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Integration Inspiration: Performance!

We recently filled you in on the playmaking process over at Tamalpais High School.  Students collaborated to write, direct, design, produce and perform their own play for the school’s Winter One Act Play Festival.  The show’s run at the Caldwell Theatre was a huge success!  Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs led a joint effort between students from Mr. Lovejoy’s Marin County Office of Education (MCOE) Special Ed class and the school’s excellent Conservatory Theatre Ensemble (CTE).  YIA Mentor Artist Donna Ozawa worked with a group of Mr. Lovejoy’s students to create all of the props and stagecraft used in the play.  This replicable arts integration program was designed to bridge gaps between students of differing abilities.

We’re going to let the students toot their own horn here and tell you about their success!

Students acknowledge their cheering (standing!) audience

“I was so happy at the end.  We crafted that play out of nothing.  I’m just so proud of everything we’ve done.  Not just the performance, the whole process.  So many people have come up to me… the audience was shocked.  I mean, we got a standing ovation!”  – Glyn

Students rehearse the blocking for a lift at the end of the play

“I feel proud… I know what to do!”  -Jake

Students perform the lift onstage in "Her Face to the Sky"

“It was really good [to be onstage.] The lift was hard.  I felt kinda nervous, and proud.  Proud of myself.” -Maribel

Performing together onstage at Tamalpais High School

“It’s not about just me.  I have to pay attention and observe.  I have to work together as a group.” – Monica

Waiting to greet family & friends in the Theatre lobby

“My whole family was so impressed with what we did.  It was special because of the collaboration.” -Allison

Students celebrate with friends, family & teachers

“I have to say, I felt famous!” -Tevin

Among the reasons Tevin felt famous was an article in their local paper about their work.  He also may have been responding to an enhanced profile on this sprawling campus.  Over the weeks of rehearsal and performance more and more of their student peers, unrelated to the project, reached out to them.  Stopping Tevin in the hall to ask when the show was, dropping by Mr. Lovejoy’s class on the way to lunch to say hi to Jake, or asking Maribel how rehearsal were going.  And campus feedback following the performance only fueled further integration and dialogue.  Monica’s response to congratulations from her peers on the performance was to remind them of their playmaking process:

“I always tell people,‘Thanks, we WROTE it!’ and they are just like:  ‘HOW?!’  It’s such a hard thing to do but we wrote a great play!”

A board in the Theatre lobby depicts the playmaking process

Feedback from students, teachers, administrators, and department/ district heads was glowing.  We hope to be able to expand this opportunity for collaboration in communities throughout the Bay Area.  Theatre integrates our inherent creativity and need to connect with the continued development of communication and life skills. It bridges seemingly vast gaps in our abilities and income levels – helping students see the we in a world full of me.  Plus, its “crazy fun”!  Reactions, like Glyn’s below, to the rigorous curriculum, rehearsals and high artistic standards of this arts integration project epitomize our goal:

“It was so rewarding at the end.  I was so happy and proud of everyone!”

So were we.

Youth in Arts is dedicated to serving youth of all abilities with high quality arts programming.  We created the Arts Unite Us program with seed funds from the Special Hope Foundation, and this project at Tam High has been supported by grants from the Green Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation. We are grateful for their generous support.  For more information on how you can support this type of programming, visit our support page, or visit our store at 917  C St. in downtown San Rafael.

Willow Creek students Interior & Taco truck Free-Up!

2012 started off in fine style as art class was welcomed back with a fun “get back in stride” project. Students were given an option to be a interior designers or create their own banging custom taco truck. The energy was fun a upbeat as students were able to individualize their works with fun themes. This project will lead into a more in-depth interior design project-stay tuned!!-Peace Mr. K-Dub – Willow Creek Art teacher 5th-8th grades.


Something exciting is happening in Mill Valley! Students at Tamalpais High School are collaborating to write, direct, produce and perform their own play for the school’s Winter One Act Play Festival in January 2012.

Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs is leading this joint effort between students from Mr. Lovejoy’s Marin County Office of Education (MCOE) Special Ed class and the school’s excellent Conservatory Theatre Ensemble (CTE). This arts integration program is the first of its kind in the district, created as part of YIA’s Arts Unite Us program, which aims to bridge gaps between students of differing abilities. Read more…

Skeletons and Printmaking at Lynwood School

Students in the after school LEAP program at Lynwood School are getting a taste for printmaking with Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal. So far, the second through fifth graders have experimented with building their own unique chop signature marks, monoprinting in black on white paper, and creating colotypes with colorful inks and papers.

