Defend and Support New Urban Arts

Dear Friends,

If it passes, Trump’s budget will annihilate one-fifth of New Urban Arts’ operating budget by eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, 21st Century Community Learning Centers (the federal funding stream for afterschool programs), the National Endowment for the Humanities, Community Development Block Grants, AmeriCorps, and CACFP (the federal afterschool snack program).

This is not a coincidence; we aren’t a minor casualty in a scattershot budget war. New Urban Arts, organizations like us, and—above all—the communities we serve are the target. Our youth come from the most vulnerable populations in our country, those that Trump and his strategists have been using as scapegoats for the country’s problems since their campaign began.

We’re also a target of these budget cuts because New Urban Arts is at odds with this administration’s worldview. In a 2009 interview on Fox News’ Hannity, Andrew Breitbart (the founder of Breitbart News, where White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon served as executive chair) referred to multiculturalism as a weapon in a war on American values.

New Urban Arts represents the cultural changes that are an inevitable and beautiful result of this country’s shifting demographics, but apparently what takes place here threatens the current White House. And what does take place here? We create a safe space, and within it, our youth have unfettered access to as many cultural tools as we can provide.

It’s particularly embittering that this assault comes just as we are celebrating our 20th anniversary. Just when we should be taking a long view, of both our past and our future, we are bogged down, considering painful cuts to our programs and creating contingency plans to prepare for every eventuality.

Nevertheless, Trump’s budget is still far from approval, and there is a lot that you can do to defend and support New Urban Arts.

The Afterschool Alliance has created a form letter generator, which you can access here, to contact your legislator and express your concern.

Donate! New Urban Arts’ 20th Birthday Bash is coming up on Friday, April 21. Whether or not you can make it, we hope you’ll give generously to support our vital work.

Thank you so much,

Daniel Schleifer
Executive Director
New Urban Arts

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The Providence Journal: “Editorial: Arts Greatly Enrich Our Society”

Providence Journal Article on Arts Funding, Our friends at the Providence Journal wrote an editorial on how the arts greatly enrich our society, and they mentioned New Urban Arts.



With a massive federal debt approaching $20 trillion, it is understandable President Trump would seek to trim the nonessentials. It is equally obvious that all government spending creates strong constituencies that scream bloody murder about reductions.

Still, it is troubling that Mr. Trump wants to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which cost taxpayers $741 million a year but greatly enrich our society. The money goes for music, dance, theater, visual arts, museums, historic research and other artistic endeavors that are not adequately funded through purely market forces.

We admit that they do tend to promote “elitist” interests — rather than what is readily available on cable television — but we create our society’s leaders of the future by exposing people of all income groups to the richness of the life of the mind.

Of course, one can debate the merits of what this money is spent on. In the past, the spending has come under criticism for promoting deliberately offensive works and left-leaning ideology. Many Americans were offended that they were forced through their taxes to support the work of a photographer who suspended a crucifix in what he claimed was a vial of his own urine. Conservatives were angered by a 2009 conference call in which an NEA official suggested works of art that promoted President Obama’s policy agenda.

Sadly, it is almost inevitable that when government gets involved in spending, politics will play a role. To the extent the arts and humanities are overtly politicized to promote one party’s agenda, they will lose the willing support of taxpayers. But that does not mean all arts and humanities funding should be eliminated.

Elizabeth Francis, executive director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, notes that her organization has awarded grants totaling $7.7 million since 1973, and gets about $600,000 a year through an NEH grant.

“Public access to the humanities—education; exhibitions, tours, performances, and festivals; media; and community and civic engagement—would be severely diminished without the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Humanities Council delivers nearly one-third of our NEH funds directly through grants to people and communities throughout Rhode Island for projects that would not take place without this support,” Ms. Francis noted.

The highly successful Providence Children’s Film Festival developed through Humanities Council grants. The council’s NEH grant supports its staff in working with people in higher education and tourism, and with other funders, to make Rhode Island more culturally vibrant. NEH funding in Rhode Island also has supported such organizations as the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Tomaquag Museum, and the Providence Community Library.

NEA money has gone to the I-Park Foundation of East Haddam, Conn.; the Vineyard Arts Project in Edgartown, Mass.; BalletRox of Jamaica Plain, Mass.; the Boston Children’s Chorus; New Urban Arts of Providence; the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass.; DownCity Design of Providence; the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts, in New Bedford, Mass.; and the Providence-based Alliance of Artists Communities.

In the Western world, aristocrats and the Catholic Church were traditionally the sponsors of great art. A more democratic society funds the arts with the help of government grants. We hope Congress works to keep enriching our society through the arts.


Original Article

Check out our New Informational Video, “Welcome to New Urban Arts!”

Want to know about the work we do here at New Urban Arts? Check out this amazing informational video created by Will Lepczyk.

Heartfelt thanks to Will Lepczyk, Ruth Clegg and Josh Backer for their part in making this video.

Check out more of their work here:

Will Lepczyk:
Ruth Clegg:
Josh Backer:

Webinar: Creating Safe Space for High School Students

On February 22, 2017 Ashley Paniagua, Youth Program Manager, and Daniel Schleifer, Executive Director of New Urban Arts hosted an Afterschool Leadership Circle webinar on creating safe spaces for high school students.

The Afterschool Leadership Circle (ALC) is a statewide network of Rhode Islanders who support quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities for young people. ALC is one of 50 Statewide Afterschool Networks, supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. ALC is a coalition that develops partnerships, informs policies, and shapes practices that sustain and increase the number of quality youth programs across Rhode Island.

ALC members come together to develop systems that support the academic, social, emotional, and physical outcomes for youth.

Questions addressed in this webinar included: What basic practices can you instill in your program and organization to better ensure high school students feel safe and valued? What are your concerns around issues high school students may be facing right now that impact their feelings of safety?

Since the word safe is used so frequently, we are defining safe space as a space where people are comfortable expressing their identity, seeking help addressing personal issues, and respectfully voicing their opinions. It is also a space where people can be confident they won’t be harmed.

Did you miss the webinar? No worries! The powerpoint file is available for download here.

Creating Safe Spaces for High School Students

Meet Resident Artist Mentor(RAM) in Music, Tom Van Buskirk

As you may know, this has been a year of growth for New Urban Arts, in both the number of students served and the expanded space available to them in the studio. With our new recording studio in the basement, we knew we had to have someone supervising and working with our youth during studio hours. To address this need, we created a Music Resident Artist Mentor (RAM) position at the beginning of this year. The Music RAM is in the studio about 25 hours a week supporting our youth and caring for the instruments and equipment. Our current Resident Artist Mentor in Music is Tom Van Buskirk!

Tom is an electronic musician and performer. As the psychic medium half of the band Javelin, he has performed in venues as diverse as The Whitney Museum, Lollapalooza, Celebrate Brooklyn, and The Olneyville Public Library. Tom is dedicated to an intuitive and inclusive approach to recording music, writing lyrics, and moving the crowd. He enjoys poetry and tennis, and is a graduate of Classical High School and Brown University. AmeriCorps VISTA member Saulo Castillo interviewed him, check it out below:

How did you end up at NUA?

I first came to NUA in 2006, encouraged by Dan Schleifer to show a few students how to make beats— we used a sampler and synthesizer that I brought from home. I still have those recordings! In 2013-4, I was a mentor in music. We recorded a huge amount of material and dreamed of NUA having a real studio one day…

How does your creative practice help you do your job here at NUA?

My work involves a lot of listening to and sampling of other artists’ work. So in some ways I have been collaborating on material for years— but now I get to collaborate with students’ creative ideas in a much more real way. Also, I love to appreciate a wide range of music, so I enjoy meeting students where they’re at and letting them take the lead in any production we work on together.

Do you have any upcoming artistic endeavors?

