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learn / 2014

Empowering the Future of Los Angeles Creative Economy through Arts Mentorships

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by DSTL Arts & The Partnership for Los Angeles' Creative Education (The PLACE)

We at DSTL Arts are expanding our current Arts Mentorship Program's capacity, offering art workshops & establishing our own art gallery.

Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We at DSTL Arts are expanding our current Arts Mentorship Program’s capacity, offering art workshops & establishing our own art gallery.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA

What is your idea/project in more detail?

DSTL Arts is a nonprofit arts mentorship organization that teaches, inspires and hires creative, at-risk youth ages 16–21 years old. Through individualized mentorships with volunteer artists, entrepreneurial-skills workshops, and career guidance, our youth learn to master their artistic craft and build work-readiness skills that will help them pursue careers within the creative economy or otherwise. DSTL Arts is looking to expand it’s current programming and reach by establishing a larger pool of volunteer Arts-Mentors, growing our student enrollment, and producing arts workshops, poetry readings and art exhibits within the LA community in order to grow and enrich the creative community our students and families currently participate in.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

DSTL Arts has been in operation for the past year and a half providing mentorship in the arts to a cohort of 8 creative, at-risk youth, and this grant will help us expand our capacity and infrastructure by establishing a central gallery space that will act as a hub for managing student mentorships, the training of new Arts-Mentor volunteers, and the offering of diverse arts-programming and arts workshops to the general community.

Having a centralized location will allow us to add more structured, arts and entrepreneurial-skills workshops to our current Arts Mentorship Program curriculum, including the incorporation of differentiated-learning and multi-modal teaching strategies that will benefit our current program’s effectiveness. Plus, by being able to coordinate a universal training program for new volunteers at a central location, we will be able to ensure a high quality experience for all our participants, Arts-Mentor volunteers and students alike, with the potential of being able to deploy Arts-Mentor volunteers into the community to provide our Arts Mentorship Program within other community centers.

By simultaneously growing our partnerships with schools, teachers, and other community-based organizations in and around Central LA, East LA and Watts, we will generate a larger pool of student participants who will learn basic work-readiness skills and have the opportunity to explore the arts-sector as a career. For example, we are currently in early stages of establishing a new partnership with Youth Policy Institute’s Pico-Union Community Center where we hope to bring our Arts Mentorship Program to their space, along with Arts-Mentor volunteers, in order to support their current work-readiness program’s goals and outcomes of preparing youth for postsecondary education and career exploration. Additionally, with referrals we expect to receive from teachers whom we’ve worked with in this past year at Youth Opportunities High School in Watts and Media Arts and Entertainment Design High School in East LA, we hope to be ready to grow our student impact and provide a central location for orienting newly referred mentorship students.

Lastly, with a centralized art gallery, we will be able to provide all our students, both future and current, with a venue to display their artwork, perform, and engage with future employers and arts enthusiasts.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

Mentorships that are individualized & well structured provide at-risk youth with benefits that impact learning & social experiences dramatically. Add Arts Education to a genuine mentorship, and you have a recipe for incredible growth in young people now & for the rest of their lives.

Mentorships lasting a minimum of 1 year have been proven to drastically reduce the chances of at-risk youth initiating in drug & alcohol abuse by up to 47%, not to mention reducing unhealthy & violent behaviors in at-risk youth by up to 33% (California Research Bureau).

Engaging, meaningful mentorships also empower young people to have higher career & educational aspirations, resulting in better school attendance (53% less likely to skip school), higher scores on standardized tests, and higher matriculation rates into postsecondary education institutions (California Research Bureau).

Arts Education programs have data that corroborate the same findings as in mentorship programs (i.e. 3 times more likely to enroll in college & earn a Bachelor’s Degree, more likely to earn a higher salary over lifetime, a stronger sense of belonging & community, etc.), with the added benefits of a 25% higher likelihood of performing community service in the future, and stronger analytical & problem solving skills that relate directly to the workforce (National Endowment for the Arts).