Cutting oaktag for colograph prints

More pieces make a more interesting finished print

Layering oaktag to add depth and texture

In preparation for this week’s project of printing on black paper with white ink, students practiced drawing skeletons with oil pastels and chalk pastel pencils. They experimented with lights and darks, contrast and composition. They looked at the works of Jose Posada (Mexico 1851-1913)

The students were so inspired by their drawings that many of them created accordion books and shared their stories with the entire class.

Just in time for Dia de los Muertos: students recreated their skeletons in line drawings which were then turned into etchings in foam and printed two different ways: White paper with black ink, and black paper with white ink.

Artist Dinner

The arts are not something to add to the plate.

The arts ARE the plate.

The key to student engagement.

And communicating what student know and can do.

– Dr. Milton Chen, Edutopia

Recently the Youth in Arts Mentor Artists came together for our yearly September orientation and dinner. It was an evening filled with passionate discussions about why arts education matters and the impact it can have on students, schools, and communities.

These professional artists represent a wide array of backgrounds, talents, and disciplines. During the orientation the artists go to know each other through hands-on experiences that incorporated music, dance, theater, and visual arts. As a group they discussed strategies for building multiple learning modalities into their school residencies. They also investigated the language of state standards and considered how the arts overlap all content areas. To get to know our Mentor Artists, please browse the Youth in Arts website.

Fourth Grade Improv at San Ramon School

San Ramon Elementary 4th Graders all enjoyed their Drama course with Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs this Spring!  Teachers Ms. Ainsworth, Ms. Dick and Ms. Logue requested a “general theatre and improv” class. This introductory course is designed to teach basic theatre and improvisation technique through collaborative play.

Students learn respect for their instrument (their body & voice), through a series of fun warm ups every day.  The lessons are structured in a rehearsal format with a check-in and warm-up preceding content-filled theatre games.  Every class is spent actively up on our feet, so the elements of movement – size, weight, tempo, tension, focus, direction – is an early lesson to give young actors a vocabulary with which to work for the rest of the course.

Students learn that the stage directions "UPSTAGE" and "DOWNSTAGE" originated from the incline, or rake, common in english theatres from the Middle Ages through to the early Modern era. Upstage was literally up higher in elevation to improve the audience's view of the action!

Some other concepts the young actors learn include the essentials of theatre – from stage directions to the many roles in dramatic production.  The 4th Graders also practice the acting basics: objective, action & obstacle; and Stanislavski’s ‘Magic If’ exercises are an imaginative highlight.

Young actors warm up their bodies and imaginations with a "Bubblegum Game" during which they act as if they are enjoying their favorite flavor of this illicit sweet. They act out every detail from opening the pack to chewing every piece and blowing a giant bubble into which they climb and explore and finally POP!

In the spirit of improvisers everywhere we celebrate every mistake or happy accident with hands thrown in the air and a “Whoohoo!”  Kids love this take on ‘failure’ and it seems to propel them fearlessly into the lessons on improvisation where they further learn to be present, focused, enthusiastic young theatre artists.

Melissa Briggs Presenting to her students

“I loved creating Loteria and Amate: I learned so much about myself.”

Mentor Artist Michelle Gutierrez worked with the 7th grade students in Señora Shaner’s spanish classes at Hall Middle School to use art as a tool to learn more about Latino culture. Through the Mayan and Aztec art form of Amate, and the Mexican bingo game Loteria, students practiced the fine art of storytelling.

The students created beautiful works of art using recycled paper and bright saturated gouache paints. They have woven together stories that express their unique identities, histories, and respectful interest in other cultures.

Señora Shaner intended for her students to begin a creative process that would prepare them for their upcoming book project, and Youth In Arts was brought in to begin a fun and informative project. For six weeks, Youth In Arts Mentor Artist Michelle Gutierrez visited with the students sharing  the  different art techniques of Amate and Loteria.

The materials used in this class were recycled paper bags and goache paint.

