help participation)

  • Goodbye Song (Picture of students waving “Goodbye”)



There are three aspects of flexibility that were important to this experience. First, I started to introduce small changes to my routine halfway through the residency to acclimate the students to the possibility of changes in the class order.  The parents in the audience were also asked to be flexible.  They started sitting behind the students, and then we slowly moved them forward.  Eventually many were sitting in front of the students in traditional audience seating.  I as a teaching artist also needed to be flexible.  I needed to understand that some students would need to sit on their parents laps. I needed to remember that this production was not going broadway, so following the students in this way was just fine.  I did pull those parents into the dance portion, and the parents seemed to enjoy the experience.

Ultimately this untraditional show was successful for everyone involved.  The students shared their work.  I was given an opportunity to introduce parents to our work, and Jessica was able to bring parents into the classroom, some of whom had not visited all year. We plan to try it again next year!

“What Are You Doing?” Sneaky Spies and Making Your Partner Look Good!

By YIA Mentor Artist Thomas Arndt

For 8 weeks this Spring, I worked with 4 in-school 5th and 6th Grade Classes at Harding Elementary, exploring the basics of theatre and storytelling.  We began small, practicing mirroring and attentiveness to a partner.  I like starting this way because it teaches both awareness of the self and a sensitivity to the others in the room.  By the time we arrived at Improv Day, the kids were totally ready for one of the basic rules of improv: “Make your partner look good!”  With so much focus in the world on being competitive, it’s powerful to watch young people work hard to support their partners in “Alien Translator” or “Family Vacation.”  I think they really good see the way that, by supporting their partner, they were increasing the overall success of their scenes.

We also spent some fun time on voice and movement.  Vocally, we learned about “resonators,” warming up everyday so that we had full access to the different parts of our voices.  We discussed and experimented with the ways that different types of voices can create different kinds of characters.  We also played with the way that physicality can generate fabulous new characters.  Borrowing a lesson from my friend Bryan Quinn, I taught a Laban movement class where the students tried out different styles of movement choices: Heavy/Light, Slow/Quick, and Direct/Indirect.  I then had them form a line and instructed them to each make a choose for each category of movement.  Finally, I gave them a character type (Sneaky Spy!  Librarian!  Alligator!) and had them move across the room to grab a pen, placed on a chair.  (The pen generally transformed into something new each time: you can imagine the “T-Rex” trying aimlessly to pick up its prey!).  There’s something about this set up in the lesson that sparks even the most wall-clinging kid to step forward–it’s only 20 seconds of stage time–and make HUGE character choices.  This was a memorable day that they students and teachers referred back to often.  We simply had a blast this semester.

One of my big learnings this year came in one of my classes with a group of Deaf/Hard of Hearing students.  If you’ve ever taken a theatre class, there’s a good chance you’ve played the circle game “What Are You Doing?”, where people offer different activities (“Riding a bike!”, “Brushing my teeth!”, “Chasing a polar bear!”) for the next person in line to act out.  I noticed that the interpreter was making a very simple ASL sign for the game’s question, which is repeated ad infinitum, “What Are You Doing?”  I learned the sign, and ever since that day, no matter where I’m playing this game, I incorporate that sign into the game.  It’s a great reminder that we can always be working on multiple levels at once with our teaching.  Add “(Person’s name), What Are You Doing?” and you’re also playing a name game!  So, incorporating many levels of learning in a single theatre game, that’s “What I’m Doing”!   Happy Summer everyone!

Many thanks to the Thomas J. Long Foundation for their support of “Arts Unite Us” at Harding Elementary.

5th Grade Science Cards: A Cumulative Reflection

by YIA Mentor Artist Katy Bernheim

What would be a fun, creative way to reflect on topics covered throughout the year in Science class?  This May in the 5th grade at Hall Middle School, the Science teacher, Ted Stoeckley, the students, and I put together greeting cards using a variety of techniques to summarize and reflect on the ideas and concepts of 5th grade science.

IMG_3164_2We started with printmaking.  This would be the image for the front of the card.  Before I came to the class, the students had drawn 4 thumbnail sketches depicting their favorite Science topic, experiment or concept.  There were clouds, the water cycle, bottle rockets, crystals, pendulums.  We talked about block printing and the scratch foam we would be using as a printing plate, and what kinds of images would work best for that medium.  The students then transferred their drawings to the foam.

Next we explored some simple pop-up paper engineering techniques.  We cut first- and second-generation folds into cardstock to make stairsteps; we cut second folds into first generation folds to create an in-and-out look.  The students helped each other trouble shoot what they did to get a result they didn’t expect.  Why wasn’t it popping out?  Why didn’t it stair step?  The kids kept these cards as a warm up to their final piece.

Next we printed our foam plates.  Listening for the just the right sound that told us we had enough, but not too much, ink on the brayer, the students inked up their plates and printed images on four pieces of paper.  They had four colors to choose from, in any combination.  Everyone had at least one good print to choose from for the cover of their card.

During our last meeting we put it all together.  The students chose their favorite image, and chose one of four colors of card stock.  Building on the structures they had learned previously, the kids made a new card with added shapes, extensions and drawings to illustrate the concept they had chosen.  They finished off the cards with some research and text to explain their idea in more detail.


The Many Faces of Art


by Mentor Artist Sophie Cooper

Working with 9 students in a special day class at San Jose Middle School, students were guided through using multiple visual arts mediums to explore the themes of the face and identity. Our artistic journey culminated with the creation of colorful, long-lasting, hardened-fabric masks. Each new artistic medium was an opportunity for students to engage in a different sensory experience of art.  While some students may not be particularly interested in painting, they may find they love working with clay. My primary focus was to meet the students where they are at and encourage their own creativity to find expression.

We began by drawing self-portraits. Students were given self-standing mirrors and invited to draw their own faces with pencils and oil pastels. Prompts were given to encourage the students to study their own faces, identifying their various features as they drew them. One student, who often had a difficult time engaging in desk activities, lit up when seeing herself in the mirror – suddenly becoming an active participant.

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Our next step was to assemble collage portraits using cutouts from magazines in the shape of facial features. This very simple activity introduced the students to a new art form while re-enforcing the identification of the facial features covered in the previous lesson.

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We were then ready to explore the face in the third dimension and sculpted portraits out of clay. Students were invited to consider not only the 2-dimensional placement of the eyes, nose and mouth, but also what parts of the face are indented and what parts protrude. Many of the students loved the sensation of working the  clay between their hands and the session was filled with giggles and laughter!!

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In the following session, we cast fabric masks using the ceramic sculptures as molds. The paverpol medium we used introduced students to yet another texture that many of them enjoyed getting their hands into.

The final step was to paint and decorate the masks, inspired by examples of ritual and performance masks from various parts of the world including Chinese Opera Masks and those from the Rasta people of Ethiopia and the Huichol tribe in Mexico. These examples encouraged the students’ creativity in bringing many colors and designs into their masks.

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The beauty of art is that there is never a wrong way of doing it. The students at the special day class at San Jose Middle School reminded me of this each and every day. In meeting them where they truly are and listening to how their creativity wants to move, I found many opportunities to move beyond my own previously conceived ideas about how art happens. I will miss them and am very grateful for all we created together this Spring!

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