Providence Monthly: New Urban Arts Keeps Inspiring

After 20 years of outside-the-box artistic education for city teens, New Urban Arts shows no signs of slowing down


When you step into New Urban Arts’ sunny, open space on Westminster Street during programming hours, the first clear impression is its upbeat, active vibe. Cheerful chatter fills the air as young people take part in myriad activities; some are stretching in yoga poses, others are drawing with colored pencils; two are painting an old sidewalk container that used to dispense The Phoenix and have gathered what appear to be materials for some type of collage. A youthful, creative, joyful feeling is all-permeating and infectious.

Each day from 3-7pm, students from local high schools are invited to New Urban Arts to pursue whatever artistic activities they wish to explore in eight core mediums, including visual arts, fashion design, music performance and recording, darkroom photography, filmmaking and printmaking. All supplies are free to use and available without asking, and volunteer artist mentors are on hand to guide the process as needed and to answer questions.

“We’ve filled up a building with as many creative tools as possible and artists who know how to use them,” says Executive Director Daniel Scheifer, who estimates about a 10 to 1 ratio of students to artists on any given day. An average of 70 students will show up (it varies seasonally), mainly coming from Classical, Central and Providence Career and Technical Schools thanks to proximity, but almost entirely from Providence.

Daniel confides that the true goal of the program is much less about art than it is about relationship building: “If students want to just come and socialize, we’re fine with that. We affirm the agency of young people.”

To the casual observer, it appears to be working beautifully. Collaboration, teamwork and innovation sprout up organically in every corner of the building despite – or perhaps thanks to – the lack of structured activities. When we toured the newly finished downstairs level, kids were cutting out pieces of fabric to create tie-dyed outfits, which they then modeled or draped onto mannequins. A group sat crowded in a little recording studio with one of the mentors, cheering on the performance of their friend who had just laid down a new track. A couple of students were by themselves, playing with graphic design software and computer games. Some were sitting on a circle of
couches, chatting as they thumbed through books.

NUA also provides after-school snacks, bus passes and homework assistance. Daniel started volunteering there in 2007 as a Studio Study Buddy, joined the staff in 2010 and moved into the president role about two and a half years ago. In 2011, the organization relocated from a smaller space a couple of buildings down, and is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. When students are ready, NUA provides support for the college application process and assistance in putting together portfolios and planning for the next stage of life – whatever that entails. “Life After School Coordinator” Mara O’Day spearheaded the recent fourth annual “Not College Fair,” with 12 local vendors on hand to talk about apprenticeships, certifications, internships, licensing and other options for students who will not immediately pursue a college degree.

Because NUA gears all of its fundraising efforts towards keeping programming free for participants and relies on federal funding for 20 percent of its budget, potential federal cuts to arts organizations are concerning. Adults who participated in NUA programming as high schoolers recall that it made an often pivotal difference in their lives at a critical developmental stage, providing a safe haven and space for their creativity to flourish. Individual support will help ensure that this sunny, vibrant space is available for generations to come.

New Urban Arts
705 Westminster Street

Original Article

Call for Artist Mentors

Become An Artist Mentor at New Urban Arts

Each fall, New Urban Arts selects 20 Artist Mentors to participate in our interdisciplinary art studio on Westminster Street, across from Classical and Central High schools. Artist Mentors volunteer October 2015 through May 2016 to mentor high school students in developing a creative practice they can sustain throughout their lives. Arts mentoring at New Urban Arts is a wonderful opportunity for artists and educators to learn how to effectively work with high school students in a community setting. In 2009, New Urban Arts was honored as one of the top youth arts programs in the country on behalf of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, receiving the nation’s highest honor for the field of out-of-school time arts and humanities programs.

Mentor Applications can be downloaded here. 

In the past, Artist Mentors have been college students, graduate students, and artists from the community. Because New Urban Arts emphasizes peer-to-peer and participatory learning in our studio, Artist Mentors must be able to connect on a personal and artistic level with teenagers.  

Artist Mentors are nurturing, resourceful, flexible under pressure, open to taking risks, willing to learn, and able to commit 6 hours per week during an entire school year. Artist Mentors participate in a yearlong professional development program to support their growth as an artist and educator and are required to attend two weekend retreats held in the Fall and Winter.

We also offer Artist Mentor positions through off-site work-study programs for eligible university students. 

This year, New Urban Arts is looking for artist mentors in the following disciplines: drawing, painting, fashion design, sewing, printmaking, screen printing, sculpture, installation, film/animation, graphic design, web design, song writing, music, sound recording, radio, painting, drawing, poetry, mixed media, spoken word performance, digital and darkroom photography, dance, yoga, mixed media, bookmaking and textiles. We are not limited to these media and are open to accommodate other media in our studio. 

2015-16 Artist Mentor Applications now available at To have an application mailed to you, please contact New Urban Arts at 401.751.4556 or  Applications are due September 4,  2015.

“I first came to the studio to share what I know about making comics.  Now it feels like a second home. I have a new understanding of what it means to be a creative person.”   – Melissa Mendes, Artist Mentor, 2006-2008