Lotería is a Mexican Game of chance similar to Bingo, but using images on a deck of cards instead of plain numbers on ping pong balls. Every image has a name and an assigned number. Each player has a board with a randomly created 4 x 4 grid of pictures (the tabla) with their corresponding name and number. The students used loteria in this class as a way of expressing their identities. They thought of one symbol they felt most resembled what they valued in life, themselves, and others.

Amatl is a form of paper that was first manufactured in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. It is made by boiling the inner of several species of trees, particularly fig trees. The resulting fibrous material is pounded with a stone to produce a stretchy and somewhat delicate paper, colored light brown with corrugated lines.

The students used amate in their class as a way to tell our stories as well. They were asked to get in touch with a story that they felt represented an aspect of their personalities or aspirations.

At the culminating exhibition, each student presented their art pieces in Spanish and shared what compelled them to paint their chosen images. Many shared future dreams, past memories, current strengths or just aesthetic appreciation of the chosen image. Almost all agreed they not only learned more about the Latino Culture in an interesting way, but most importantly-about themselves.

African Masks at Hall Middle School

Mentor Artist Katy Bernheim worked with the Seventh Graders at Hall Middle School to transform 2-dimensional pieces of railroad board and a collection of beads, feathers, fabric, leather and paint into traditionally-inspired, 3-dimensional African masks.

The unit began with a slide show of traditional African masks.  Along with the images, students discussed the many uses of masks in our culture, and how that compares to traditional, West African cultures.  They looked at slides of masks celebrating coming of age rituals, death ceremonies and agricultural celebrations, among others. Students discussed ideas and symbols of beauty and power. The students noted patterns and colors, shapes and motifs.

With a collection of actual African masks, students were able to touch, see and hear (the raffia on one makes a lovely wooshing noise as it swirls through the air, like it would when it is danced).  Armed with these images, ideas and experiences, the students launched into transforming the paper into large, vibrant masks.

Through a series of cuts, folds and overlaps, students were guided to shape the railroad board into mask-like shapes, securing them with staples and hot glue.  They fastened raffia to the masks with girth hitches or staples.  They used their knowledge and observations from the slides and masks to embellish their artwork with geometric patterns and a multitude of textures.

Students also faced the problems of form:  “How can I make a cylindrical elephant trunk that bends, and attach it to the middle of the curved surface of the mask?”  “How can I make a hat to sit on top of my mask?”  “How can I keep the horns from flopping over?” “What is the best way to keep this on my face if I want most of the mask to rise up higher than the top of my head?”

For Katy, the magic of this project lies in the transformation from 2-D to 3-D, of students animatedly affixing embellishments to their masks and discussing what kind of character their mask will be, of active engagement in the subject matter.  One student cried, “Now I get it!”  For Katy, that said it all.

Mentor Artist Welcome Dinner: Building an Artist Community

Community Tree: What does it mean to be an artist? How can we use art to build community?

We were pleased to see so many familiar faces at our annual Youth in Arts Artist Welcome Dinner, held on October 21. We were able to catch up with friends old and new. We asked ourselves questions like ” Who Am I?”, “How do people see me?”, and “Why is community important?” And “How can we use art to build community?”

Mentor Artists specializing in Theater, Music, Dance, New Media, and Visual Arts worked together to create the Community Tree, illustrating how art and teaching artists can work to build a strong, vibrant, creative community.

We want to offer a special thank-you to Dharma Trading Company for their generous donation of silk paints and fabric: making our beautiful tree possible.

"How can we come together to face our greatest challenges, our biggest questions? Feel, Create, Wonder, Be... Listen, Give, Connect...

The Artist dinner offered Mentor Artists a valuable opportunity to collaborate and share.

Mentor Artists Marty Meade, Louis Chinn, and Sophia Cooper contributing their thoughts to the Community Tree

Looking & Writing: Inspirations for Art Making


Where does it come from?

Maira Kalman describes her approach to art making as “journalistic.” She is a collector, and recognizes the unrecognized, and gives meaning and value to seemingly ordinary forms. She asks questions like, “Who am I?” and “What parts of myself do I want to reveal to others?”

Kalman is also a storyteller, and she brings readers and viewers into her spaces through the use of color, form, text, and content. She surrounds us with diverse cultural references, digressions, and question marks.

Read more…

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