Every Saturday morning our High School students get a work out. For the first hour and a half it is a work out of their acting muscles. Led by actor, director, teacher (and all around gift to these kids), Gavin Whitt. Gavin sets the bar high and then insists that they clear it. They do for him and for themselves. Gavin’s attention to the smallest gesture, his insistence that each actor dig deeper and give more is teaching these young artists not just to entertain, but how to inspire; how to share truth with an audience. Every week, watching them work, it’s the best part of my week. I wish everyone could see it because these young people’s hunger to improve, paired with Gavin’s generous passion and wisdom is a reason to get out of bed and fight the good fight.
After they are warmed up and pushed to their edges, Natalie, Geo and I dive in with them for a couple of hours working on their piece for this year’s Fringe Festival. We play a lot. Mess around with words, ideas, pictures and movement. We ask big questions about the world they are growing into and look for the human stories that can express that struggle. The kids are so generous with each other, they trust each other and themselves. They trust us (which feels like the highest of honors). We just have fun.
It is typical for non-profits to produce an annual report for their supporters. Two years ago, we decided it was time for our still-young selves to put on our big-person-pants and create one too. In researching types of annual reports, we landed on one that seemed to be exactly our style: a short, two-page, colorful celebration of our year.
First of all, our 2017 Annual Report is a letter of thanks and love, dedicated to those donors, families, organizations and more, who made our year great.
Like most of you if you were asked to boil down your year into 4 numbers, we bristle at the thought. However, these four numbers are ones we are proud of. This summer alone, which doesn’t include scholarships to our Sort of Thing, Studio, Shadow, and After School Group, we were able to do $100,000 worth of scholarships. This number does not equal the amount of scholarships we raised from donations and grants, but we are hopeful that we are able to cover these costs better as we grow!
Our program report highlights some of the activities and opportunities we were proud to have done this year. This includes our teens winning 2nd place at the inaugural Philly Youth Theatre Fest, our first ever summer camp visual arts intensive (which premiered our first ever public art installation). Download the whole report to learn even more. This is the work – this is where – your support goes.
There are other items on the Annual Report, so please download it for yourself, but I wanted to take a couple of moments to talk through the Financial Report.
Thanks to your generosity, we were able to end 2017 with a surplus. It’s hard to see in the bar graphs, which represent our last 5 years of financial data, but 2017 was the first time in the last 3 years where we operated with an ending surplus. Most of this surplus went into paying ourselves back from those losses. As you can see from our income, we rely on our tuition payments for a bulk of our revenue. This is something we are looking to change as we grow and move forward. Our work will reach more youth if we gain more individual and foundation support. If you look at the expense side, we spend most of our money on the programs we run, directly impacting the youth and families we serve. We also know that having a robust infrastructure means that we will have a quality program, so we invest in the people who administer the organization as well. We operate on slim margins, but we are hopeful that the trends we are seeing will mean continued healthy growth for years to come.
Thanks to all who have been a part of this growth and who continue to invest in our good work!
One of the most popular questions we have about our Winter Sort of Thing shows is how we pick the themes and topics we’ll explore in this year’s production. While our Artistic Director Brooke Sexton is mostly to credit, we all get to mine and explore and enjoy (as artists) the themes she thinks up.
For me, the theme of The Song of Silence is in direct relationship to the times we are living in. It takes the concept of a “wall” and then teases it out to its natural conclusion. One of the things that makes old Colliwomple a “great” town is how much activity it has. The town is situated at a popular crossroads and everyone loves coming in and out, staying for a while, and moving on. When some of the town’s young people begin to leave, seek their fame and fortune outside of Colliwomple’s borders, some of the town feared a mass migration. This fear led to the wall. For a time the safety of the isolation was welcome by the older residents. Then it became “just the way it is” until a group of kids started asking “why.”
For us, working with kids, we realize that they are the best at asking “why.” Why are things the way they are? De we have to keep doing it that way? Kids are natural dreamers and, if we listen to their dreams, we can find inspiration. For those of us in this work, these kids inspire us every day.