Arts Education programming wholly compliments a solid mentorship program. In providing the combined service of arts education & mentorship to at-risk youth, we are currently building immediate capacity in our students by teaching them leadership skills, problem-solving, conflict resolution, work-readiness, entrepreneurial methodology, and more. These skills will benefit our students greatly when they begin to establish their careers now & in the near future.

Additionally, since our youth will be primarily working with volunteer Arts-Mentors as we expand our services, the establishing of a tighter, connected community will benefit both generations of artists. Volunteer-oriented programs bring with them a great number of benefits to a community as well, many of which echo the benefits that at-risk youth experience from mentorship & arts-education programming, such as a sense of safety and belonging, healthier lives, etc. Overall, our Arts Mentorship Program creates an environment of learning & collaboration, safety & acceptance, goal-setting & attainment, and more for all involved.

Whom will your project benefit?

In a macro sense, our Arts Mentorship Program benefits the entire community of Los Angeles by increasing the educational and career outcomes of our students, creating connectedness amongst volunteers, young people, and all arts enthusiasts, and by providing a new cultural center where people of diverse backgrounds can come together to collaborate and participate in the arts.

However, to be more specific about our organizational impact, these are the student and volunteer enrollment target groups and goals for our Arts Mentorship Program, proposed Arts Workshops Program, and cultural events:

Arts Mentorship Program Student Enrollment Criteria: •Ages 16–21 •In-School (high school student) or Out-of-School (high school dropout or high school graduate not enrolled in college)

Students must meet at least one of the three following “at-risk” indicators •Low-Income (based on family size) •Individualized Education Plan or 504 Plan (learning or physical disability) •Current or Former Foster Youth •A combination of other “at-risk” indicators taken into consideration

Arts Mentorship Program proposed enrollment: 30 new students per year

Arts Mentorship Program Volunteer (Arts-Mentors) Criteria: •Ages 25 and up •Able to prove ability to work with underage youth (background check, etc) •Actively working as artist or in arts-sector (visual, literary, gallery, etc.)

Volunteer recruitment goal: 15 new volunteers per year

Weekly Arts Workshops Program Meeting once weekly, each workshop will be one to three consecutive sessions in duration Workshops open to general public, workshop enrollment limited to 10–12 participants per series Ages 12 to 21 (depending on topic)

Student enrollment goal: 100 students per year Volunteer instructor goal: 5 volunteers per year

Poetry Readings, Art Shows, etc. attendance goals: 1000 attendees

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Our current collaborators are individual English teachers at both Youth Opportunity High School in Watts and Alliance Media Arts and Entertainment Design High School in East Los Angeles. They currently provide student referrals and curriculum advisement. Additionally, one of our board members is principal at New Village Charter High School, an alternative high school for young women.

These current collaborators provide important insight and direction in the implementation of our current Arts Mentorship Program along with the referral of new Arts Mentorship Program students. However, we are exploring new partnerships that are currently in early stages of development, with our most current collaboration prospect being Youth Policy Institute’s Pico-Union Community Center.

In order for all our collaborations to grow and be successful, we will need funding to build out the following areas of our current program:

  1. Infrastructure for managing more student mentorships and new volunteer recruitment and training
  2. A centralized location for regular student art shows and performances
  3. Ability to hire staff that can fully dedicate time and resources for the management and implementation of all our programs and services

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Percentage of community college students completing a certificate, degree, or transfer-related program in six years
  • Youth unemployment and underemployment
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Academic Performance Index scores
  • College matriculation rates
  • Suspension and expulsion rates (Dream Metric)
  • Healthier life choices as relating to a reduction in drug and alcohol abuse and the learning of conflict resolution and problem solving skills.

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

As mentioned before, Arts Education programs and long-term, individualized mentorships have proven impacts on the life choices and skills that at-risk youth demonstrate in their lives, both during and after their involvement in these programs. Since DSTL Arts combines an arts education with mentorship and work-readiness skill building, we are confident in being able to say that we will impact the metrics listed above.