I’m working on a new project called Actual Magic, scheming on a new Javelin album, and learning to DJ better. I am also producing work for hire now and then and of course, my latest musical collaboration with the drawing/painting RAM, Aneudy Alba, called Agassi Fresh!

New Urban Arts has been fortunate to partner with music and recording equipment companies like Critter & Guitari, InMusic, and Moog. Can you tell us a little bit about their contributions to the studio?

The music studio has been outfitted with an array of sound makers, gadgets, keyboards and effects. Critter & Guitari contributed two very fun, invitingly playable synthesizers (one of which synthesizes video). Moog provided three world class analog synthesizers, effects pedals, and a theremin. InMusic generously donated closed ear headphones, midi keyboard controllers, and Virtual Instruments and effects for our computer stations. All of these are what help keep the studio bustling and productive every day.

Anything you want to say to our music studio sponsors?

Your donations are being used every day to stimulate students’ creativity! Without the tools we were given, the studio would be a much less dynamic place to create — so thank you!

When does Agassi Fresh drop?

Hopefully around French Open / Wimbledon.


Ugh I’m allergic to wheat so my options aren’t great for either… Still cake though.

“New Urban Art stands for opportunity to me”

Today I’m writing to give you a gentle but urgent nudge—please support New Urban Arts today! Last week, I shared NUA student Yisel’s story with you. For students like Yisel, New Urban Arts is one of the only places where they can explore their creative practice and be inspired by strong role models that encourage and understand them…

“NUA has nurtured my creative thought process and has provided room for even more ambitious ideas. It has provided me with all of my favorite idols—strong role models who I look up to for their dedication to their craft and as examples of people who excel in competitive academic environments. All while being people of color, women of color, just like me.” See more of Yisel’s story here.

In addition to Yisel’s story, here are some student responses to the question, “What does New Urban Arts mean to you?”

“New Urban Art stands for opportunity to me.”

“A door opening to meeting more good people and more good opportunities.”

“It means a place where creativity isn’t a question; it’s all made possible.”

“It means stepping out of your comfort zone and learning to embrace the weird and not exactly perfect. It means growing and always meeting new people.”

Today, with increasing student enrollment, we need your help more than ever. New Urban Arts is now the largest after school arts provider for teens in Providence. Your generosity and commitment ensure that New Urban Arts remains a viable and vibrant resource for the students whose voices you see expressed here.

Thanks to a generous matching grant from a local foundation, any new or increased donation to our annual campaign will be matched dollar for dollar.

More than ever, your increased donation means that our doors will stay open for the young people that walk through them every day. Our students’ futures are bright because of you. Give generously. Give today!

From all of us at New Urban Arts, thank you and happy New Year!

Daniel Schleifer,
Executive Director

P.S. Please consider becoming a sustaining donor by supporting NUA every month in the amount that’s just right for you.

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Double your impact and help foster creativity!

As I was getting ready to write you this letter, I overheard one of our students talking about what New Urban Arts means to her. What touched me most was hearing her say that one day, she’s going to donate to New Urban Arts, so I asked if she would write something I could share with you:

Hi! My name is Yisel and I am a student at New Urban Arts (NUA). NUA means the world to me. It has been an invaluable lifeline that has kept me going even in the darkest of times.

It has provided an outlet for the expression of my own personal experience. It is where I usually am when I need someone to talk my thoughts out with. It is where I am when I want to paint these thoughts out. It is where I am when I think of how I want to impact society to make it a happier and more colorful world with my art work.

NUA has nurtured my creative thought process and has provided room for even more ambitious ideas. It has provided me with all of my favorite idols—strong role models who I look up to for their dedication to their craft and as examples of people who excel in competitive academic environments. All while being people of color, women of color, just like me.

One day, when I’m fully “adulting” as I like to say, I will give back in some way so that I can help brighten some student’s day in the way everyone at New Urban Arts has done for me. I hope that you can find it in your hearts to assist in continuing the magic that takes place here. Thank you for your time, I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

Yisel is one of hundreds of young people who depend on New Urban Arts every day. Your generosity and commitment ensure that this resource is here for them. This fall, we had the busiest start of programs in our history. With increasing student enrollment, we need your help now more than ever.

There’s no time like the present to invest in a young person’s future. And now, thanks to a generous matching grant from a local foundation, any new or increased donation will be matched dollar for dollar! More than ever, your donation means that our doors will stay open for the young people that walk through them every day.


Happy holidays! From all of us at New Urban Arts, thank you.


Daniel Schleifer,
Executive Director

P.S. Please consider becoming a sustaining donor by supporting NUA every month in the amount that’s just right for you.

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New Urban Arts is nominated for Yelp Foundation Gives Local Grant!

New Urban Arts has been nominated as a finalist in the Yelp Foundation Gives Local Grant contest. We need your Help! Please vote for us to win a grant of up to $5,000.

It’s easy: Go to to cast your vote once per day from November 29 to December 9. No personal donation is required to participate in the contest and it only takes a minute, and you don’t have to sign up for anything.

Your vote will allow us to provide hundreds of young people with access to arts education and creative practice this year.

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National Endowment for the Arts: “My Art Story, by Saulo Castillo”

Our Programming and Development VISTA, Saulo Castillo, shares his story with the National Endowment for The Arts website, and was selected to be on the NEA website for their 50th Year Anniversary.


I like the arts. No, I love the arts.

Making art, whether the medium is painting or dancing, is where I regain my sanity. I grew up in a very underprivileged neighborhood in the lower south side of Providence, Rhode Island. I was surrounded by drug abuse, poverty, homelessness, etc. My surroundings led me astray and took me down a path I rarely speak of, and the arts are what saved my life. If it wasn’t for institutions like New Urban Arts, a nationally recognized community arts studio for high school students and emerging artists in Providence, and Project 401, a collective of hip-hop artists based in Rhode Island who use hip-hop culture to engage with communities and relay positive social messages to youth, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing this right now.

I have an ongoing battle with anxiety in my head all the time. I don’t talk about it much or share, because where I come from people think anxiety is just “in your head.” When you share about it, you get ridiculed or called weak.

My mind has always worked differently than most, and the only way I can deal with what is going on in my head sometimes is to make art out of it. Whether that is spinning on my head or drawing a portrait, I understand that if I don’t get it out I will go absolutely crazy.

Some people look at the arts like some thing they just do when they have nothing better. I look at the arts like there’s nothing I want to do other than create, ever.

When I’m mad, I dance. When I’m sad, I dance. When I am happy, I dance even more.

To me art is sanity, because without it… I don’t know what I would do.
Original Article

Resident Artist Mentor Dailen Williams, on the Magic of Mentorship

A conversation with Development & Program Assistant, Jennifer Morrison and Resident Artist Mentor, Dailen Williams.

The New Urban Arts experience is difficult to put into words, both for the youth and the adults in the studio. Artist mentors play an important role in New Urban Arts’ success and also contribute to some of its mystique. When I heard Resident Artist Mentor Dailen Williams comment that she sometimes “tricks” students into trying something they claim they can’t do, I knew exactly what she meant. I fell for the trick just a few weeks earlier. The trick is, however, far from malicious. “People know more than they think they do,” says Dailen. “You just have to reframe it for them. Sometimes I do that by introducing a time limit—‘draw something in ten seconds!’—so then there’s no time for it to be good. If you frustrate them, they’ll show you what they can do out of desperation.”

Whether out of desperation or something else, it works—perhaps, as Dailen says, because producing comes secondary to having fun. “New Urban Arts is like an endless barbecue. People are just hanging out, and it’s as low-key or intense as they want it to be. It’s all about hanging out and building relationships.” Relationships are one of the reasons that Dailen remains involved at New Urban Arts. I’ve met new peers and made relationships here that would be really hard to walk away from, because of how invested I am in them.”

In building those relationships, students are able to learn about new opportunities outside of the space. Artist mentors support students in their art-making, Study Buddies in their academic work, and A Life After School mentor in creating a path to post-secondary success with help. “The studio’s like a weird magnifying bubble,” says Dailen, “that helps you figure out where else you might go and what else you might be able to try.”

Dailen explains, “hearing or reading about New Urban Arts isn’t the same as seeing or experiencing it.” We love to show people around the studio. Contact us to come for a visit!

The Providence Journal: “Young Providence fashion designer learned a lot from his mother’s work”

Young Providence fashion designer learned a lot from his mother’s work The Providence Journal interviewed recent alum Josh Rodriguez about his work in fashion, Couture13, and his sources of inspiration.



After a night of hard slam dancing in a mosh pit, then 18-year-old Joshua Rodriguez felt a breeze at the inseam of his jeans. A pattern for bicyclers and active wear became his saving grace, and his first stitch.

“I really liked those jeans,” the budding fashion designer, now 21, said in retrospect Wednesday.

In fact, Rodriguez said he grows a relationship with all his clothes. He knows exactly where he inherited the passion from.

A lack of money and an affinity to experiment led Rodriguez’s mother, Betania Rodriguez, to make skirts out of large, bleached rice bags as a child in the Dominican Republic. That ingenuity continued in the United States as she revived old furniture. The wood-trimmed sofa upholstered in tangelo fabric and striped chairs in the living room are some of her creations.

“I would come home from school and see her hand sewing the couches, and I kind of took that interest,” he said, sitting next to his smiling mother.

By middle school, he was having a tailor alter and re-hem the clothes he bought. The changes sometimes cost him $60 for two pairs of jeans, so he figured, why not do it himself? Mentors at New Urban Arts, the Westminster Street community arts studio for high school students and emerging artists, became his sounding board and teachers for furthering his craft — particularly with sewing.

A military jacket embellished with art inspired by the late artist Keith Haring, a square of cow print fabric and “pow” and other comic book sounds is one of his earlier pieces. A newer piece, the T-shirt he was wearing, is a tribute to another artist he admires — the late Andy Warhol. The olive T-shirt has a screen-print of a New York Daily News front page with the headline, “Actress shoots Andy Warhol.”

“I like doing things of my own,” he said while stating he has had nothing but support from others. “It just felt good. I was like, ‘I did this.’ ”

Rodriguez also found like-peers at New Urban Arts: Nelson Paredes, Nelvis Severino and another Providence resident who simply goes by Paris, and they started a clothing line called Couture13 two years ago — the year Rodriguez graduated from Hope High School.

The four designers put together and paid for an inclusive art show displaying their clothing and the works of other local young artists of multiple forms — including music, graphic artwork, photographs and paintings — Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. at AS220′s Black Box Theater, 95 Empire St.

Rodriguez describes Couture13 as urban street wear, but they may be moving to more high-end pieces soon with more expensive prints, details and fabrics. He is currently taking art and other classes at the Community College of Rhode Island to further discover his capabilities.

“I love his work,” said Daniel Schleifer, New Urban Arts interim executive director. “It connects all these different styles from punk to hip hop and I love the way that it is crafty and DYI (do it yourself). It brings all those elements together, and they’re comfortable and fresh.”

“Rhode Island has a great art scene,” Rodriguez said. “It needs its credit, and I want to be part of that. We’re working hard.”
Original Article

The Providence Journal: “Providence groups launch ‘Youth Caucus’ to work with Mayor”

New Urban Arts joins with the Providence Student Union, Young Voices, and four other youth organizations to launch the Providence Youth Caucus. The Providence Youth Caucus was also featured in this article in EastSide Monthly..


The Providence Student Union and Young Voices, in partnership with five of Providence’s strongest youth organizations, are uniting to launch the “Providence Youth Caucus.”

The new student-led coalition will unite young people from across Providence to work together for citywide education changes such as personalized learning, and a conflict resolution approach called “restorative justice,” in which an aggrieved student meets with his or her aggressor and peers, with adult supervision, to resolve a dispute. The effort, which is supported by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, will initially bring together youth from the following organizations:

– Hope High Optimized
– New Urban Arts
– Providence Student Union
– Rhode Island Urban Debate League
– Young Voices
– Youth in Action
– YouthBuild Providence

Student leaders from each of these organizations will work closely with the new mayor of Providence to realize the goals described in “The Schools Providence Students Deserve,” an education platform generated by youth for last spring’s Youth Mayoral Forum.

Mayor Jorge Elorza said, “I am grateful for the passion and dedication to improving our public schools shown by Hope High Optimized, New Urban Arts, Providence Student Union, RI Urban Debate League, Young Voices, Youth in Action and YouthBuild. I look forward to working closely with the Providence Youth Caucus to ensure that all our children have access to world-class schools.

Students organized the April mayoral forum, and the student-designed platform, to draw attention to their education priorities. Said student speaker Priscilla Rivera back in April, “We believe it is so important for students to have a fair say and to have our voices heard.”

Nick Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, agreed:

“We are a proud supporter of efforts to amplify the voices of young people, and involve students in decisions that impact their lives and their futures,” he said. “The creation of the Providence Youth Caucus is yet another indicator of the power of this work, and demonstrates how Providence can be a model in mobilizing students for positive change in education.”

By unifying diverse skill sets and student members across some of Providence’s most active youth organizations, the Providence Youth Caucus is poised to be instrumental in elevating student voices and winning key student-centered improvements to schools.
Original Article

New Urban Arts remembers Carole Harman

We would like to thank all the friends and loved ones of the amazing Carole Moses Harman who have made donations to New Urban Arts in her memory. A founding Board member and lifetime advocate of young people and the arts, New Urban Arts would not be what it is today without Carole Harman’s commitment and dedication to arts education. We are forever grateful to her!

Longtime mentor, alum, and current art teacher in the Providence Public School System Kedrin Frias writes:

I met Carole Harman in my freshman year at Central High School, when I was sent on an errand to deliver some supplies to her classroom. I immediately fell in love with her class. It was what I describe as a “Jungle of Art.” You had to climb around and dodge drawings and paintings in order to get in and out of the room. I quickly asked her if I could transfer into her class. She said to me, “don’t be late… I hate that,” and her second stipulation was “you have to take it seriously… no screwin’ around in my class.” Then she smirked and sent me on my way. That moment would change my life in so many ways.

I began taking her class, and would continue to do so for the next 3 ½ years. Along the way, she chose me to be part of a select group of students who really wanted to pursue art. She made us into her “AP Art Class.” Ms. Harman was tough on me and the rest of my art class. We were a funny mix of under and upper classmen who really wanted to be there and become artists. She constantly encouraged us and put a lot of faith in us to be able to do anything that she asked of us. Often times this meant difficult assignments and weird assignments that we couldn’t understand until way after we were done with them. She pushed our boundaries, and expected the best out of us at all times. When she said, “Good Job,” you knew you had earned it. We loved her, and she loved us.

She would later introduce us to New Urban Arts. My class was the first consistent group of students to exhibit work at what was called “Project New Urban Arts” then. We had two public exhibitions and received citations from the mayor on both occasions. She was proud of us and made the effort to encourage us to be proud of ourselves.

Today I am a full time elementary school teacher in the city of Providence, and this would definitely not be so if I hadn’t been the student of Carole Harman. She taught me to be ok with making mistakes, to do my best, and that it’s ok to start all over sometimes. These are lessons I pass on to my students today and forever. I am forever thankful to her and changed by the relationship I had with her. She is a great example that “no significant learning happens without a significant relationship.”

Four things to keep in mind when doing art for social change

On September 23, 2014 The Teaching Artists Guild hosted a discussion with New Urban Arts’ Executive Director Elia Gurna and teaching artists Lynn Johnson, Sarah Crowell (Destiny Arts, Oakland, CA), and Kai Fierle-Hedrick (Free Arts NYC, New York, NY), asking: How do artists teach for social change? What things are most important to keep in mind when doing art for social change?


