917 "C" Street
San Rafael, California 94901
(415) 457-4878

Arts Unite Us Once Again

20150527_110823Once again our fabulous cast of Youth in Arts Mentor Artists created art, community and opportunities for students in the Bay Area.  Students in 25 Special Day Classes, Pre-K to Post-Secondary, explored techniques in Visual Art, Music, Dance and Theater and shared their talents with the community through culminating events.

The Arts Unite Us program aims to make high quality arts opportunities accessible to students of all abilities and to build understanding and acceptance in our communities.  This year students from Redwood High School, Harding Elementary and Mount Tamalpais High School participated in collaborative residencies in which students from Special Day Classes and General Education classes worked together to create art.

Teachers in the Special Day Classes we serve value the program and what YIA Mentor Artists bring to their classroom:

“I am always so blown away and impressed with all the skills learned by our students during Rachel, savannah hands smsizethe YIA sessions, but am especially impressed with the leadership skills, creative thinking, self-expression and artistic expression that our students learn. The YIA artists and lessons bring out skills in my students that I don’t always have the opportunity to bring out. Without the professional artists coming into our classes, we do not have the access to adults with these skills at our schools. Mainstream classes can be too impacted, and general education teachers are not always equipped to handle the needs of students with special needs in their classes. Having art activities that are tailored to meet our students needs enables all students to access curriculum and experiences that their general education peers receive.” SDC Teacher Rachel Hughes, Terra Linda High School

20150527_100036Under the guidance of YIA Mentor Artist William Rossel, students from Katie Peter’s Special Day class worked with students from the Band program and opened the music concert at Redwood High School with a percussion piece.  YIA Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs worked with Tam High’s Julianna Rees to lead students from Michael Lovejoy’s Special Day Class and Advanced Theater students in writing and performing an original play.  At Harding Elementary, YIA Mentor Artist Thomas Arndt lead a group of 40 students in writing, directing and performing a play that incorporated American Sign Language and featured students from Harding’s HOH (Hard of Hearing) program.


ASL Translator Paul says this about the program at Harding:20150401_105046

“I have truly enjoyed being a part of The Arts Unite Us program and watching HOH students as well as other students in the classroom where I work grow in confidence in their class room participation. Maya, the primary HOH student I work with rarely spoke up in class. This changed dramatically after she started participating in the program and after taking on a significant speaking part in the play. It is amazing to see how her and other students confidence begin to soar so quickly!”

IMG_20130603_112404Each of these experiences have left a lasting impact on the students involved.  Many students from Special Day Classes and HOH programs performed in front of their peers for the first time.  Many of the General Education students had their first experience interacting with their peers who have abilities that are different than their own, gaining understanding and empathy.

This is what a few General Education students had to say about that experience:

“I loved participating in this project.  I thought it was a great way for me to learn about people who have different abilities.  I learned that they have the ability to create great things.”

“It was really fun to meet and interact with the Special Ed class. They were so sweet and AUU flyerfriendly. I learned that some things that are easy to me are difficult to other people.”

“I had fun! I really enjoyed spending time with the [Special Ed] kids and would do it again.  I learned they often have interesting ways of thinking about things. It was interesting to hear their perspectives.”

“I learned that everyone is unique in their own way. Not everyone does the same moves or talks frequently.  I feel like I’ve learned so much about interacting with other people.”

As the creator and director of the Arts Unite Us program, I am so proud of the work we have done over the years and I have witnessed first hand the impacts that this program has had on students, teachers, artists and families.  This program has served as a catalyst for progress, acceptance, understanding and art making that will last a lifetime.

DSC02607This year, as I step down as Program Director, I pass the torch over to my colleagues at Youth in Arts so that they may continue to promote accessible programming for everyone in our community.  I would like to thank every artist, teacher, administrator and student who has participated in this program.  And, thank you to those who have provided much needed funding for this program, including Thomas J Long Foundation, The Green Foundation, Marin Community Foundation, Green Foundation, Marin Charitable, and Italian Street Painting Marin.

Civil Rights and World Folk Tales at Cornell

2nd Graders perform a traditional African tale

Anansi & the Strange Moss-Covered Rock

Mentor Artist Thomas Arndt reports on his theater residency this Spring at Cornell Elementary in Albany.

Youth in Arts new program at Cornell Elementary resulted in 8 story adaptions performed by 2nd and 3rd Grade students in just 8 weeks!