Mentorships lasting a minimum of 1 year, as ours currently do, have been proven to drastically reduce the chances of at-risk youth initiating in drug and alcohol abuse by up to 47%, not to mention reducing unhealthy and violent behaviors in at-risk youth by up to 33% (California Research Bureau).

Engaging, meaningful mentorships also empower young people to have higher career and educational aspirations, resulting in better school attendance (53% less likely to skip school), higher scores on standardized tests, and higher matriculation rates into postsecondary education institutions (California Research Bureau).

Arts Education programs have data that corroborate the same findings as in mentorship programs (i.e. 3 times more likely to enroll in college and earn a Bachelor’s Degree, more likely to earn a higher salary over lifetime, a stronger sense of belonging and community, etc.), with the added benefits of a 25% higher likelihood of performing community-service in the future, and stronger analytical and problem solving skills that relate directly to the workforce (National Endowment for the Arts). Plus, arts education programs “help close the achievement gap, improves academic skills essential for reading and language development, and advances students’ motivation to learn” with the included benefit of students being less likely to dropout of school. (Americans for the Arts)

Simply based on the current data and anecdotal evidence we’ve seen in our current students, we can confirm the data listed above by virtue that our own students exhibit higher self-worth and self-esteem, higher GPAs in both high school and college, high school graduation and career training enrollment, and a lower propensity for engaging in unhealthy or “risky” behavior.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

One of our current evaluation tools focuses on student self-assessment. We periodically ask our students to rate the following areas on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high):

  1. Self-evaluate artistic practice and skill development
  2. Self-evaluate career and educational guidance as received via our mentorship, and
  3. Evaluate the quality of the program as a whole.

The Student Self-Evaluation, as we call it, includes questions that indicate students’ self-esteem and self-worth, career and educational goals, and mentor evaluation.

Our second evaluation tool is a rubric that Arts-Mentors use to evaluate student progress and learning, ranging from “Needs Improvement” to “Proficient Understanding and Skill” with a total of four levels of measure, including the two previously mentioned. This rubric measures:

  1. Student ability to demonstrate soft skills (i.e. time management, writing and communication, problem solving and professionalism, and interviewing and presentation skills)
  2. Work-readiness skill attainment (i.e. résumé writing, artist statement, interviewing skills, and portfolio completion), and
  3. Artistic skill development as proven through a portfolio of work.

Our program measures and outcomes are:

  1. 60% of participants will complete a portfolio of artistic works and demonstrate ability to present said works to the public
  2. 60% of participants will demonstrate understanding and execution of work-readiness/soft skills (i.e. Time Management, Writing and Communication, Teamwork, Problem Solving, Professionalism, Interviewing/Presentation Skills)
  3. 60% of participants will show gains in literacy as demonstrated through written Artist Statement and other Artist Portfolio collateral
  4. 60% of participants will either show improvement in academic grades, begin the process of enrolling in school (secondary or post-secondary), improve their school attendance, or become employed (permanent or internship/apprenticeship; paid or unpaid)
  5. 75% of participants will indicate a positive program experience, artistic growth, and improved self-esteem via self-assessment tool

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Speaking from a personal level, the idea of creating an Arts Mentorship Program, and DSTL Arts as an organization, came from my own desire to provide guidance to at-risk youth who, like me at their age, were told to focus on finding a lucrative career and to enroll in 4-year colleges without being encouraged to follow their actual dreams of working in the creative sector.

Too often, in communities where the Arts are not nurtured in educational institutions and within the immediate community, young people’s dreams of being artists are crushed at a very young age out of fear and lack of understanding that the Arts is an important part of our economy.

As a child, I knew that I wanted to be an artist, but because I was also the first generation to be born in the United States, I was not given guidance, much less encouraged, to explore the Arts as a career. I was simply pushed to find a stable job, whether I liked it or not, whether I felt fulfilled by that career or not, and made to believe that the American Dream was my only path toward happiness.

Upon reaching adulthood and becoming the first person in my family to graduate high school and college without the benefit of a mentor, I came to realize that I could use my talents as a writer and visual artist to establish my own independent, creative business. Furthermore, after enrolling in my MFA program at CalArts, I learned that not all mentorships, especially institutionalized ones, were designed to truly benefit an individual seeking to become a working artist. Therefore, DSTL Arts became my solution for empowering creative, at-risk youth, not much different than myself as a young person.

The design of our Arts Mentorship Program is informed by my over 10 years of working in the nonprofit sector, specifically in the Youth Workforce Development sector, and the model is derived from my time as a Workforce Investment Act Youth Program Director. My experience working with at-risk youth throughout my career has shown me that all youth need to be exposed to alternative paths to careers and employment. Entrepreneurship is a skill that has been honed in me by being an independent, practicing artist, and this skill is something that I feel benefits young people now more than ever.

DSTL Arts is not just about developing young artists’ skills, it is about empowering young people to take their career choices seriously and to transcend the limits that they encounter.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

DSTL Arts has been operating its Arts Mentorship Program for the past year and a half, since February, 2013, and we have grown our current student enrollment from 3 original students to our current 8 students. This has happened thanks to the referrals we have received from the few educators we have established connections with in various communities in Los Angeles. Additionally, our organization has recently filed for incorporation with the State of California as a California Public Benefit Corporation, otherwise known and recognized as a nonprofit as per the IRS 501(c)3 definition. Our pro bono lawyer provided to us by the Public Counsel Community Development Program is currently aiding us through the entire incorporation process, with the goal of receiving a full 501(c)3 certification from the IRS in the upcoming 12 months.

We are in the early phases of establishing a formal partnership with Youth Policy Institute’s Pico-Union Community Center where we hope to establish a satellite Arts Mentorship Program beginning as soon as August, 2014. With the funding and support of the LA2050 initiative and the Goldhirsh Foundation, we easily foresee being able to establish a central location that will house our Arts Mentorship Program for our current and future students, and our proposed Weekly Arts Workshops. A central location, once established, will also be able to host cultural events, such as monthly poetry readings, student art shows, etc., within a month or less of being open to the public.

The infrastructure we are in need of establishing to better manage and continue to grow our Arts Mentorship Program is primarily centered on the acquisition of computers and general office equipment as well as software and payroll services that will allow us to officially hire and pay our current staff and conduct background checks on future volunteers.

We have an approximate timeline of 4 months, after funding, where we project being able to find a location, perform very basic build out, and acquire our office equipment. By utilizing and growing our current donor base and social media channels, we expect to fundraise as we have up to now in order to continue to acquire office and art supplies for our students. With a portion of the work already initiated for the growth and expansion of our program, we will most likely be able to have our programs running in no more than 8 to 10 months after funding.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Our current challenges, programmatically, are a lack of space and infrastructure for growing our Arts Mentorship Program capacity. Because we do not have an office space where we can meet with our current students, we are reliant on public places such as the library and other community centers. This is not a problem when working in particular mediums of art, such as drawing and creative writing, however, when our students want to explore painting and mixed media, we often times have to become creative in how we teach them these skills. Occasionally, this has meant teaching wet media techniques in the park or in our private residence. Additionally, when teaching them work-readiness and entrepreneurial skills, not having a classroom-like environment can become distracting for our students. We often times lack a way to visually represent concepts because we do not have a whiteboard or chalkboard at our disposal.

We expect to address our lack of space by leasing a gallery and office space where we can both conduct and manage our mentorships, and where we will host our students’ art shows, readings, and more. The DSTL Arts gallery will be home for various arts workshops and cultural programming as well, and it will be an avenue in which we can begin to become self-sustaining beyond the small supplies donations we are currently receiving.

The second barrier, which is infrastructure, will be addressed through building out the relationships we have begun to establish with schools, other community agencies, and our supporters through social media. We have many interested individuals seeking to volunteer and mentor our students. By being able to utilize a payroll service that can conduct background checks, we will be able to ensure our prospective volunteers are able to safely work with underage youth. Additionally, with funding, we will be able to finally pay a dedicated staff member who will be managing our programs and organization. Other infrastructure-related needs will be addressed through the purchase of computers and other office equipment, such as a printer and copy machine.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach