On Friday night, fans, friends, alumni and family celebrated ´Til Dawn’s 25th anniversary with an incredible virtual concert, raising nearly $9,000 for its scholarship fund.
The virtual SING OUT! was a beautiful commemoration of 25 years of ´Til Dawn. TD alums Delta Rae and Drew Gasparini were the event’s headliners. Delta Rae’s uplifting four-song performance showcased their “gospel-tinged country-rock, sensual blue-eyed soul and harmony-laden Americana” roots. Drew’s playful, intimate three-song performance was pop/rock perfection, and Lily Elise, Jessie Land, Matt Herrero, and Harmela Beyene each contributed jaw-dropping one-song features that demonstrated the vitality and talent of Still Dawn, ´Til Dawn’s alumni. Happnstance, which includes TD alums Sean Simerly and Maria Pougiales-Posey, warmed up the audience with a pre-show performance.
The event also featured five wonderful videos ´Til Dawn recorded while sheltering in place, a stirring retrospective for the pre-COVID 2019 group, and heartwarming collaboration between ´Til Dawn and Still Dawn on John Legend’s If You’re Out There.
“Under normal circumstances, at the SING OUT! we’re singing together in person. It’s part celebration, part concert, part community event,” said longtime director Austin Willacy. “Though we couldn’t be together in place this year, we knew we had to find a way to celebrate 25 years of ‘Til Dawn, and with the collaboration of a killer team, we created something so good I’m still coming down from the high of it.”
Besides the excellent music, several current group members and alumni spoke about the impact of ´Til Dawn on their lives in high school, and as adults.Some spoke about the value of learning to speak and perform in public, as well as learning to give and receive feedback. Nearly everyone said they had made lifelong friends.
They also spoke about what they had learned from their mentor and director Austin. Austin, a singer/songwriter who records as a solo artist and with The House Jacks, has led the group for more than 20 years.
“I am who I am today because of this group and Austin,” said ´Til Dawn singer Anna McShea. “He has encouraged me to be my most authentic self.”
Another ´Til Dawn singer, Ian Sotnick, said the experience has taught him “more than any school can teach in a lifetime.”
Photo credits: Delta Rae photo, Shervin Lainez; Austin Willacy photo, Tim Porter
In response to recent events, we at Youth in Arts recommit to lifting up the voices of the unheard and underrepresented. Access to creativity empowers youth to share their voices and ask difficult questions of themselves and of the world.
Equity is at the center of our work. Starting this week, we are launching YIACr8tes Conversation, looking at race, identity and racism. Teaching artists presenting these free digital lessons include Jessica Recinos of Rising Rhythm SF, Youth in Arts’ Program Director Kelsey Rieger and other Mentor Artists from the YIA roster. Each lesson will end with guiding questions for parents and educators to ask children. The lessons will air on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube at 1 p.m. PDT today (June 8), Wednesday, June 10, and Friday, June 12.
“We will continue to facilitate art and put creativity in the hands of those often left out of critical dialogue,” said Youth in Arts Executive Director Kristen Jacobson. “We will drive discussion of implicit bias, policies that support equity and unobstructed access with educators, administrators and parents. We will not shy away from pushing the conversation surround privilege and power, especially in our community. We will continue to build a network of advocates that look to arts education as a vehicle for social change.”
As many schools look at slashing the arts because of budget shortfalls in light of the pandemic, we urge them to look for free and affordable resources and partners. Along with shifting to online learning, many students are trying to find their paths amid trauma, economic uncertainty, isolation and the chaos of world events. Access to art and creativty is more important than ever for offering ways to support mental and emotional health. Creativity can be also be used as a catalyst for discussions about anti-racist parenting and classrooms.
“Covid-19 pushed educators and parents to find innovative ways to engage creative exploration through digital/virtual means – Youth in Arts was ready and present with online learning. Now, as the trauma of Covid-19 is compounded by intensity of racial justice protests, Youth in Arts is again ready to join parents, educators and schools to inspire conversation and dialgoue on critical issues,” Kristen said. “Youth in Arts’ work has long centered on equity and we feel empowered to step forward as a leader and resource for our community.”
We urge you to join Create CA’s statewide effort to promote the Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning. This resolution outlines students’ rights to a high-quality public arts education, regardless of background, culture, language or where they live. Youth in Arts has already signed on. In the coming weeks, we will be looking at more ways to create digital programs to address racial and social justice.
