Celebrate Black History Month Through the Arts

With Black History Month upon us, we celebrate the contributions, activism, culture, and experience of African Americans. Many of our artists at Young Audiences have designed performances and assemblies to connect students with African American history and develop an in-depth understanding of the unique stories, struggles, and accomplishments of the past and the present. The following are just a few of the many talented artists available to bring a meaningful connection to African American history into your school.

Black History Month
Pianist Kevin Gift

Kevin Gift introduces renown jazz pianists from Thelonius Monk and Art Tatum to Keith Jarrett in his assembly, Jazz Piano Masters. Students learn not only about the important contributions these musicians made to American music, but they also experience how improvisation can make practicing anything more enjoyable and personally satisfying.

Black History Month
Actress Debra Mims


Debra Mims
has been an actress for over thirty years and was an arts producer at PBS for fourteen years. With additional training in dance, she received a BFA in Theatre Performance from Marygrove College in Detroit, Michigan. She has performed at the Georgetown Theatre Company, the Children’s Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Detroit-Windsor Dance Company.

In My Grandmother Told Me: A Tribute to African-American Women, Debra uses monologues, poetry, and song to tell tales of days past and of courageous Black women and their struggles to be free, to vote, and to get an education.

Professional spoken word artist and slam poet Femi the DriFish uses his artistry to encourage his listeners to discover their own unique voices and identities in his writings, performances, and teachings. His poetry performance, Write On, Then Say Word! is a spoken word/slam poetry journey through the various reasons to write and perform. Throughout the assembly, Femi shows students that they can draw subject matter for poetry from their identity and history.

Black History Month
Poet Femi the DriFish

Young Audiences' Sun

Schedule artists and programming to celebrate Black History Month by visiting our website.

YA’s Expanded Summer Arts and Learning Academy Kicks Off Today!

This morning, we kicked off our expanded Summer Arts and Learning Academy – a free, five week program immersing 900 City students in a variety of art forms taught by 36 locally-based professional artists. The full-day program welcomes students grades K-5, encouraging imagination, creation and expression through the arts, such as painting, songwriting, spoken word poetry, dance, piano, singing, visual art, sound production, playwriting, fiber art, and filmmaking.

Our kickoff this morning was a blast – welcoming students and their parents to the Academy’s four sites with high-energy performances, live music, and vibrant interactive art demonstrations – giving them a preview of the truly unique and empowering experiences to come throughout the next five weeks.

Sankofa and Steve Cyphers kick off the Summer Arts and Learning Academy at Fort Worthington Elementary School.
Sankofa with YA roster artist and percussionist Steve Cyphers (far right) kicking off the Summer Arts and Learning Academy at Fort Worthington Elementary School.

Due to last year’s success; with academic gains by students drawing from 93 different city schools—the district asked us to expand the Academy to four sites: Thomas Jefferson Elementary, William Pinderhughes Elementary, Gardenville Elementary and Fort Worthington Elementary.

Working with kids as they discover passions, refine creative processes and integrate arts in their everyday learning is an inspirational experience we and our Teaching Artists look forward to every year. We spoke with a few participating Teaching Artists about their plans and why the Summer Arts Academy is such a great opportunity for students and artists:

Scott Paynter, reggae singer:

I wanted to teach at this year’s Summer Arts and Learning Academy to gain more experience working with Baltimore’s greatest resource…it’s children. My art form helps students express themselves through lyrics, it introduces them to cultures and people they’ve never encountered before, and it brings life to a classroom environment. Music is like a force of nature. It’s everywhere you are if you pay attention.”

Bridget Cavaiola, Baltimore Improv Group:

This is such a unique experience to provide our students with collaborative and engaging arts experiences that they may not get to during the school year. The mood and energy are contagious as you get to watch the students engage themselves in something in which they have passion.”

Alden Phelps, musician:

My focus has always been on playing with words and the joy of language. Language is the foundation of how we communicate and function as human beings. Students who practice manipulating language, expanding their vocabulary, using rhymes, and counting syllables will better succeed in their regular academic work. Creative thinking opens up new pathways in our brains. There’s also a wonderful freedom when a student can express an idea creatively. They synthesize their academic knowledge with skill in the arts, such as using color or figurative language, and the result is far more engaging to them.”

YA roster artist and professional dancer Valerie Branch (left) leading the kickoff at William Pinderhughes Elementary.

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Students will imagine, create and express themselves through the arts, with a chance to concentrate on two art forms. The students even show-off their talents at Artscape, at pop-up performances in mobile art galleries around the city and at the August 5 final culminating event. We can’t wait to see the students perform!

After this morning’s successful kick-off event, led by teaching artists Valerie Branch and Sean Roberts, at William Pinderhughes Elementary, one parent said:

“I am just so excited to get to see my child perform soon. Seeing what the [teachers and artists] did just now, I know they are in trusted hands. It made me look at my daughter and think yes! This is going to be different, we are so excited! She LOVES art! I can’t wait for the workshops too!”

Young Audiences’ Summer Arts and Learning Academy is funded by Baltimore City Public Schools, The Abell Foundation, The Family League of Baltimore with the support of the Mayor and the City Council of Baltimore, The Alvin and Fanny B. Thalheimer Foundation and individual contributions to Young Audiences. All participants are students at a Title I Baltimore City Public School.

Learn more about the Summer Arts and Learning Academy.