Weekly classes with the 2nd and 3rd Graders covered the basics of acting skills and then quickly plugged those skills into fun and challenging plays put on by the whole class.  We worked on creating Stage Pictures, showing emotion with the body, movement and most of all STRONG, CLEAR VOICES!  All of the students really loved the Vocal Resonator warm-up, which I learned from my teaching artist friend Mariah Castle a couple of years ago, which was a great way to balance big, wild expression with complete focus.  I watched as the groups got stronger each week as ensembles and as every single individual grew as a performer.

In the 2nd Grade, we had “The Little Monkey and the Garbanzo Bean” from Cuba, “Anansi and the Strange Moss-Covered Rock” from West Africa,  ”Zomo the Rabbit” from Nigeria, and “NO DINNER!” from Southeast Asia.  The 2nd Graders really impressed me with remembering where to be at all times and by staying in their characters throughout each performance.

The 3rd Graders had the challenge of doing curriculum-based Civil Rights plays which dealt with serious matters.  They did an excellent job of enjoying the process while bringing maturity to the hardships that African-Americans faced in these stories.  We performed “Martin’s Big Words,” “Ruby Bridges,” “I Am Rosa Parks,” and “Richard Wright and the Library Card.”  These were all adapted from children’s books.


Third Graders perform their Civil Rights play

After each performance, we had a “Talk-Back” session with the audience (each show had family members and another Cornell class visiting us).  The audience gave appreciations, and in every single session we hear how impressed they were by the loud, clear voices on-stage.  I believe that whether or not these students go on to be actors, learning to speak in front of a crowd with confidence is an incredibly important skill.  They also spoke to learning a lot of history from the shows and many audience members said that they were able to feel what it was like for people in the Civil Rights Era.  We talked about this being the power of theater- that it’s not just facts, it is emotions.  Many of the actors reported feeling nervous before the show and proud and happy after the show, especially upon hearing the responses from the audience.  One actor said she felt it was “respectful” to hear such praise.


Reflecting after the show

Handmade flowers for Mr. Thomas

Handmade flowers for Mr. Thomas

We are so excited to be at Cornell, creating a new, powerful theater program that we hope will continue for many years!  Thank you to the amazing teachers, parents, families and kids!

Fooling the King! And many more at Harding Elementary

By YIA Mentor Artist Thomas Arndt


IMG_7511“I’m BORED.  BORED, BORED, BORED!!!” exclaimed the king, slouched in his throne with his chin on his fist.  And what a grumpy face he had!  The other actors worked very hard to fool him, and finally it was the little girl who saved the day!  ”Fooling the King” was one of many new short plays that my two Harding classes worked with for the past several weeks, and they did a wonderful job.

In the first weeks, we built trust and basic acting skills – especially focusing on using strong, clear voices and using one’s body to express emotion.  We also declared our classes a “Judgment-Free Zone” and had some great discussions about what is so scary in 6th Grade about performing in front of others.  Once we had that discussion, we were able to check in every day with how the class was doing at supporting each other.  We had a great day with “Building a Machine,” in which we eventually built a machine full of noise and movement using every single person in the room.  In this case, no one had to worry about being watched because they were all busy acting.IMG_7507

My goal for each class is always to have each student grow in some way at their own level.  Especially in the last 3 weeks while we worked on our short plays, I saw each kid finding more strength in their voice and more expression in their character.  One student had the most stage fright I’ve ever seen.  We got him to take small steps.  First, he decided to be the Stage Manager.  Then, he rehearsed but didn’t perform.  And finally, he performed off stage, using a microphone as the Narrator.  I think it was a huge success.  I also saw many students who struggled with reading growing stronger as they did the same short play 3 weeks in a row- once they knew their lines, they really opened up!

And overall, we just had a great time performing Fooling the King, My Teacher Ate My Homework, Wayne the Stegosaurus, Sometimes Arthur Is Choosy, Hershele Gets a Meal, and I Call First!

“Time (Travel) to Make a Difference” at Harding Elementary

20150319_143044This year, in the Arts Unite Us After-School Playwriting and Performance Group, we created an immensely powerful show about the need to celebrate diversity.  The story and themes were built over 15-weeks together of 2-hour sessions with a 38 member cast at Harding Elementary.  Once we had picked a topic and a frame (Time Travel and the Future), the students created short skits, which we used as fodder for our playwriting.