All of our shows are told through the lens of these young people. We think that, while many of the stories we tell with them have universal themes, there is a particular gift the audience receives from seeing the world through their eyes. This story would not be the same if it were a bunch of older people, stuck in their ways, full of fear themselves. We definitely trade on the passion, and unearned confidence of these youth to see that a better world is possible – in Colliwomple – and here too. This isn’t a group of actors pretending to be young, this experience is watching young people, giving them agency, and watching them succeed with a huge story. As a program, we are so proud of the ways in which they take risks, go big, and learn new skills. As a performance, we think that a wide audience will enjoy watching a story well told, and relevant for the times we live in.
Check out this new video from one of our teen Shadow cast members:
I am excited to introduce myself as a marketing intern for Yes! And… Collaborative Arts! I am completing my internship through Drexel University, where I am a sophomore Communication major. Any promotional material for YACA that you see throughout the fall and winter seasons may have been designed by me. I am also working to help make sure that events run smoothly and successfully.
Not only am I interested in marketing and PR for nonprofits, but I also have a long history of involvement in the arts that drew me right to YACA and its message. When I was young, I spent my time jumping between theatre, vocal performance and dance. In the past few years, I have picked up cosplay and costume design as a way to keep myself connected to other creators as well as my own creativity. I can attest to how just important the arts are to a developing child, and how collaborating with other artists can help them cultivate relationships that build into the future.
I am also a strong advocate for social justice, which makes YACA something that I am proud to be a part of. Growing up in Houston, I have lived around and experienced incredibly diverse communities with beautiful and unique ways of expressing themselves through the arts, and I feel that this is a wonderful away of contributing.
Hopefully I will get to witness the hard work of the YACA campers for myself soon. In the meantime, I am eager to learn all that I can about marketing for nonprofits as well as more about the positive impact that the arts have on young lives.
Last night, I had the pleasure of sitting with a group of our key staff members. Our key staff members are, by and large, young artists with a passion for young people. They are seasonal and part-time, but 10 of them came out to make our company better. We were led by 2 board members, one of which a founding member of Yes! And… Collaborative Arts and the other a founding board member. Together we talked for 3 hours about our work, our commitment to diversity and how to describe that commitment, as well as ways to make our programs stronger for both staff and kids.
In the middle of their discussion, I thought back to a conversation I had with a Summer Camp parent a few weeks ago at the Mt. Airy Village Fair. Her child had been a part of Imagination Camp in the past, and this year was due to move up to our middle school Theatre Camp. She wound up not registering and sending her child because their friend couldn’t sign up for a multi-week program and the child wanted to attend with their friend.
Sidenote: If you’re not familiar with our programs, our K-4th grade Imagination Camp is offered in week-long sessions. Our middle school Theatre Camp is 2 or 3 week-long sessions.
Like many parents, she inquired as to why we require multi-week sessions for middle schoolers and I gave a quick answer: Well, we’re not child care.
I don’t have anything against good quality child care and I typically don’t like defining us by what we are not, but I like how clear and unequivocal the statement is. We have worked for close to 20 years on developing a pedagogy and praxis for using the arts to empower children and youth. (We even named it: “Tribe Centered Learning.”)
Through this pedagogy, we program our day, our week, and our multi-week sessions to be age-appropriate, challenging, arts-driven explorations of community, imagination, and equality. This is not simply child care.
We work, not only to give these youth a voice, but to train them to use their voice, tell their stories, and find their power. We work so that young people who come to us for a few weeks in the summer will grow together, learn about how they fit into community, and have agency to change the world around them.
We hope, that by requiring them to join us for multiple weeks in the summer, they will leave hungry to continue with us year-round; that the relationships they build with each other and our amazing staff compels them to join Winter Sort of Thing, or After School Group, and (eventually) Shadow Company. We are seeking life-long connections and so we are not just child care.
We make sure no child is left behind because they can’t afford it. This summer, it was to the tune of $100,000 in “camperships.” It’s also why we ask families who can afford it, to help us in our mission by pitching in financially so we can keep our population economically diverse.
I am making an open invitation to you, no matter if you got here because you are an internet browser, or Facebook story clicker, or blog junkie: JOIN US! Join us by making a contribution today. Our program model needs your assistance to make it work for all youth. A gift of $315 can give one child a week of programming. Can you help us continue in our mission today?