Outpost Journal: “Transmitting Agency at AS220, The Steelyard, and New Urban Arts”

Outpost Journal showcases New Urban Arts’ Youth Mentorship in the Arts program.


[excerpt] Founded in 1997 as a free art program for public high school students, New Urban Arts stresses youth empowerment. It’s core project is the Youth Mentorship in the Arts program, in which students work with trained artist mentors twice a week throughout the school year—more so as collaborators than proteges. The sustained practice helps them acquire skills and knowledge in the arts, at the same time developing positive relationships with peers and non-parental adults.

A more structured approach to guidance, it still bears the stamp of consensus: after potential mentors apply through a rigorous process for a predetermined number of annual positions, the students together help choose the year’s final selections. And—as one teenager pointed out on s recent Friday afternoon—it’s not like there are offices. Desks, sure, but everyone works in the same room/

This may be what New Urban Arts, AS220 and the Steel Yard share most centrally the organizations cultivate individual agency through collaborative community. It takes a bottom-up approach to resource development, one in which mentorship is not a conditional property but an emergent one, and the voice of experience ever-shifts in context.

Earlier this year, when New Urban Arts’ no-clock policy posed a problem—students kept missing bus rides home—it was agreed a timepiece should be hung. The younger artists took design control, fixing fake dynamite to a typical schoolroom clock: a ticking time bomb. The object hangs just inside the studio’s front door—a playful reminder for heroes in the vicinity that there’s important action to be taken, vital work to be done.


Providence: A slam poem by Alice Rayner and Ian Rosalhes

New Urban Arts alumni Alice Rayner and Ian Rosalhes performed their slam poem “Providence” at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, held July 16-20, 2014 in Philadelphia, PA.


Classical High School is the most diverse school in Rhode Island.

A public magnet school on the West Side
the best high school in Providence

I grew up close to Classical
Whenever my friends and I passed by
It was a grim reminder that we
Would never make it there.

It was a school for the white kids from across town

The first time I saw Classical was on an 8th grade field trip
they took us to the West Side
to show us all the places we could volunteer.

I came here to learn how to be less ghetto

I came here to experience the “real world”

but not knowing what that meant.

Knew this was a good school because there are white people here

Kept waiting for this to feel like home

Reached out to the people who talked like me, who had all the same questions.

You know the n word is a bad word right?
Are people of color even allowed to take APs?
Why don’t you just do your homework?
Do you ever think about anything besides school?
How do you have the bus schedule memorized?
Why do all the white people ride the same bus?

In 9th grade I took the bus for the first time! Immediately felt like an expert
In 9th grade I took the bus to and from school like I always have

remember to say nothing
Remember to not look into another persons eyes
because it is a fistfight
it is another day you will not be jumped
remember that
this is not home

On Broad St waiting for the 11 to go to my mom’s house
people ask me why I’m not waiting for the white people bus.

I used to think that made me edgy.

white girl waiting for a South Side bus.
I bet she thinks she understands these streets
but she hasn’t seen the rusted insides of old buildings people call home
doesn’t understand the rusted bodies that walk down broad street
looks scared when my friends and I pass by

This isn’t a bad area.

Yet the desire for gentrification is clear in even the most progressive white parents
so proud that their kids go to public school
yet whisper about how nervous the neighborhood makes them

This street was mine long before Classical adopted me
2am whizzing down Broad St in my friend’s Civic, blaring
biggie, biggie, biggie can’t you see

Our parents love Classical’s diversity
but all know that this neighborhood would be a lot better
if the Civics were replaced with Priuses

fridays filling my stomach with pastelitos from pitos

Wouldn’t you rather have vegan food trucks?

When the white people moved onto my old street
the rent went up as fast as their new restaurants
We were never able to go back

My mom’s house is at the arrowhead of gentrification
represented at allwhite
community meetings in the majority hispanic neighborhood
working to get a bar kicked out down the street
they play their Spanish music too loud

It’s not a secret that roads over there
get fixed first
But now you expect to
Take our culture
Our shops
Our children
Make them “pretty”
Make them “safe”
This is rich white liberalism meeting
Portuguese, Dominican, Guatemalan poverty
They think they know what’s best for us
though they’ve never asked our names

Difference is to be feared

At dinner parties tell your friends the story of this neighborhood’s interesting history
brag about how diverse it used to be
but we won’t call this place home until it looks like the last place we lived

Brown skin is not a reason for redevelopment or neighborhood improvement

We do not need
People from the outside telling us
What home should look like
Rusty fences is what home
DOES look like

We went to high school together*

Lived through no AC hot summers skin sticking to our desks
Winters taking tests in classrooms so cold our fingers cramped up
Leaky roofs during spring
Administration treating us like animals
Some of us more than others

Everyone complained about the same things.

It’s a wonder that we weren’t all friends

But how can we be friends with our neighborhoods eating each other?
What good are friends when we can’t imagine a Providence without the rusted legacy of bodies
forced out of their homes?

The problem is not our city;
The problem is we didn’t build it ourselves

The Providence Journal: “Immersing ourselves in the poetry of real type”

New Urban Arts Mentor Fellow and RI State Poet Laureate Rick Benjamin reflects on high school vacation week in our studio.


It is school vacation week in Providence, which is no vacation for me work-wise, but it does mean that I am at leisure to spend part of each day with gifted high school students at New Urban Arts making…

I have brought in eight manual typewriters, and when Vuthi and Joely bring in two others, we have 10, exactly the number we need to sit around three large tables pushed together. I have put out the “Random Acts of Poetry” sign that Jane hand-lettered for me.

Ray Marr, master-manual-typewriter-mechanic whose unassuming storefront is in Pawtucket, has made sure that all of our old-school machines are in good working order.

Though all of them have quirks — an old portable Remington with a ribbon that doesn’t always or ever rewind; a large, heavy Underwood, chrome wings flaring out of an otherwise rather grim-looking gray body, skipping spaces randomly; an Olympia whose “c” and “h” keys like to strike and stick together, stopping the typist in his tracks — I tell my young comrades in poetry to work around their particular machine’s idiosyncrasies, even to appreciate them.

There’s going to be no erasing this week, just second and third thoughts and lots of cross-outs using the letter “x.”

When prompted by someone else’s good poem and a simple question to spur thinking, all of us fall to the sonic task of imprinting poems on paper with real type. The sudden clatter’s infectious; not one of us wants to go back to using a laptop! Sometimes I simply find myself listening to the sound of their thinking, to the arrhythmic or rhythmic drumming of their fingertips as they move through a thought process that is slow for a change, tapped out in its own good time.

My friend and colleague, Eli Nixon, the other Fellow these past two years at New Urban Arts, has suggested “home” as a theme for the week. Each day after lunch she is facilitating the building of a large monster out of cardboard and copious amounts of masking tape and paper and paste from her own recipe slathered over everything.

By next week, it will also be brightly painted, animated, mobile and holding in its body one of our recycling cans. It is all part of an effort to express what it means to really care for a place that, for many of us, feels like home. By the second day in the poetry workshop, we are also talking about place as the most intimate of interiors, because our own stories house us, too. We talk about reclaiming our ground, about listening more carefully to the tales that most fully constitute our own identities while also keeping an ear out for the sound of mystery, for what we can hardly hear, if at all.

When my own kids were little, one of our favorite books was by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall, “The Other Way to Listen.” A boy apprentices with an old man in the fine art of listening, to lizards and rocks and even the hills. It is a slow and ambling narrative about how to tune in to what’s largely unheard of or from in our loud and busy world. It’s about paying attention, that is, to what’s nearest to home, like hearing the sound of your own thinking beating like a slow drum on the old Royal.

One of the best teachers in the art of listening was the poet William Stafford, who woke up each morning at 4:30 to catch the earliest light, sounds and rhythms of a new day. This is from his poem, “Listening.”

My father could hear a little animal step,

or a moth in the dark against the screen,

and every far sound called the listening out

into places where the rest of us had never been.

I love the off-rhymed “screen” and “been” in this opening quatrain, because it is the poet retuning the reader’s ear to something just a little bit unexpected. I also admire how muted the first five beats are in the poem’s first line, and the way a moth falls or falters against a screen in lilting and lifting anapests, unstressed syllables followed by a harder hit.

Stafford says about his father in the next stanza that “More spoke to him from the soft wild night/than came to our porch for us on the wind,” which is such a simple and lovely statement about how refined an ear can become, when it can hear even what’s beneath a breeze. The poem closes on its one rhyming note, signaling perhaps the emergence of something singularly sharp and clear, a new note or frequency.

My father heard so much that we still stand

inviting the quiet by turning the face,

waiting for a time when something in the night

will touch us too from that other place.

Though Stafford is working primarily in the poem with a five-beat line, I hear in the last line maybe six or seven. I hear no reason not to emphasize words like “will” and “us” and “that.” It’s a subjective sounding, of course, but to me it sounds like the mystery of abundance.

Which is what I keep on hearing in the percussive sounds that young poets are making on manual typewriters at New Urban Arts. Minus smart phones and laptops and other electronics, they sound very much at home with lead type and inked ribbons and with carriages moving back and forth and scrolling up slow thought.

It is a more deliberate and thoughtful kind of marching toward something. And, speaking of March, here we are on the brink of something that will begin to resemble spring. I was also lucky this week to accompany a high school student on her visit to Hampshire College. Here are a few lines from a fine poet who teaches there, Aracelis Girmay, from her book, “Kingdom Animalia.” The poem is “March, March.”

Brown March whose branches itch with coming spring

& the yellow hands of dogwood in the yard.

Obscene, the beauty of skin again, obscene this Eden season

bejeweled by the bodies of the youngsters & the hard

clang of real light…

May your own first forays into the “real light” of March bring you nearer to the percussive sounds of your own heart’s imaginings as they tap toward the certainty of spring.

Rick Benjamin is Rhode Island’s poet laureate.

Original Article

Afterschool Today: “Executive Director Elia Gurna on the importance of art”

Executive Director Elia Gurna on the importance of art.


Please tell us a bit about New Urban Arts.

The philosopher Giles Deleuze said, “It’s not important what art is, but what art does.” New Urban Arts is a free, drop-in youth arts afterschool mentoring program in Providence, Rhode Island. Our mission is to build a vital community that empowers young people as artists and leaders to develop a creative practice they can sustain throughout their lives. Our mentors are artists who apply and are interviewed and selected by the young people themselves. Young people and mentors collaborate on projects in multiple disciplines—animation, painting, drawing, comics, creative writing, sculpture … We also provide homework help and college advising. Our studio is a multidisciplinary space with a silk screen studio, a dark room, computers, and resources for sewing, painting, drawing, sculpture, and other medium.

One thing that is special about New Urban Arts is that because the young people decide for themselves how to participate, the artist mentors do not use a curriculum. Instead, they construct how to guide the creative process with the young people, and without a preconceived notion about what or how young people need to learn. While we do have a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant from the state department of education, we don’t feel that in the afterschool space we should be tied to a narrow set of goals or approaches.

How did you become involved with the organization?

I came to visit New Urban Arts because I have always been interested in community arts and youth work. At the time, I was working as a teaching
artist and trying to think of ways to bring the atmosphere of a print shop—collaborative, independently paced creativity and thinking through
making into schools. I always found it disheartening to be the visiting teaching artist who would come into a building and get very little time or resources or space to actually have an impact or “change the air.” To me, working in a studio with other artists trying things is
pure joy and deep engagement—I think all people need this.

What is the greatest benefit of New Urban Arts and its programs?

New Urban Arts fills an enormous hole in public education. In the past ten years in Providence, more than half the art teachers have been laid off. Kids have very little, if any, access to meaningful arts education. I see art as integral to human health. Young people need opportunities to express themselves and be creative in a supportive, nonjudgmental environment. New Urban Arts is a space that allows young people to form meaningful relationships with caring artists and to be creative, whole people; to define themselves as more than test scores and statistics,
and hopefully to go out into the world demanding that for themselves and others.

What do you hope to accomplish in your role as executive director?

I would like to see New Urban Arts have an impact on education in general. We have successfully modeled that young people can be in charge—that young people, when given the space, are able to make things happen. I would like for us as an organization to share our
values and our mission and our work. I dream that New Urban Arts sends more caring artists into the world.

Is there a single New Urban Arts success you’d like to highlight?

I think anytime we collaborate and share with other organizations and like-minded people is a success. We are part of a movement—struggling
to humanize our society, our schools, our environment, believing deeply that artists change the world.

Original Article

The Providence Journal: “Poetry: We draw from ourselves, and in this season of giving, give”

New Urban Arts Mentor Fellow and RI State Poet Laureate Rick Benjamin reflects on Artsgiving in the Projo.


It is two day s before Thanksgiving — what my colleague Jenna at Brown University is calling “Thankskahgiving” this year because of the odd convergence of secular and religious holiday s — and New Urban Arts is celebrating its annual Arts Giving, the sweetest gift- exchange imaginable.

As young and older people enter the studio they drop their folded names into a hat. It’s just month into the studio year, our first large gathering as a group of high-school-age artists and other, older artists fortunate enough to work with them, and some of us are still getting to know each other.

After a few introductory ice-breakers, we draw names, receive simple instructions: in no more than 45 minutes, make something for the person named on the folded-up piece of paper. The studio is immediately abuzz — to be honest, this is also what it feels like here any other day — and some are sewing, and some are drawing and some are making soft sculptures or
graffiti art. All of it is being made with someone else in mind, by the way, and thoughtfully so, even among strangers.

I sit before my manual typewriter, pull out the paper I’ve brought with Jess X. Chen’s beautiful line-drawing on the back, scroll old-school into the carriage and begin to write a poem for Brianna, an accomplished young visual and language artist whose mix of anime technique and comic-strip-like writing is compelling on many levels.

Brianna’s quiet, considered, and I want to write a poem that reflects that. As I take my first percussive strokes, I can hear elsewhere in the studio sewing machines, the chatter and conversation of a drawing circle, the excitement of making together in the same space.

Later we give, and get from each other, our modest gifts, with public acknowledgment for each offering. It is that time of year — “Thankskahgiving.” It is most festive and light when we give away what we make.

Poetry also has a generous spirit, wanting to make something of everything and/or nothing. I love Emily Dickinson’s lyric about this subject, both titled and numbered “1755” among her poems: “To make a prairie/it takes a clover and one bee,/One clover, and a bee./And revery ./The revery alone will do,/If bees are few.”

As Dickinson suggests, imagination is primary, especially in the face of diminished natural states. Creative impulses hum with abundance. I grew up, like the poet Kevin Young, in a hot and dry climate, so I know what it feels like to want to make it rain after days upon days of drought. “How to Make Rain” is from Kev in’s first book, “Most Way Home,” a National Poetry
Series award winner:

Start with the sun
piled weeks on your back after
you haven’t heard rain for an entire
growing season and making sure to face
due north spit twice into the red clay
stomp your silent feet waiting rain
rain to bring the washing in rain
of reaping rusty tubs of rain…

I love how this poem is all unpunctuated lines, broken up only by the occasional three spaces, like a small hand cupping water. It’s a particularly incantatory sound, this longing for rain, one long refrain and hymn for water as both a life-affirming and love-affirming force of nature:

…slow courting rain rain
that falls forever rain which keeps
folks inside and makes late afternoon

Making rain, like making a prairie, takes work, and this poet is not shy about making a little noise, making a little music in order to call out moisture. It’s a very seductive poem that also ends on a very tender note:

rain of forgetting rain that asks for
more rain rain that can’t help but
answer what you are looking for
must fall what you are looking for is
deep among clouds what you want to see
is a girl selling kisses beneath cotton
wood is a boy drowning inside the earth

“Now where did they come from?” I can hear, say, my grandmother asking, “that boy and girl,” and it feels like rain, like rain is making and giving them up in some kind of reciprocal gesture, so that “how to make rain,” is also how to make what’s human. How lucky when we give and we get equally.

