New Urban Arts (NUA) is a welcoming community of high school students and adult mentors in Providence sharing space, skills, and resources to inspire creative expression.

NUA’s student-led approach to learning enables young people to discover their power and develop agency. NUA is a haven from the many pressures and systemic inequities young people navigate daily. Founded by artists in 1997, we are located in Providence on occupied Pokanoket, Wampanoag, and Narragansett land.

We believe that when we engage in relationships and environments that make us feel safe to be and become ourselves, our creativity and well-being flourish. By relaxing, making, teaching, and learning in community with each other, we expand our sense of what’s possible.


Our Core Values

Belonging: NUA’s weird and welcoming culture is created with and for young people in Providence. We embrace the power in our diverse identities, learning styles, and interests. We take care of ourselves, we take care of each other, and we take care of the spaces we share.

Agency: Our organization and programs are shaped in collaboration with young people. Day-to-day, NUA students decide what they want to do and are free to come and go as they choose. Mentor-educators are available to assist students in articulating and achieving their own goals–in their own way, at their own pace.

Access: NUA’s drop-in spaces, resources, and mentor support are free, flexible, and reliable.

Creativity: At NUA, we love that there is no one way to be or to do. We practice creativity by getting curious, making art, having fun, sharing, performing, exhibiting our work, planning for our futures, and celebrating each other.

Connection: NUA encourages openness and connection to new ideas, people, experiences, and possibilities. At NUA, young people form supportive friendships with peers and with adult role models–who help students discover and become the adult they want to be.

Our Core Practices

As part of our 2019-24 strategic planning process, New Urban Arts reconsidered our core values with the intention of ensuring that they reflect our organization as its current staff, board, and volunteers conceptualize it. Through that conversation, we built the following list of practices that should guide staff and volunteers in interactions with young people at New Urban Arts. We do our best to gracefully navigate moments when two or more practices are in tension with each other.

Relationship Building and Maintaining Community
Be proactive about connecting with as many young people as possible. Learn names and pronouns, and use them. Say hello and goodbye. Students should feel seen, heard, and known here. Find ways to welcome new youth into your circle. Challenge yourself to push through awkwardness and implicit bias, and talk to young people with whom you don’t have an instant rapport. Be trustworthy and respect students’ confidentiality. At the same time, cultivate and maintain healthy boundaries; own your adulthood, and don’t rely on students to process your emotions.

Youth Agency and Freedom of Expression
Respect that young people have agency and that they are here voluntarily. Artistic and educational experiences should originate from their creative impulses and interests. Support students’ interest in leading their own projects. When youth want to learn a skill that’s unfamiliar to you, learn together with them. If they don’t know where to start, and you have an idea for an activity, propose it; don’t impose it. Let young people take risks and try things their own way, even when your experience or expertise tells you it’s the “wrong” way. Think of instructional moments in terms of consent; ask students if you can show them something that you’ve learned, or ask them to teach you something. When working with youth on projects that are deadline-driven or require particularly high levels of rigor, your job is to hold them accountable to goals they have set for themselves. At the level of organizational strategy, staffing, and programming, the staff and board should collaborate with youth, as much as possible, in decision-making.

Inquiry and I-Statements
Use rhetorical approaches that invite young people to share and that indicate your perspective isn’t the final word on any matter. Model curiosity, and acknowledge your own ignorance. Ask yourself, “How can I ask a question instead of making a statement?” This does not mean “playing devil’s advocate” or using questions to put students on the defensive. Foster growth by inviting, rather than pushing, youth to take risks and go beyond their comfort zone, and affirm their feelings of comfort and discomfort. Ask questions to encourage young people to think for themselves and articulate their values and decision making processes. Be aware of your own influence, power, and privilege. Use I-statements to locate your perspective in your own experience, and convey that it’s okay for students to disagree with you.

Safe Space
Protect young people’s physical safety. Cultivate emotional safety for students, with particular respect to the diverse identities and experiences of our core constituency: youth of color from low-income families, many of whom are first generation Americans, and many of whom are LGBTQ+. Be aware that for some young people, safe space means a place to discuss their identity, politics, and experiences of oppression, and that, for others, safe space means a break from thinking about those subjects. When a student takes a risk and fails, be there to help them learn from the experience. Intervene in instances when a young person’s physical or emotional safety is under threat, either from another student or an adult. At the level of organizational strategy, the staff and board should be prepared to speak out and take appropriate action regarding policies that impact the safety of young people.