In the meantime, here are some resources:
From the New York Times, books that help explain racism to kids
From National Public Radio, Raising White Kids: How White Parents Can Talk About Race
Also from The Times: 26 short films for exploring race, bias and identity
We are grateful to be able to do the work that we do at this important time. Please join us and please reach out with any suggestions or resources for continuing racial justice work through the lens of arts programming.
When you park in downtown San Rafael, look up!
Colorful art created by children at Magnolia Park School during a Youth in Arts’ residency has inspired a sign now on display at the Fifth Avenue and C Street garage.
The city’s Parking Services Division selected the work created with Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artist Julia James during a competition last year aimed at beautifying the downtown San Rafael garage. The mixed media piece has been transformed into a 3 by 6 foot sign at Fifth Avenue and C Street while the new public safety center is being built across the street. The sign will remain up for six months before a new sign featuring new artwork will take its place.
Each children’s art piece that has been selected is paired with work by an adult artist that appears on the opposite side of the sign, celebrating San Rafael. The piece created by Julia’s students at the San Rafael school is paired with “Under the Surface” by San Rafael-based artist, Travis Weller.
This is the second Youth in Arts’ artwork to win a spot in the sign contest. A mixed media piece by students at Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito has already been on display. That art was created last spring in a self-contained class of kindergarten and first graders who worked with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman.
Cathy’s and Julia’s classes were part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us (AUU) Program, which serves young artists experiencing disabilities.
Thank you to the city of San Rafael for this amazing program.
What does “home” mean to you?
Is it a physical place? Being with family and friends?
Founded by Micah Hendler in 2012, the Jerusalem Youth Chorus (JYC) is a choral and dialogue program for Palestinian and Israeli youth comprising 30 singers between the ages of 14 and 19. Its mission is to create a space for young people to be able to discuss their differences while creating music together. Deeply inspired by the context-specific message of “Home,” by Phillip Phillips, Greg Holden and Drew Pearson, the JYC first recorded it in 2014. That video is here: https://youtu.be/xMkq
While sheltering in place, singers and instrumentalists joined the choir from their homes all over the world for “Home” from home, a reimagining of “Home” with its global family, including alumni and beloved collaborators. One of them was Youth in Arts’ `Til Dawn Director, Austin Willacy. You can find that video here.
“We initially thought about making a video of ‘Home’ from home just with the chorus as a cute thing to keep us singing together in this time,” JYC Artistic Director Micah Hendler said. “But once we opened it up to our global community and heard the artists … who answered the call and lent their voices to sing ‘just know you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna make this place your home,’ we knew we were on to something extraordinary.”
It is an inspiring piece, and one you’ll want to hear more than once.
“This is a moment where the world is reevaluating what home can mean and what kind of responsibilities we have to one another, locally and globally,” Willacy said.
Willacy first met the chorus last summer as a music educator and featured artist at Jerusalem Singing Camp, a two-week summer program in Jerusalem.
“There is a strong overlap between Micah’s vision for the JYC and mine for `Til Dawn,” said Willacy. “We’re both doing what we can to create resilient communities infused with love that provide a safe place for young singers to discover themselves, and tap into an unshakable sense of self, regardless of what’s happening around them.”
Austin joined the JYC from his home studio in the East Bay. In addition to leading `Til Dawn, he is a renowned performer who travels worldwide as a solo artist and with the pioneering a cappella group, The House Jacks.
Other professionals who participated in the “Home” video include recording artist David Broza; singer, songwriter and activist Achinoam Nini (NOA); composer and vocal activist Melanie DeMore; Joanna Jones and Ari Afsar from the cast of “Hamilton;” Craig Jessop, former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; YouTube stars Malinda, Sam Tsui and Casey Breves; Udi Bar-David, founder of ARTolerance; actor, director and vocal activist Mira Awad; Frank Fredericks, founder of World Faith; Ysaye Barnwell, composer and former singer with Sweet Honey in the Rock; composer Moira Smiley; and Micah’s family members.
“I try to use my voice as a weapon of mass connection,” Melanie said during the video.”We are all one in this world. That’s just the way it is.”
The kits included a color pencil set, drawing pencils and a sharpener purchased at RileyStreet Art Supply, plus beautiful paper donated by WIGT Printing. Children also received coloring pages made from kindergarten and first grade self portraits from Laurel Dell Elementary School in San Rafael featured in our online show, “Imagining Friendship,” our annual Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts exhibition. There were bilingual art lessons to do at home, too!
Special thanks to Youth in Arts’ Board Member Suzanne Reich Gibson, who helped lead this effort to organize and distribute art kits. Suzanne said that when she heard about the food bank, she offered to fundraise so that Youth in Arts could support Venetia Valley (Venetia Valley Elementary School is one of our partners). Wearing masks and practicing social distancing, she and Youth in Arts Development Associate Morgan Schauffler prepared the kits for distribution. Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal also pitched in by choosing and ordering supplies.
“To me, the great part of this is getting the artwork of Laurel Dell students into the hands of Venetia Valley students and their families,” our board member Suzanne said. “It shows how much we’re all a community and how much art connects us.”
Youth in Arts had set a goal of raising $10,000 for its Covid Relief Fund, with sponsor Troutman Sanders and Youth in Arts board members promising a 100 percent match up to $10,000. We exceeded our goal, and have raised more than $22,000 to sustain our organization and assist us with moving our educational programming online (including the generous $2,000 donation from the Rotary Club of Mission San Rafael). The fund will help teaching artists get more technical support for visual and performing arts residencies this Fall.
Thank you to all of our community partners. We could not do our wonderful, innovative programs without your support. With so many families are homeschooling and sheltering in place, partnerships between nonprofits and local businesses are more important than ever.
So far, more than 500 sanitized art kits have been created. We hope to continue providing them to students in our programs, so please consider supporting Youth in Arts as we continue to bring creativity to students of ALL backgrounds and abilities!
At Youth in Arts, we get by with a lot of help from our friends. One of them is artist Tracey Wirth.
Tracey wears many hats: textile designer, seamstress, handbag creator, graphic designer, fine artist and more. She also happens to be a neighbor of Youth in Arts Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal.
When Suzanne started working on “Imagining Friendship,” our annual Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts show now online at Youth in Arts, she dreamed of turning kindergarten and first grade portraits into coloring book pages.
Enter Tracey, who generously agreed to help. Suzanne sent her more than 80 portraits and emotions studies created by students at Laurel Dell Elementary School last fall. Through Tracey’s magic computer skills, each portrait was transformed into a black and white line drawing.
“Those pages would not exist without Tracey’s help,” Suzanne said. “It meant the world to us.”
Tracey is no stranger to coloring book art. When the coronavirus shelter-in-place order took effect, she asked herself what she could do to help. Using her own artwork, she created 30 free and beautiful coloring pages available on her own website. Each one carries an uplifting message, like “not all heroes wear capes.”
“I like the idea of being a visual storyteller,” Tracey said. “It was good therapy for me.”
The feedback has been positive. One acquaintance gave some pages to her mother, who has dementia. The recreation director for her late mother-in-law’s assisted care facility in San Rafael printed out several pages for elderly residents there to use.
“I’d love to see more adult artists reinterpreting students’ art, ” Suzanne said. “There’s something very therapeutic about just coloring.”
If you haven’t seen the student self portraits in our online Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts show, please check them out here. (The portraits can be printed out, colored and put in your window for your neighbors to enjoy.)
The portraits were the final project of a 12 week residency with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. The Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts program builds fine motor, literacy and social emotional skills through art making with a rich variety of tools and materials. It also helps children learn how to make and keep friends while practicing sharing and empathy.
The program was created in 2013 with the Rezaian family in honor of the life of their young son, Walker.
We just got some great news! The California Arts Council has announced multiple grant awards totalling more than $50,000 to Youth in Arts to support various initiatives to reach students, teachers and families with arts education.
The largest grant award was $20,000 for Youth in Arts’ Artists in Schools program in partnership with San Rafael City Schools bringing visual arts, architecture and dance directly into classrooms. Youth in Arts also received a $12,540 Arts Exposure grant supporting assemblies with professional artists during the school day; $12,350 for Youth Arts Action grant in support of `Til Dawn, Youth in Arts’ award-winning teen a cappella group; $4,750 for Arts Integration Training for professional mentor artists; and $1,250 for staff professional development regarding the development and training of STEAM programs (Science, Technology, Arts, Math).
“We are honored and thrilled to receive such recognition by the California Arts Council,” said Youth in Arts Executive Director Kristen Jacobson. “It enables us to provide vital programs in the schools, including direct service to students and ongoing support for teachers at the forefront of developing new STEAM curriculum in Marin. During these unprecedented times, we are thankful for the innovation and flexibility encouraged by the CAC to continue this work even through the lens of social distance learning. Our communities need access to creativity now more than ever, and Youth in Arts is working hard to answer that call.”
Youth in Arts was featured as part of a larger announcement from the California Arts Council of more than 1,500 grants awarded to nonprofit organizations and units of government throughout the state for their work in support of the agency’s mission to strengthen arts, culture, and creative expression as the tools to cultivate a better California for all. The investment of nearly $30 million marks a more than $5 million increase over the previous fiscal year, and the largest in California Arts Council history.
Organizations were awarded grants across 15 different program areas addressing access, equity, and inclusion; community vibrancy; and arts learning and engagement; and directly benefiting our state’s communities, with youth, veterans, returned citizens, and California’s historically marginalized communities key among them. Successful projects aligned closely with the agency’s vision of a California where all people flourish with universal access to and participation in the arts.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the California Arts Council recognizes that some grantees may need to postpone, modify, or cancel their planned activities supported by CAC funds, due to state and local public health guidelines. The state arts agency is prioritizing flexibility in addressing these changes and supporting appropriate solutions for grantees.
“Creativity sits at the very heart of our identity as Californians and as a people. In this unprecedented moment, the need to understand, endure, and transcend our lived experiences through arts and culture is all the more relevant for each of us,” said Nashormeh Lindo, Chair of the California Arts Council. “The California Arts Council is proud to be able to offer more support through our grant programs than ever before, at a time when our communities’ need is perhaps greater than ever before. These grants will support immediate and lasting community impact by investing in arts businesses and cultural workers across the state.”
The California Arts Council is committed to increasing the accessibility of its online content. For language and accessibility assistance, visit http://arts.ca.gov/aboutus/language.php.
As schools scramble to find virtual ways to reach their students, Madera Elementary School stands out as a model for continuing to provide its students access to innovative arts programs.
Youth in Arts teaching artists had just started an 11-week music program at the El Cerrito elementary school when the coronavirus pandemic forced Madera to close temporarily.
That didn’t discourage Madera leaders. The Madera Elementary Foundation, comprised of school families, met with Youth in Arts staff and teachers via Zoom to work out the details of how to create a virtual program. Thanks to those efforts, music programs in nearly 20 classrooms resumed after Spring Break. Instead of being together in a classroom, students tune in online.
“Madera has really gone the extra mile to ensure their students continue to receive the arts they deserve,” said Youth in Arts Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal. “We’re not giving up and neither are they.”
Youth in Arts has three teaching artists at Madera. They are: Brian Dyer, who teaches vocal and beginning percussion in kindergarten and first grade; Aaron Kierbel, who teaches percussion and drum in second grade; and Antwan Davis, who teaches body percussion and rhythm in third through sixth grades.
Youth in Arts Program Director Kelsey Rieger, who coordinated the move to digital teaching, said she hopes more schools will follow Madera’s lead.
“This is really the way of the future,” Kelsey said. “When schools partner with us, we find innovative ways to provide meaningful programs. It’s more important than ever than students have healthy and creative ways to express themselves.”
Youth in Arts has another Madera connection as well. Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman attended the school in second and third grade.
“Madera was a great place to go to school,” Cathy said. “It’s nice to know that hasn’t changed.”
Want to learn more about #YIACre8tes? Read about these free online arts activities and Executive Director Kristen Jacobson on Partnership Resources Group’s website.
The San Rafael-based consulting firm provides fundraising services to organizations in Northern California. During the coronavirus quarantine, it has been highlighting nonprofits doing good work by featuring them on its heroes page.
This week, Youth in Arts was named as one of those heroes.
Kristen explained that as a mom of two boys, she knew immediately that Youth in Arts needed to step up to the challenge facing parents who found themselves suddenly homeschooling while trying to work.
“I understand how important arts education is to my children and to this community,” Kristen told Partnership Resources Group. “STEM really needs the A for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).”
Youth in Arts has been providing free arts activities live streamed weekdays at 11:08 a.m. on Facebook and Instagram. Activities have included a shape chain dance, making paper playgrounds, painting with flowers and building towers with cardboard scraps.
Vanessa Coleman, a teacher at Rancho Elementary School in Novato and the mother of two boys, appreciates the Youth in Arts lessons.
“We have been using Youth in Arts as fun brain breaks and just some different types of instruction,” she said. “The live stream is videoed so they an be accessed live, or later at a time convenient for us. They are short and sweet – just perfect.”
Kristen said Youth in Arts is reaching as many schools as it can through distance learning. The arts education nonprofit currently has partnerships with about eight school districts, using teaching artists to provide programs designed to reach all learners and build creativity, confidence and compassion.
Kristen said the silver lining of live stream videos is that Youth in Arts is connecting with more families in a new way.
“Whether they join us live or later, we are getting 800 to 1,100 views on our videos every day,” Kristen told Partnership Resources Group. “We need things like this now more than ever.”
To read the full interview with Partnership Resources Group, click here.
Although a cappella is technically defined as singing without instrumental accompaniment, many a cappella singers use their voices to create instrumental textures when they rehearse and perform to create a multilayered musical experience for themselves and their audiences.
Once everyone in a group learns their part, individually, the next level of work begins, that of weaving these individual parts together into an evolving blended, balanced, dynamic tapestry of sound. Though each member of an a cappella group can learn and practice their parts on their own, the aforementioned weaving has to be done together.
That’s the challenge that’s faced `Til Dawn, Youth in Arts’ award-winning a cappella group. Though the 15-member ensemble typically meets twice a week to practice, they last rehearsed together in person on March 11.
When the shelter in place order resulting from the coronavirus pandemic was issued, the members of `Til Dawn, like everyone else in the Bay Area, have been stranded at home, forcing the cancellation of all of their spring shows, auditions for new members and the cancellation of their annual spring concert.
Suffice it to say, there’s simply no way to do a lot of what the group had been doing.
“There is no way to rehearse that allows us to sing together, real-time, and hear each other,” said longtime Director Austin Willacy. “Variations in wifi access and speed create lags that make it impossible to sing together through Zoom. Truth be told, though we’re a singing group, we spend as much of our time listening as we do singing. Learning to listen to each other while singing, to navigate our individual voice’s proper place as we’re performing, is the most important part of what we do at rehearsal. It’s an ongoing dance of stepping forward and stepping back,” he said.
When they first met online, because of time lags, Willacy was only able to work with one singer at a time – which was very inefficient as it left the other members of the group waiting for their turn. At in-person rehearsals, although individual support is available as needed, the group typically learns new music by voice part; the sopranos all learn the soprano part together, etc.
Recognizing how draining that amount of waiting while glued to a screen could be, Willacy quickly adjusted, shortening rehearsal time by 30 minutes and splitting the group into four songwriting groups based on their self-assessed comfort/experience with songwriting. The check-ins, which are a longstanding attuning process at the beginning of rehearsal, have continued to allow the group to stay connected with each other as much as possible. The music-focused time in `Til Dawn rehearsals is now evenly split between rehearsal and review of existing repertoire and songwriting.
The members of `Til Dawn have been nimble and creative in finding ways to use technology to support their songwriting. One member sang her melody to a friend over the phone (he recorded a track with instruments and sent it back). Another downloaded free beats from a website. Several members play the ukulele, saxophone, guitar and other instruments and have been using those while composing.
Willacy said exploring songwriting has been an unexpected benefit for `Til Dawn members confined to home.
“I’ve been deeply struck by the level of songwriting talent in this group,” he said “I’ve also been inspired by the level of creativity, trust, and willingness to try on something new.”
For the Youth in Arts’ COVID relief fund, `Til Dawn has prepared a special video and song. To make it possible, Willacy laid down a basic piano part to a click track and received an iPhone-recorded guide vocal. After combining them, he sent an MP3 to the group members so they could listen to it in earbuds while recording their respective parts. They recorded themselves (singing mostly on their phones) and sent their audio files back to Willacy, who painstakingly edited them all together, then providing that recording to the song’s lead vocalist, Anna McShea, who was able to perform and record her own vocal in Ableton, a music recording app.
The teens also furnished video of themselves singing along to the track to Youth in Arts Program Director Kelsey Rieger, who is compiling the individual video into a video of the whole group. Watch this wonderful performance here!
Willacy, a renowned performer who travels worldwide as a solo artist and with the pioneering a cappella group, The House Jacks, said he’s been able to stay in the creative flow despite the quarantine. He’s written or co-written at least four songs and mixed and edited several more.
“I’m really lucky to have a studio at home,” he said. “It’s a huge privilege that feels even bigger right now. Being creative helps me stay present.”
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