Also today, in my poetry class at the Rhode Island School of Design, Josh Shiau said this poem by Kevin Young in its entirety and from memory, giving voice generously, insuring that these good words will continue to circulate. And here is one of Josh’s own poems, called “Home,” inspired by Young’s:

With a wood pencil
draw a box
With three strokes
define your walls.
If you hesitate
start over.
Twenty-one hundred times.
Until your hands know
what your mind will forget.
Bury the lead in the fiber,
stand in the empty mouth,
and look at the space you have created.

Next to the lush, dense thicket of language that Young offers up, Josh’s lines are spacious, as if designed for maximum light. But there is still a lot of room here for repetitive creative practice — architecture boot camp: “twenty-one hundred times” — for the kind of training that accomplished artists routinely engage in and receive. A “home” begins to emerge on paper as if from directly out of rigorous imaginative impulses.

I hope, at the very least, that this is a season of gratitude: for what we have and what we have made together. For poetry, it is in the words, in percussive sounds from typewriters or rain or from the lines themselves. Today Brianna got a poem; she, herself, in turn offered up two lovely drawings. It was Arts Giving.

Rick Benjamin is Rhode Island’s poet laureate. His newest book is “floating world.”


The Land I Speak

A collection of poems by young writers from New Urban Arts’ 2013 Untitlement Project. This publication is a collection of original poetry by young writers who participated in the 2013 Untitlement Project—a five-week summer work-readiness program at New Urban Arts that explores gender, identity, relationships, and power through creative writing and conversation.

Many of the youth in the Untitlement Project had never written poetry before the program. They have demonstrated tremendous growth as writers and individuals, especially through their commitment to difficult, honest conversations about oppression in their lives and communities.

As the program mentors, we are grateful for their courage, enthusiasm, and dedication. We hope they will continue to question the world around them and speak out against injustice through poetry.

-Sydney Peak & Jorge Vargas, 2013 Untitlement Project Mentors

A Print to Help Carmela, Noel and Sara go to College

In the Summer of 2013, New Urban Arts alumni Carmela Wilkins, Noel Puello, and Sara Tolbert produced this beautiful print featuring quotes from some of their artistic heroes: Henri Matisse, Alexander McQueen, and Alphonse Maria Mucha. All proceeds from the sale of this print go to support Carmela, Noel, and Sara in their expenses for art school. Carmela is attending Falmouth University, and Noel and Sara are at MassArt.

Actual Dimensions: 12.5″ x 19″

Understanding HOMAGO and Informal Youth Spaces

In March 2013, Connected Learning hosted a conversation between New Urban Arts Director of Programs Sarah Meyer and Program Coordinator Brenda Hernandez of Yollocalli Arts Reach at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Brenda writes about art education and cultural programs for Contratiempo Magazine and recently presented at the National Art Education Conference about Art, Music and Youth Cultural Production.

Mixes from the DJ Workshop (Winter Break 2013)

During Winter Break 2013, local DJs Micah Salkind and Jackson Morley, aka Micah Jackson, ran a DJ Workshop, in which New Urban Arts students learned the basics of mixing and beat matching.

On the Friday, February 22, the final day of the Workshop, we hosted a “Break Jam,” during which our student DJs premiered their first mixes; here they are:

DJ Astro
DJ Detail
DJ Psycho
DJ Spitfire

“We don’t like to keep it simple”

Over a few weeks in December 2012, a group of alumni students, mentors, and fellows worked together to produce a print of artwork by Priscilla Carrion, guided by printmaker Ian Cozzens. The title and text incorporated students’ artist statements over the past few years. The following alumni mentors and fellows assisted: Emmy Bright sourced materials and organized volunteers; Lois Harada helped with materials and paper cutting; Katrina Silander Clark, David Colannino, Alison Rutsch and Jori Ketten helped print, and Andrew Oesch combed past artist statements for quotes.

This is a four-color silkscreen print, signed and numbered edition of 64, measuring 13″ x 25″. It is available on a sliding scale from $50-$150 plus shipping and handling. Proceeds benefit New Urban Arts. Scroll down for a better view of the artwork.

Sliding Price Scale



Go Local Providence: “New Urban Arts’ Jason Yoon: 12 Who Made a Difference in RI in 2012”

GoLocalProv names outgoing Executive Director Jason Yoon one of the top change makers in Providence.


While schools in Rhode Island continue to struggle with funding cuts, the pressure was never higher on Jason Yoon’s New Urban Arts to fill in the startling gaps in arts education for Providence youth. And under Yoon’s leadership as Executive Director, New Urban Arts posted a banner year, including being one of only 19 arts and cultural organizations to receive general operating support from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA).

The numbers tell the story. In 2012, 277 students enrolled in New Urban Arts’ Youth Mentorship Program, while 135 students actively participated in the center’s studio each month. Meanwhile, 22 artists combined with 2 tutors and a senior life coach to volunteer more than 4,000 hours mentoring Providence area high school students.

Paid arts internships for local teens

Even more profoundly, Yoon provided 225 hours of summer programming, offering paid internships in the arts for 30 youth, a contribution to the Rhode Island landscape that cannot be overestimated. Amidst a climate this year of hostility on the national level toward LGBT people of all ages, New Urban Arts sponsored the Untitlement Project, a writing and poetry program where youth unpacked identity, gender, privilege, power and sexuality.

And in a partnership that would make any established gallery envious, eight of Yoon’s students are receiving scholarships in partnership with healthcare product company Henry Schein to create artwork for its corporate collection.

Helping to lift the field

Yoon has also demonstrated the desire to make the innovative Providence organization play a role in helping to “lift our field,” as he puts it.

“As a national leader in arts and youth development, we’re also doing more consulting and advising work,” he says. “We’re in an exciting partnership with Yollocalli, a Chicago-based youth arts program and locally, we’ve been working with Providence’s art teachers through the school department.” Yoon also has plans for re-launching New Urban Arts’ website and putting resources under a Creative Commons license, “so we can freely share our work,” he says.

A banner year indeed, and perhaps a legacy year. For the latest news is that Yoon may be moving on from New Urban Arts in 2013, but leaving the achievements of 2012 is a true gift for Rhode Island, for Providence, and for teens who desperately need an outlet for expression, a place to hang out, and skills to learn.
Original Article

We Are NUA

This Video was prepared by students Max Binder and Michi Olivo for the 2012 Bridge Conference in Seattle. It Stars Julisa Reyes, Jose Puello, Duncan McPherson, Carmella Wilkins, Naomy Guttierez and Max Binder. It also features the work of CJJimenez, Kedrin Frias, Rebecca Volynsky and Andrew Migliori. End music by Michi Olivo.

An Ethnopoem by Maddie Lenox

Making anything
Then that is correct
NUA is for… making
It does not ask anything
Of you
A space that allows
Creative minds
To flourish

A familiar space


Community made
By the people within
What we create

-Maddie Lenox, December 2012

The Providence Journal: “Pockets of Hope”

The Providence Journal considers New Urban Arts an incubator for minority-owned businesses, profiling alumni Abel Hernandez. “There are organizations and places in Rhode Island where people of diverse ethnicities, ages, cultures and backgrounds coexist and collaborate. New Urban Arts is one.”



Development Without Limits: “Please Speak Freely Podcast interviews Jason Yoon and Sarah Meyer of New Urban Arts”

Eric Gurna, Director of Development Without Limits, describes New Urban Arts as one of his “favorite youth programs in the country… one of those rare places where the practice matches the rhetoric.”