Flexibility and Fidelity
Our core program, Youth Mentorship in the Arts, is a drop-in program, where young people can choose when and how they participate. Our students are often faced with burdensome responsibilities, demands, and pressures at school, home, and in other afterschool settings. Differentiate this space through flexibility around their varied and shifting attendance levels, interest in socializing, attitudes toward artistic rigor, and commitment to a single medium. Flexibility is not indifference; to convey to youth that there is a broad spectrum of ways to engage with our studio, we must consistently be present to provide learning experiences. Exercise fidelity. Be on time; follow through on your commitments, and communicate to staff and students when you cannot. Be present and available, and engage each young person equally and without favoritism. For more on flexibility and fidelity, check out Deputy Director Emily Ustach’s piece in the Summer 2020 edition of Afterschool Matters Journal.

History and Recognition

New Urban Arts was founded in 1997 by four college students (Jullia Kim, Malaika Thorne, Marcus Civin, and Tyler Denmead) and ten high school students and has since grown into an arts organization that has received city, state, and national recognition for its innovative approaches to artmaking, education, youth empowerment and community development. “Project” New Urban Arts began as a small arts mentoring program, in a loft apartment at Grace Church in downtown Providence, supported by Tyler Denmead’s receipt of a Royce Fellowship from Brown University’s Swearer Center for Public Service.
1998 Tyler Denmead was awarded an Echoing Green Fellowship to launch New Urban Arts as a nonprofit and become its first executive director. New Urban Arts moved to 743 Westminster Street, a small storefront that served as its first permanent studio and gallery.

1999 New Urban Arts began a professional development program for its artist mentors, preparing them to work effectively in community settings with young people.

2001 New Urban Arts expanded into an adjacent storefront tripling its studio size to over 2,000 square feet. This expansion led to the introduction of several new media including a black and white darkroom, a digital media center, silkscreening and other printmaking facilities. New Urban Arts was also awarded the Daedalus Award by Providence Waterfire.

2004 New Urban Arts, with several peer youth arts programs, launched the Providence Youth Arts Collaborative (PYAC). See sidebar at right.

2004 New Urban Arts began a partnership with College Visions, a college access and success organization founded by former volunteer artist mentor and Providence native, Simon Moore.

2005  New Urban Arts was named a Champion in Action by Citizens Bank and NBC10.

2006  New Urban Arts was awarded the Jabez Gorham Award by the Arts and Business Council of Rhode Island, which recognizes outstanding arts/cultural/educational organizations for unwavering commitment to excellence, significant impact on the community, and success in organizational development

2007 Tyler Denmead resigned and moved with his family to Cambridge (UK) to pursue his PhD in art education. Tamara Kaplan, former program director, assumed interim executive director duties.

2008 New Urban Arts was named a 21st Century Community Learning Center by the RI Department of Education. After an extensive search, former volunteer artist mentor Jason Yoon was selected as second executive director. New Urban Arts launched the Arts Mentoring Fellowship program, a community arts residency.

2009 In partnership with the Providence School Department, New Urban Arts launched a professional development program for Providence’s art teachers based on its program resource guides. New Urban Arts also won a number of awards in 2009. We were selected as one of nine arts organizations across the country to participate in ARTOGRAPHY: Arts in a Changing America, a grant and documentation program of Leveraging Investments in Creativity, funded by the Ford Foundation. The program shared best practices with the broader field to highlight the value of diverse artistic practices throughout the United States. The U.S. Department of Education selected New Urban Arts as one of 20 high school out-of-school programs included in a national study on best practices leading to academic improvement, and First Lady Michelle Obama presented New Urban Arts with a Coming Up Taller Award (now called the National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Awards). The award was the nation’s highest honor for of out-of-school time arts & humanities programs, particularly those that reach underserved children and youth.

2010 New Urban Arts hosted the first of two annual alumni artist mentor leadership institutes, the Institute of Other Significant Pursuits.

2011 New Urban Arts purchased and renovated a new home at 705 Westminster Street, one block from our previous location. New Urban Arts publicly launched a million-dollar capital campaign to help fund the transition.

2012  New Urban Arts was one of only 19 arts and cultural organizations in the state to receive general operating support from the Rhode Island State Council of the Arts. “General Operating Support grants provide support to Rhode Island’s most established arts organizations, those which employ artists, serve a local or statewide audience, and contribute to the culture and economy of our state.” (RISCA).