I Am Baltimore

by Ken’Niya Baltimore, Young Audiences Summer Arts Academy student

My name is Ken’Niya Baltimore. I am 13 years old and in the 8th grade at Henderson Hopkins. During the summer, my mother told me that I was accepted into Young Audiences’ Summer Arts Academy. My face was puzzled because I had no idea I was even signed up. But after I started to learn more about the program, I could not wait for it to start. Before it started, I would take my 5-year-old sister to school and come home. My father was at work, my mother was in school, so I was at home alone, watching TV, bored out of my life.

Before I started the program I did not know there were celebrities here in Baltimore that should be in Hollywood with Taraji P. Henson or Beyoncé — artists like Femi the DriFish or Black Root. These were my teachers!

When I first arrived at the Academy I did not want to talk out a lot or share any ideas that I had in groups. I took poetry, theatre, and hip hop dance.  In my hip hop dance class, I had to dance differently in front of the class which I was not comfortable.  I had to realize that I need to get myself together and be more confident.  Confident.  That word helped me out a lot.  In all the classes I took I had that word in my mind — I kept telling myself that I can do it. I can do it just keep going. In dance class, I told myself I cannot do it, but I knew that, in life, I will always have to try something new so I danced a solo at the Academy’s final performance!

My poetry class was my favorite. Femi the DriFish was my favorite teacher because he helped me a lot through my writing by giving me examples and showing me his awesome poems. The most challenging and rewarding thing I did in the Academy was my poem “I am Baltimore.” It was emotional because of what was going on my city. I wanted to quit and switch classes but I realized I was the oldest in the class and the younger kids were having the same problem. So I told myself if you quit, they will too. So I pushed myself and everyone else, and made sure we were organized and ready to perform.

I am Baltimore by KenNiya Baltimore

I performed that poem at Artscape.

When the program ended I did not want to leave. I wanted to cry and stay longer. I asked the teachers, “Can I come back next year and help as a youth worker?” I already knew that wasn’t an option because I would be in the 9th grade and too old for the program, but I told my parents I would find a way to get back there. This experience has impacted my life so much. I now feel great about speaking to a crowd. I feel confident about my tomorrow. I am going to attend City College or Baltimore School for the Arts. I am going to be an actress, writer, producer, and lawyer…and maybe in my spare time a singer.

I hope many kids have the same experience I did at the Summer Arts Academy; it will change their lives too.

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Hands-on learning through arts integration

Patterson Park 2015 programs 8

By Christa Huber, Arts Integration Coach, Patterson Park Public Charter School

I have been with Patterson Park Public Charter School for six years in various teaching positions in Title I, third grade, the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, and am now the school’s arts integration coach. This year has been a learning process, but also such a positive experience working in partnership with Young Audiences and Arts Every Day.

It was a personal goal for me to transition Patterson Park Public Charter School into becoming an arts-integrated school. I wanted to maximize our artist-in-residence programs with outside artists as much as I possibly could this school year. We believe in the strength of the impression that residencies make upon students and teachers. All of the work that comes out of a residency versus a day-long field trip makes such a difference. Residency programs allow students more time to engage with and learn from the artists. This exposure to artists is also important for the teachers because it provides a longer period of professional development so that they can learn skills and strategies that they can carry out in the future.

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One student performs a poem for his peers as a part of the residency program with Young Audiences spoken word poet Femi the Drifish.

We had a fantastic variety of Young Audiences artists out to our school this year. These artists included: spoken word poet Femi the Drifish, ceramic visual artist Amanda PellerinBaltimore Improv Group, Flamenco dancer Anna Menendez, and more. These programs were made possible through Access for All grant funding from Young Audiences and funding from Arts Every Day.

We spread the residency experiences across different grade levels of the school. It was very helpful having the Young Audiences artist and program information online because it allowed me to search for artists that matched and linked to the content areas that our teachers were looking for.

There were a variety of stand-out experiences from our residencies, but here are a few:

  • Femi the Drifish worked with our middle school students in Language Arts. A great thing about that residency was the response we received from students who typically are not comfortable with performing in front of people. By their culminating performance, those students in particular were the ones to stand up and share their poetry with strength.
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Third-grade student painting a mosaic tile which was added to the final mural depicting what the class had learned about Ancient Egypt.
  • The third grade worked with Amanda Pellerin to create an Ancient Egyptian mosaic. This piece of work related to their study of the ancient civilization. Mr. O’Connell, our third grade science and social studies teacher, was blown away by how Amanda challenged the students to do their best work in a really positive way. We’re very excited to have that piece of artwork as a permanent fixture in our school.
  • Anna Menendez brought some of the Spanish culture into our school. Some of our middle school students had just returned from a trip to Spain during spring break, so this residency was another way to connect with what they learned and saw on their travels. It also provided a relatable experience for the students who didn’t have the chance to travel to Spain.

I have personally seen the impact that residencies have had upon teachers compared to other arts-related experiences. I believe that having artists at Patterson Park helped our teachers develop a great deal. Artists exposed teachers to new art forms that they may not have had any experience with, such as spoken word poetry or improvisation, and gave our teachers opportunities to learn how to tie these art forms to the curriculum.

One of our charter school philosophies is that children learn best through hands-on activities with interdisciplinary and semantic learning models. Arts integration is at the core of our values and it naturally makes sense for Patterson Park.