One of my favorite youth programs in the country is New Urban Arts, based in Providence, RI. This community-based program is located in a storefront, and it is one of those rare places where the practice matches the rhetoric. For this episode I interviewed Jason Yoon, Executive Director and Sarah Meyer, Program Director, and we talked about how they design a creative learning space where young people truly direct their own experience. Sarah and NUA program alum Michi Olivo will be joining me as presenters at the Bridge Conference in Seattle, WA on October 8-9, where they will share more about their model in a breakout session, and participate in a live recording of Please Speak Freely focused on the challenges and complex realities of shifting from a teacher-student paradigm to a youth-adult partnership. I hope to see you there!

Original Article

Go Local Providence: “PowerPlayer: New Urban Arts Executive Director Jason Yoon”

GoLocalProv names Executive Director Jason Yoon a PowerPlayer and chats with him about running “one of the most successful youth organizations in the city.”


This week’s PowerPlayer is Jason Yoon, executive director of New Urban Arts. Mr. Yoon was kind enough to chat with GoLocalProv about the work his organization his doing with young people in Providence and his vision for the future.

1) You run one of the most successful youth organizations in the city. Tell us about the work high school students are doing at New Urban Arts.

All of our programs are centered on creative and independent thinking. I like to think that New Urban Arts encourages healthy rebellious troublemaking.

Right now, we’re in the middle of summer programs. We have two main programs, our school-year Youth Mentorship in the Arts program which pairs local teenagers with artist mentors in small groups.

In the summer, we enroll thirty teenagers in paid arts internships. One annual summer project is our Art Inquiry program (check out our resource guides). Another is the Untitlement Project, a writing and poetry program where youth unpack identity, gender, privilege, power and sexuality. Lastly, in partnership with Henry Schein, eight of our students are receiving scholarships to create artwork for their corporate collection.

2) We hear so many negative stories about Providence’s youth. What else needs to be done to help young people growing up in the city to make sure they stay on track?

First, youth need more love, safety and stability. Providence is a great city, but like many American cities, poverty and unemployment are pretty acute. The share of our students reporting that they qualify for subsidized lunch has risen from 74% in 2007 to nearly 90%. Our enrollment has doubled in the same time too.

We create a stable safe space for young people staffed by caring, creative artists. In America’s education reform dialogue, there’s way too much emphasis on high-stakes testing and punitive accountability. But we don’t want to discuss the social and economic instability in so many kids’ lives. Maybe it’s easier to just blame a kid for failing a test than to take collective responsibility for every child’s well being.

The next challenge then is to authentically involve young people as real partners in their education. For so many youth and particularly low-income youth of color, we find they experience public education as something that happens to them. A young man recently wrote a powerful op ed in the Washington Post about his public school education that illustrates this disparity pretty sharply.

3) Take us through a day in your life.

We have an open floor plan and we’re full of enthusiastic creative youth energy roughly from 12-8PM. My days can be meetings with staff either 1:1 or as a team, meetings/calls with board members, board committees, meetings with funders, partners, neighbors. I also carve time to think and write. You probably see me a lot at White Electric (my second office). Evenings and weekends I unwind by running, swimming, or dancing (salsa).

4) Give us your vision for where New Urban Arts will be in 5 years.

First, my vision is that New Urban Arts becomes reasonably secure in our new home. We’re in the home stretch of major capital campaign to get to that point.

More broadly, we want to do great local work and be nationally significant. Small Giants is a book that’s influenced my thinking about being both small AND great. We don’t want to be the McDonalds or Walmart of youth arts mentoring. Instead, we’re going deeper with our two core constituents: Providence youth and the local artists who mentor them.

We also want to do whatever we can to help lift our field. As a national leader in arts and youth development, we’re also doing more consulting and advising work. We’re in an exciting partnership with Yollocalli, a Chicago-based youth arts program and locally, we’ve been working with Providence’s art teachers through the school department. In September, we’re re-launching our website and putting resources under a Creative Commons license so we can freely share our work.

5) Tell us something nobody knows about you.

I’m announcing it here publicly. I’ve officially given up on the New York Knicks. 🙁

6) Quick Hitters

Role Model: 1) My parents who have given everything for my brother and I to have success in this country. 2) Everyone in the New Urban Arts community 3) Philip Guston a successful painter willing to take a big risk in embracing political content late in his life.

Favorite Restaurant: Nick’s on Broadway, great food and great supporters of New Urban Arts.

Best Beach: Westerly’s state beach.

Best Book You’ve Read in the Last Year: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs.

Advice for the Next Jason Yoon: Enjoy the ride. This will probably be the best job of your life.
Original Article

The Providence Journal: “Playing by New Rules: Smaller programs brace for loss of federal dollars”

The Providence Journal highlights New Urban Arts as an important community organization that will lose out on funding under the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s new funding guidelines. “‘We understand that there are excellent organizations doing excellent work that will not get funding,’ said Garry Bliss, the Planning Department Employee primarily responsible for administering the grants once they are approved.”



Keenness in the Peanuts: A Reason to Create

Alumnus Emely Barroso wrote this reflection on the role of New Urban Arts in her life trajectory during her junior year in high school.


Ever since I can remember, I have always enjoyed art. Fond memories of my childhood always include coloring, playing with clay, or drawing. Art was just really fun for me for a long time. Then it happened. I remember walking through a bookstore when I saw Around the World in 45 Years, a compilation of Peanuts comic strips. I knew I had to have it. After reading it front to back, I became inspired, even infatuated, with Charles Schulz’s work. From that point on, I also knew what I wanted to do in life.

I wanted to draw.

And so I did. By the end of fifth grade, I began to get really serious about comics and sequential art. I remember my teacher had just ordered How to Draw Manga (manga is a style of drawing, also known as “Japanese comics”) by Katy Coope. The first day it came in, I borrowed it; the last week of school, I sadly returned it—weeks overdue.

I continued to draw manga throughout middle school. After middle school I joined New Urban Arts, and my world and my mind exploded there. I love it there so much! Thanks to them, I have made comics, friends, zines (self-published pieces of work), participated in Lock-Ins, performed in front of an audience, visited Boston’s Papercut Zine Library, met so many amazing people, and learned to love art in a way I never had before. I owe them all so
much and am eternally grateful for all they have done for me.

And at my school, Feinstein High School, I was asked to draw covers for the afterschool program booklet (twice!), and then I was invited to start the Feinstein High School (FHS) Zine Team as part of the afterschool program.

The FHS Zine Team is an independent, self-publishing, media club. We meet weekly and create our own publications to give out in the world. At first, I was really nervous being “the teacher”. I was on edge wondering, “Will anyone show up? Will there be a lot of people? Will they even want to stay?” To my surprise, about six or seven students and Ms. Heather, the assistant director of the afterschool program, attended. And they actually liked it, and told me they wanted to come back next week. I felt so accomplished—people enjoyed my class!
Since then, the FHS Zine Team has worked on an average of three zines per student. We also have a web site in progress ( and a collaborative zine about happy memories. I am very excited about what is in store for the FHS Zine Team as well as so very proud of all of the work they have done.

Recently, I found a new way to explore my passion. I am taking a brand new course at the Feinstein afterschool program: cartooning and anime.

So in conclusion: Why do I do art? I do art with one dream in mind. While not exactly the most noble or profound dream ever, it’s the reason why I pick up a pencil or pen every day. And no, it’s not to get famous or super rich. My reason for drawing is the hope that one day my art will inspire someone to do what they love. I want them to be inspired the way I was by Charles Schulz when I picked up his work. The thought of someone looking at my art and saying, “Wow! I want to do that!” is what keeps my heart a-pumpin’ and my hands wrapped around a pencil.

That is why I attend New Urban Arts, joined their Zine Team, started a Zine Team at Feinstein High, continue to make zines, comics and paintings, and just carry an excitement for possibilities in my heart.

For those reasons, I make art. And my afterschool programs fuel my desire to pursue my passion.

The Providence Journal: “Arts studio for Providence high school students receives national award”

New Urban Arts, an arts studio for Providence high school students, received a national award from First
Lady Michelle Obama at the White House Wednesday.


New Urban Arts, an arts studio for Providence high school students, received a national award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House Wednesday.

The organization is one of 15 youth arts and humanities programs to receive a 2009 Coming Up Taller Award, which is part of a national initiative that recognizes outstanding out-of-school and afterschool arts programs for children, especially students with great potential but limited resources. The organization will receive a $10,000 award.

A project of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others, Coming Up Taller honors programs that offer exceptional learning experiences in the arts and humanities that have a tangible
effect on the lives of young people.

Founded in 1997, New Urban Arts serves more than 300 high school students, 20 emerging artists and 2,000 visitors through free youth programs, artist residencies and public performances, workshops and exhibitions.

“We are honored to be recognized as one of the nation’s best arts and youth programs as a Coming Up Taller award winner,” said Jason Yoon, executive director of New Urban Arts. “This award is a testament to all of the amazing people that have contributed to our community over the past 13 years.”

While a college senior, Tyler Denmead founded New Urban Arts by encouraging emerging artists and youths to work together as collaborators and peers. “This incredible recognition affirms his vision,” Yoon said, “and will help us share what we have learned about the role that
artists can play as community resources, helping all young people succeed.”
White House Press Release

2009 Mail Art Exhibition

In 2009, Arts Mentoring Fellow Kedrin Frias curated a mail art project. In this video, he reads a poem over images of the 2×2 inch square tiles that were designed by over thirty members of our studio community. Kedrin is also a former artist mentor and alumni of New Urban Arts’ youth program.

Rhode Island Monthly: “6 Questions: New Urban Arts”

Rhode Island Monthly asks six questions about New Urban Arts.


1 WHO New Urban Arts.

2 WHAT The after-school art mentorship program matches Providence high-schoolers with local college students and artists to work on creative projects from painting and sculpting to sewing and photography.

3 WHERE The studio/gallery on Westminster Street contains a darkroom, computer lab and silk screening room. Every inch is used for creating and displaying the students’ art — the open work room doubles as a performance space for Youth Open Mic nights and student fashion shows.

4 WHEN Founded in 1997, the studio is filled year-round, drawing about
thirty students during its October to May after-school sessions. In the summer, students apply for paid internships or attend open studio hours to tackle projects they may not have had time for during the school months.

5 HOW The staff looks at each student’s creative background to match them with the most appropriate mentor.

6 WHY All you need to hear is the studio filled with lively chatter, scratching pencils, swishing paint brushes and the grinding gears of youthful imagination to see the program’s success. As Executive Director Jason Yoon says, “The students are goal-oriented, passion-oriented,
independent and very active learners.” 

Design Sponge: “Interview with Artist Mentor Fellow, Peter Hocking”

Founding Board Chair and Artist Mentor Fellow, Peter Hocking, talks with Felice Cleveland about New Urban Arts.


During my first semester of grad school at RISD in the Art + Design Education Department (with a focus on Community Arts) I was enrolled in a class called Digital Diary. Each week we met at New Urban Arts and taught/mentored/played with a group of high school students on the subject of Digital Photography. We loaned them a digital camera for the semester and we taught them various tricks and held informal critiques and slowly learned about the students through the photographs they took each week. The students who barely answered the question about which grade they were in the first week, a few weeks in were describing in detail their friends from school, their homes, their siblings and the streets of Providence—all illustrated through their photographs.

I was sold on Community Arts before encountering New Urban Arts, but all the time I spent there just continued to cement for me how important the out-of-school/community element is education and also to personal and social well-being. Peter Hocking generously answered some of my questions about New Urban Arts and their innovative programming. Basically it all boils down to the fact that students can be artists and leaders and the studio is really their space. (Thank you Peter and Sarah!)

When I tell people I studied “Community Arts,” I am often faced with a questioning look or a blank stare. How would you define that term?

PH: I think the blank stare is related to the ambiguity of the term – and a general problem with defining how “community arts practices” differ from traditional art practices and art education. Those who become involved with community-based arts program intuitively understand that the goals and aspirations of such program dramatically differ from established and mainstream arts efforts. Because of funding mechanisms and politics, the implied critique of such programs – such as the exclusion of broad members of communities and the elitism of the arts and art education – are minimized in order to secure the funding necessary to proceed with important community-based programs.

In my experience, Community Arts programs tend to be concerned with the inclusion (in the arts) of all people – regardless of traditional inclusion, myths about “talent,” or the hierarchy of styles and tastes that define the elite art markets, museums, and art education programs. Community Arts programs often seek to cultivate creative practice in participants – rather than being solely focused on notions of aesthetic excellence or training.

What is your involvement with New Urban Arts?

PH: I was the founding board chair from 1997-2001. For the past two years, I have been one of two Artist Mentor Fellows – which means that I have been working with staff and Artist Mentors to support the practice, professional development and learning of Art Mentors (teachers) in the program.

What are some of the projects that are happening right now at New Urban Arts?

PH: The center of New Urban Arts’ program is the Studio Program – which runs afterschool from 3 PM to 7 PM between October and May. This program provides 4-8 workshops each day for high school students and provides a context for Art Mentors and students to build rich learning relationships. Many other on-going projects grow from this effort – such as the annual ‘zine, Flip; the all-night Art Lock-In, which happens during April school vacation; Open Mic programs for local youth to read and perform; and quarterly gallery shows for youth and Art Mentors.

In addition to this activity, New Urban Arts also runs a Summer Inquiry Project, which allows a dozen high school students to work intensely with Art Mentors and visiting artists for six weeks each summer. The Creative Conversation Series provides a venue for local creative practitioners to discuss their practice and process in an open and educational way.

One of the exciting dimensions of New Urban Arts is that new projects grow organically each year from the specific interests and vibrancy of the community.

What is the role of Community Arts (and specifically NUA) in Providence?

PH: I think Community Arts programs are growing in Providence and are beginning to be understood as an important part of the artistic diversity of the city. While traditional venues for the arts remain a vital part of Providence, I believe that Community Arts programs are beginning to increase participation in all arts programs because they are welcoming to people with a broad range of experiences in the arts. They also cultivate relationships across difference and experience – enabling unusual conversations to emerge.

How is art at NUA different from art that these students receive in school?

PH: New Urban Arts operates more like a professional studio – enabling learners and practitioners to follow an idea, impulse or line of inquiry in a way that enables discovery and unanticipated learning. Most art curriculums are focused on teaching a curriculum of skills – regardless of context or the particular needs and interests of learners. While school-based arts education programs have tremendous value for students wishing to pursue post-secondary education in the arts, they can emphasize technique over creative process. Community Arts programs, especially for students who are also receiving school-based arts education, allow learners to elaborate on the content that matters to them and to begin the process of connecting their creative skills with other areas in their life – for example, applying creative problem solving to questions that may not immediately call for creativity.

How has NUA grown and changed throughout the years?

PH: An amazing thing about New Urban Arts is that it’s deepened its practice without fundamentally changing its intentions. The aspects of the program that I’ve described above have become more effective through a strong oral history and a broadly agreed upon culture of sharing learning and practice. New Urban Arts reflects a culture in which people are supported to succeed, but also enabled to take risks and to fail. This open spirit allows for the program to grow and evolve without having to make radical or dramatic turns and shifts. Consequently, the space remains inviting and safe for a variety of participants – both learners and teachers.

Where is NUA headed?

PH: The organization has been in the process of strategic planning for the past year and will be publishing the plan in the next few months. It doesn’t point the organization in dramatically new directions, but helps to grow and build upon the assets ad strengths of our model. In addition, we continue to think about and develop strategies for sharing our approach and what we know about community arts with people outside the organization.
Original Article