2013 Elia Gurna began as New Urban Arts’ third executive director. The Initiative for Nonprofit Excellence, sponsored by the Rhode Island Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield, awarded New Urban Arts a Best Practices Award in Board Governance.

2014 New Urban Arts brought on a Life After School mentor to help students navigate the opportunities available to them after graduation. New Urban Arts also piloted a new mentor role—Studio Advocate—which brings a Master of Social Work candidate from Rhode Island College into the studio as an additional resource for students.

2015 New Urban Arts partnered with Providence Student Union, Young Voices, and three other youth organizations to launch the Providence Youth Caucus. Former volunteer artist mentor and director of development Daniel Schleifer assumed the role of executive director. New Urban Arts also received the Iona Dobbins award from the Art Connection, a non-profit that places artwork in non-profits. We also created a new position, Resident Artist Mentors (RAMs), part-time, permanent employees serving as mentors in the most high-demand areas of the studio.

2016 With support from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, New Urban Arts renovated 705 Westminster Street to expand our program space into the basement; the building now has 6,000 square feet of studio space for young people.

2017 New Urban Arts received its third five-year 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, supporting the Youth Mentorship in the Arts Program and Summer Art Internships at New Urban Arts as well as the creation of a new program: NUA Knights, an afterschool program at Central High School designed collaboratively by New Urban Arts and Central’s administration. Director of Programs Emily Ustach was selected for the National Afterschool Matters Fellowship, a competitive, national two-year fellowship for 25 out-of-school-time professionals. The fellowship was sponsored by the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and the National Writing Project.

2018 The Initiative for Nonprofit Excellence, sponsored by the Rhode Island Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield, awarded New Urban Arts a Best Practices Award in Volunteer Engagement.

2019 The Rhode Island Afterschool Network named Ashley Paniagua Afterschool Program Director of the Year.

2020 In March, in-person programs were forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we pivoted to virtual programs until May of 2021.

2021 New Urban Arts teams up with PPSD Art Teachers to distribute art supply kits to over 1100 Providence high school students during the pandemic. In July, our in-person programs reopen. 

2022 New Urban Arts celebrated its 25th anniversary! We welcomed back volunteer mentors for the first time since March 2020. We also officially adopted new mission, vision, and values statements, through a process that included students, staff, and board members.

In November, we were awarded $200,000 over two years through Bank of America’s 2022 Neighborhood Builders program, the largest investment in nonprofit leadership nationwide. In addition to grant funding, the organization received leadership training and capital access to expand our impact.

2023 New Urban Arts completed our third capital campaign (which began in 2020). When the project was complete, we had acquired a small adjacent building, turned it into office space, annexed it to the studio, and renovated our photo darkroom, silkscreen studio, and kitchenette.


Our work is made possible by the direct financial support of a wide variety of funders—individuals, foundations, corporate contributors, and government agencies—all of whom are committed to supporting youth creativity.

In addition, New Urban Arts receives $200,000 annually in donated time and services. New Urban Arts’ team of artist mentors alone donate $100,000 worth of time each year to mentor youth. The most important volunteer contribution you can make is to consider becoming an artist mentor.



Partners and Friends


Our Audits


Our 990s (Numbered by our fiscal years)


Our Building

New Urban Arts’ 7,200 square foot art studio is located at 705 Westminster Street, Providence, RI 02903. Both floors of the building, the front door, and all bathrooms are wheelchair-accessible.

705 Westminster is also known as the S. Chiappinelli building and was built between 1930 and 1933. Salvatore Chiappinelli was a partner in the Imperial-Armour-Rex Company (incorporated in 1920 with Harry M. Burt and Dominick Fazzano), which was the realty holding company for Imperial Knife, Rex Manufacturing, and Chiappinelli’s own company, Armour Manufacturing Company.

Armour Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1907 by Chiappinelli, Frank Stead, and Etta Daughaday. It was re-incorporated in 1913 by Chiappinelli, John L. Kehoe, and Arabella M. Kelly “for the purposes of engaging in the business of manufacturing, buying, selling and otherwise disposing of jewelry, novelties and other kinds of merchandise….”

The building is in the Westminster Street National Historic District.

Salvatore Chiappinelli was born in Italy on November 1, 1872, emigrated to the US in 1895, and became a naturalized citizen in 1904. He died October 5, 1948. He is buried in St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston.