Spotlight: YA/YA, Inc.

**This is the first in a series of spotlights that I will be doing on each of the organizations that I have visited.  Stay tuned for a new spotlight each day this week!**

One of the "YA/YAs," exhibiting the corset-like tree costume he is creating for a production of Peter and the Wolf

Program format: Art studio, workshops, gallery, mentorship and employment for youth

Art form(s): Visual arts (painting, sculpture, jewelry, costume, etc)

Location: New Orleans, LA

Community served: Youth of New Orleans

Website: http://www.yayainc.com

Mission: To empower creative young people to become successful adults. We do this by providing educational experiences in the arts and entrepreneurship to New Orleans-area youth, and by fostering and supporting their ambitions.

YA/YA (Young Aspirations/Young Artists) is a youth-focused organization that provides a productive, positive space for and encourages the development of youth through visual art.  Their model is primarily focused on providing opportunities for participants to hone their artistic skills (through workshops and open studio time) and professional development workshops teaching the youth how to market themselves as artists, among other things.

One of the unique facets of the program is the way in which they have created an intentional community among their artists, both current and alumni.  Almost all of the staff at YA/YA were once student artists themselves, giving them a unique ability to connect with and mentor the youth who come through the program now.  YA/YA operates on a guild system, enabling students to advance to higher levels of responsibility and reward as they put time and energy into the program, and as they develop their talents. Whenever a piece of work sells, the student who created it receives a percentage of the profits – a percentage that increases as the student advances in level from apprentice, to guild member, to senior guild, to resident.

In addition to the YA/YA studio, some of the staff and guild members offer programming at a number of schools around New Orleans.  They bring art classes to children and youth who often won’t receive any form of art classes otherwise.

While in New Orleans, I spent some time around the YA/YA studio and spoke with some of the staff members as well as some of the students.  While YA/YA does have an artist’s handbook which (among other things) articulates some of the rules and expectations of the artists, it was evident that the atmosphere in the space is very self-enforcing.  The youth who come there attend because they really want to be there, because they see the value in it for themselves (both as a developing artist but also in opportunities to get paid and to travel), and because they feel comfortable in the environment.  People are respectful of one another, and they remind new-comers of what types of behavior is not cool in that space.  This atmosphere is in no small part created and reinforced by the staff, who are laid-back yet strong role models for the youth.

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