Starting in the bleak future, where it’s the law that your favorite color is GRAY, “The Futuristas” soon find themselves chased by robot enforcers for admitting that they love BLUE.  They are saved in the nick 20150401_102314of time by “The Time Traveling Triplets,” (played, ironically, NOT by the actual triplets who are in the class), and soon find themselves traveling through time (and space?) to learn their forgotten history.   Dinosaurs teach them lessons of bio-diversity, with the Spirits of the Really Past reminding The Futuristas “YOUR survival depends on YOUR diversity.”  Then they are swept into an era of Social Justice Heroes, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks to Audre Lorde to I. King Jordan (the first deaf president of Gallaudet University).  For the I. King Jordan piece, we had Paul, our interpreter, work with a hearing student who 20150401_103254has a passion for American Sign Language.  For her piece, Paul switched from interpreting in ASL to speaking out loud, and it was a joy to see some of the non-hearing kids in the front row of the audience light up as the actors began to speak their language.  ”DEAF PRESIDENT NOW!”

In the end, by celebrating diversity, the Futuristas were able to get people in the Present to commit to getting off their phones and connecting with each other in more direct ways.  When they finally returned to the future, April 1st (the day of our show) had become an international “Diversity Day!”

The process was one of community building and personal growth.  Many students in the class do not see themselves as actors or performers, but stepped up in big ways and let their voices be loud and proud.  After each performance, we had a “Talk-Back” session with the audience, inviting first the audience to give appreciations and then speak to what they learned from the show.  The actors then responded with how it felt to hear their work celebrated and it was clear that they all felt deeply proud of themselves for the work they had done.

We are excited to keep this program going, as it serves so many purposes from artistic expression to social-emotional skill building to team work.  I’m so proud of the Harding kids and wish them all a fabulous summer!

Thank you to the Thomas J Long Foundation and the Green Foundation for their continued support that makes this program possible!

New Residencies and Shows for Kids

Check out a few of our newest program offerings–available to book for your school or community site now!


An image is worth…

Visual Storytelling with Sophie Cooper (Artist Residency)

Twenty-first century art skills are on tap as students learn how media producers communicate through images, while also becoming creators of their own visual stories. Students de-code familiar visual media and develop a vocabulary for visual communication, and then create their own work on the theme of personal and cultural identity using found images. Looking to help students make more substantive use of your computer lab? This residency with Mentor Artist Sophie Cooper could be for you.

Science Magic!

Science Magic!

The Amazing Science Whiz Show (Assembly Performance)

Benny Bendini’s Magic Circus explores explores laws of physics, earth science, green environmental education and color perception. Students discover curious and amazing scientific phenomena from air pressure and centrifugal force to color perception and optical illusions, plus learn about famous scientists like Archimedes, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Guaranteed to be a fun-filled learning experience with plenty of enthusiastic audience participation.



The Alphabet Rockers

The Alphabet Rockers (Assembly Performances)

In two new shows, the Alphabet Rockers engage young audiences with contemporary choreography, catchy melodies and beatboxing. Performances are age appropriate and aligned to Common Core Standards in math, literacy, and science.

The New Kid in School

This bullying prevention “hip hop theater” assembly explores how teasing and being left out makes people feel, and how friends can stand up for themselves and each other.

Eat the Rainbow

Alphabet Rockers mix fun with food in their hip hop music and theater show about nutrition. Students brainstorm food choices to help the Alphabet Rockers stay strong and in rockstar shape!

Looking for something else? Check out all our program offerings here and use the checkbox filters on the left of the page to find just the program you want.

Celebrating Gifts: The Teaching Art of Changing Direction

by YIA Mentor Artist Suraya Keating

As I entered Ms. Peter’s class for the first time, I am struck by the friendliness of the staff, the relaxed atmosphere of the classroom, the authenticity of the students.  Each of Ms. Peter’s six students at Redwood High has a special need of some sort, as well as many special gifts.  It is my role, as a teaching artist with these students, to bring out their special gifts – to identify and nourish whatever talent, potentials and joys each student possesses.  Whether working in a mainstream classroom or a special need classroom, this is no easy task.  I take this challenge quite seriously , and with hope in my heart that in the time we have allotted to work together, each student will be able recognized for his/her gifts and contributions.

While I have been hired to teach a theater residency, classroom teacher Ms. Peter is very flexible, and gives me space to teach in whatever way most creates a bridge with the students.  As the first few weeks go by, I notice that 4 or the 6 students are mostly non-verbal.  While they seem to enjoy simple theater warm-ups, my repertoire of activities that I often use in special needs classes is not landing in the way I am accustomed to.  Knowing that flexibility is key to effective teaching, I realize it is time to change direction.

photo 1I have noticed that ALL 6 of the 6 students share one thing in common: a love of music and movement.  Whenever I use music in our warm-ups, smiles arise on their faces, and I realize something important has happened: I have found a bridge.  About a month into the residency, with the support of the classroom teacher, I shift from focusing on theater to focusing on dance and movement.   As we explore dance for the next few months, I see each student come alive in different ways.  “Sara” gets her groove on with upbeat music, and adores being the leader in pairs’ mirror dances.  “Calvin” loves shouting out and practicing whatever dance principles we are working on during a particular day, such as “big vs. small movements,” “sustained vs. staccato movements” or “straight vs. twisted shapes.”

As is the case with VSA residencies this year, at some point a group of about 10 mainstream students (this time from Mr. Berkowitz’s drama class) join the dance program.  Integrating the mainstream students into class seems to inspire everyone: the students with special needs and the mainstream students get to explore various dance principles in duos, in small groups, and in the large group.  When the music comes on and students are invited to explore moving in straight or zig zag lines, or with slow or fast tempos, and in many other ways, I see smiles come to their faces as they explore how their own bodies move, as well as how they move in connection to others.  Students are mutually supporting one another, acknowledging each others’ strengths, and supporting one another when there is a challenge.  I feel grateful to work among students who at a young age seem already so capable of doing with one another what I aspire to do with each of them: to bring out and celebrate each other’s gifts.



By My Side at Tam High

by YIA Mentor Artist Suraya Keating

“By My Side.” The original show created by students in Mr. Lovejoy’s class at Tam High feels appropriately titled.  The show is about several characters taking a journey – a journey that is taken both alone and together.    I am reminded that the creation of this show itself has been a journey – a journey that has been unique to each individual in our group, and at the same time a shared experience.  Who we have had “by our sides” in this journey has fundamentally shaped our experience the journey itself.  If you have ever gone on a road trip with someone whom you didn’t know very well, then you may know what I am talking about when I say that who you have by your side can completely change your experience!

In working as one of the drama facilitators, along with Melissa Briggs, at Tam High this year, I am grateful to share that the amount of support and encouragement given to each of the students in Mr. Lovejoy’s Special Day Class has been outstanding, AND the students themselves have consistently showed up for each other in a way that has supported each other’s experience.  It is no small task – the act of creating a show from nothing – with students of varying special needs as well as mainstream students working together – while co-facilitating the drama program with another instructor.  And yet, the atmosphere of support, trust and absolute belief in one another made the experience at Tam High one which flowed almost effortlessly.

The lesson that I take from this is an important one:  when we surround ourselves with people who believe in us, who positively support and encourage us – when we choose to have those people “by our side” – anything is possible.  My wish is that all young children, teens and people of all ages receive this kind of support in their lives!

Traveling the World at Harding Elementary

Dancing Samba Reggae

Dancing Samba Reggae

Recently, families from Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito joined Youth in Arts Mentor Artists in a Passport Art Event.  Participants received a paper “passport” and traveled to various countries and exploring their art forms during this evening event.

Outside the Multipurpose room we danced to the beats of Brazilian Samba Reggae with YIA Mentor Artist Stephanie Bastos.  Stephanie has been teaching dance in the K-3 classrooms throughout the school year and during this event students, parents and siblings got the opportunity to dance together with her.

Persian Classical Dance

Persian Classical Dance

There were many moments of dance solos that were not to be missed! Inside, we swayed to the melodies and rhythms of Persian Classical Dance with YIA Mentor Artist Shahrzad Khorsandi.  Dancers got to use beautifully decorated scarves to highlight the dance movements.  We also learned about the instrumentation with live music provided by Pourya Khademi.

Chinese Brush Painting with Julia and Miko

Chinese Brush Painting with Julia and Miko

Utilizing special rice paper and bamboo brushes, YIA Mentor Artists Julia James and Miko Lee led participants in Chinese Brush Painting techniques to create beautiful paintings of bamboo.  Artists also learned how to make their special “chop” or, signature in the corner of their painting.

We also created tin medallions representing our Mayan Nahual or, birth sign.  Using the Mayan Calendar, each person calculates their Nahual, which indicates the “essence” of their spirit according to Mayan beliefs.  We used wooden stylus to etch in the outline of our Nahual and colored them with markers.

Youth in Arts is thankful to all of the families staff and friends who showed up

Making Nahuales with Angela and Sophie

Making Nahuales with Angela and Sophie

and traveled the world with us!  We look forward to continuing our day-time programs in K-6th grades which will culminate in sharing events later this month.  YIA Mentor Artist Thomas Arndt is teaching theater classes during school as well as in a special after school group dedicated to writing, producing and performing an original theater piece that addresses issues of acceptance, friendship, appreciating differences and being true to yourself.  Stay tuned for a performance date!

Thank you to the Thomas J. Long Foundation for making this program possible!  With their support, we are able to provide financial aid for year-long arts programming at Harding Elementary and celebrate our diversity and expression in many forms!

To find out how you can bring this to your community, click here.

Theater Arts and Play at Vallecito


The students in Ms. Stuart’s class for 3-5th grade students with special needs have something in common: they love to play.  What is it about play that makes it such a powerful learning tool for youth? In my theatre residency at Vallecito, they have exercised their ability to play well while cultivating imagination, focus skills, body and vocal expressiveness, and the ability to work together as a team.


At the start of our 10 week residency, Ms. Stuart’s students were very enthusiastic about drama, and eagerly “played” with each other using theatre games such as move and freeze, pantomime and the group mirror game.  Students moved as their favorite animals, portraying cats, dolphins, birds, elephants and others, and then told and acted out stories about these animals.  They told stories of animals who wanted to make friends, animals who needed help, animals who were happy, and animals who loved their families.

By the middle of the residency, after students had some practice with storytelling, we chose puppetry as a way to deepen their storytelling and story enactment skills.  Each of the youth created his/her own puppet that embodied an animal or a hero/heroine that he/she wanted to portray.  Puppet interviews followed, and during these interviews we learned lots about these puppet characters!  For example, one student, Carl, created a puppet with a magic eye that could see into the minds of all creatures.  Another student, Amber, created a bird puppet with many wings that could fly animals who were hurt to any hospital in the world so that they could get help.

In the end of the residency, students playfully enacted scenes with their puppets.  As so often happens, these scenes were full of real-life themes and lessons.  In one of those scenes, an elephant puppet named Ray was sad that his friends had left town, and asked for help from a monkey puppet named Chris.  The monkey puppet offered to help cheer Ray up by sharing his snack and inviting him to play a game of catch.  In the puppet world, as in the human world, the power of play to help us solve problems is an invaluable tool.  It is certainly a tool used and cherished by the youth I worked with at Vallecito, and a tool whose value will continue with every new child born on our planet.  Thanks to the youth who remind us about the power of play!


YIA Mentor Artist: Suraya Keating

Theatre Arts Residency Spring 2013

Shakespeare at Davidson Middle!

Seventh grade students at Davidson Middle School enjoyed a fun theatre workshop with Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs.

Students in the Shakespeare Workshop with Melissa

During the Renaissance curriculum, history teachers Mr. Snow and Mr. Cosgriff invited Melissa to reinforce their lessons with an emphasis on the role of William Shakespeare in the cultural ‘rebirth‘ that reinvented Europe and England in the 14th-17th centuries.  Students explored the Bard’s role in the Renaissance.  They discussed how the timing was perfect for Will because of the growing popularization of theatre as wealthy merchants became patrons of the arts at the same time that the feudal order broke down allowing peasants leisure time to spend as they pleased – watching plays!  Kids examined the vernacular language of the era and made many connections to their own generation’s commonly spoken language.  Up on their feet, the young actors played an exciting games that mined the rich material of Shakespeare’s many plays.

A famous Shakespearean death scene

Lessons highlighted Shakespeare’s history plays and reviewed curriculum key words and dates.  Melissa demystified the “weird and old fashioned” language of the late 1500 and early 1600′s by encouraging thoughtful group analysis that drew thematic parallels to the students appreciation of their own contemporary lyric artists, from Lauren Hill to Kanye West.  Finally, students performed a key scene from each act of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; the young actors and directors staged the whole play in tableaux, a dramatic technique (popular in the Renaissance) that tells an action story through a still (or frozen) picture.

Davidson student practices her "tableaux" pose

As you can tell by these images, it was a joy to work with the students and teachers and Davidson!

Older Entries »