DC Arts Education Alliance announces $750,000 in funding to train disconnected youth to work as theater technicians

The DC Arts Education Alliance (composed of the Theater Lab School of the Dramatic Arts and 16 arts partners) announced the creation of the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement, a year-long theater education and learning program technique to be launched in January 2023, in which participants will be paid to learn and work.

The Institute seeks to address two pressing challenges facing our city: 1) barriers to meaningful career paths for young people ages 18-24 in DC communities hardest hit by the pandemic, and 2) the crisis of labor in DC’s theater and entertainment industries caused by a lack of skilled technical production workers in the area. Applications for the Institute will open on July 15, 2022 and the inaugural cohort of 20 students will be notified in November.

The Share Fund, one of Washington’s most generous supporters of professional theater and youth development, provided a $500,000 matching grant for the first two years of the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement, and Congressman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced this week that she has secured $250,000 in community project funding for the pilot year in the House’s fiscal year 2023 appropriations bills. Additionally, the DC Arts Education Alliance is working to make the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement the city’s first official arts learning sponsor under the Department of Employment Services.

Seventeen of the city’s largest arts education organizations, led by The Theater Lab, Life Pieces To Masterpieces, Sitar Arts Center and Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, have partnered to train disconnected or under-engaged youth in the school and work to enter DC’s creative economy through a year-long education and apprenticeship program in technical theater, preparing them for professional careers in off-stage theater whose roles include lighting and audio engineering, set construction, scene painting, rigging and stage management. This intensive educational program will not only be free, but students will also be paid to undertake the training, removing one of the most pernicious barriers to developing professional skills, so that participants will not have to hold down full-time jobs. full in order to survive while undergoing a rigorous training program.

Embedded in the Institute’s curriculum, and unique for a workforce development program, is arts-based social-emotional training and support drawn from the vast experience of DC Arts partners. Education Alliance in working with young people whose opportunities have been limited by systemic racism, poverty, and educational challenges. The Alliance organizations collectively serve more than 15,000 students each year and employ more than 450 teaching artists and more than 125 full-time and part-time staff across the eight wards.

“This program is unique in its design to care for the whole student,” according to Amy Moore, executive director of Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, the Alliance organization serving as the Institute’s fiscal sponsor. “Collaborative programming brings the best of what local arts education organizations have to the table and establishes a clear, comprehensive and sustainable path to employment for students who have not had the opportunity to grow professionally. in one of the fastest growing industries in the city.”

There is an immediate and critical need within the DC community for young people to benefit from opportunities for social and emotional healing, to reconnect with the community, and to re-engage in meaningful work and study following disruptions related to the pandemic at school, in the family and in the community. COVID-19 has erased ten years of progress in reducing the number of young people disconnected from school or work in a matter of months.¹ Collective impact strategies, especially those that focus on “the child as a whole”, have proven to be very effective in working with disconnected young people. ²

“By bringing together arts education organizations from here in Washington, DC, each bringing their unique strengths, we share this powerful mission and can bring a new culture of the environment to learning programs,” said Mary Brown, founder and executive director of Life Pieces To Masterpieces, a non-profit organization that uses artistic expression to develop character and leadership, unlock potential, and prepare boys and young black men to transform their lives and communities.

The Institute has been embraced by the professional theater community in Washington as a solution to a critical problem in the local entertainment industry.

“The Arts Institute for Creative Advancement is a workforce development program that will solve a crisis facing nearly every professional theater in the district: a shortage of production workers who have the skills to support DC theatrical productions,” said J Theater General Manager David Lloyd. Olson. “If left unaddressed, this labor shortage will cripple DC’s nationally renowned theater industry. The Institute will be a boon to DC’s thriving creative economy.”

Theater Washington, the service organization for the region’s vibrant theater community, applauds the effort as “a citywide training program to reawaken necessary and vital connections between students and the arts. And most importantly, connect them with workforce development pathways they might not otherwise know exist in their communities,” says Amy Austin, CEO and President.

With over 1,000 hours of paid apprenticeship and on-the-job training leading to nationally recognized certifications in lighting and electrical, audio engineering and rigging, the Institute is looking for young adults who want to learn a craft that has both physical and creative components and requires a high degree of commitment. The program is open to individuals over the age of 18 who have not completed high school, as well as those with diplomas, GEDs, and some (limited) post-secondary experience, and no prior theater experience or training is not required.

“We are excited to create and implement a technical theater program that will be accessible to young adults who have encountered barriers in traditional learning environments,” said Deb Gottesman, Co-Executive Director of The Theater Lab. “And, at the same time, we look forward to doing our part to diversify a high-paying, high-demand field that is currently over 80% white.”

Members of the DC Arts Education Alliance, which provide training, mentoring and/or learning opportunities for the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement, are:

Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, Children’s Chorus of Washington, CityDance, Critical Exposure, Dance Institute of Washington, DC Youth Orchestra Program, Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, Levine Music, The MusicianShip, Life Pieces To Masterpieces, Project Create, Sitar Arts Center , The Theater Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, Young Playwrights’ Theatre, The Viva School, Words Beats & Life and 826DC.

For more information about the program, visit www.dcartsedalliance.org/arts-institute or contact [email protected]

The Theater Lab is a returning member of the Catalog for Philanthropy: Greater Washington Class of 2022/2023, which recognizes the region’s top nonprofits and celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2022. Theater Lab directors received the prestigious National Capital Region Community Foundation Linowes Leadership Award for their efforts to improve the metropolitan community through accessible arts education. Additionally, The Theater Lab has been recognized with a Mayor’s Art Award for Innovation in the Arts and by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities as one of the 50 “Best Arts-Based Programs and the humanities in the country serving young people beyond school hours.” For more information, visit theatrelab.org.

Photo credit: Kara Turner, The Theater Lab

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