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History & Structure

Founded in 1995 by Stella Yu, Arts Street was originally a program of Denver’s Office of Workforce Development, created to assist underserved youth in channeling their artistic talents and natural curiosity into professional activities needed for the immediate future.  Arts Street was incorporated as the non-profit “Friends of Arts Street” in 2003 and began offering standard-based classroom curriculum and cross-disciplinary enrichment classes; these took place in borrowed facilities, including schools and community organizations, moving to our current location in the La Alma neighborhood in 2012. Through the years, Arts Street has been recognized for its outstanding arts education, including a 2004 COMING UP TALLER award, a 2008 US Department of Labor Workforce Innovation grant (WIRED) and a 2015 “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (only one of 60 in the nation).   

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When its founder retired in 2016, Arts Street merged with the non-profit the Youth Employment Academy, an affiliate of the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) and became part of its impactful programming that empowers young people in reaching their education and employment goals. With this acquisition, YEA secured Arts Street’s ability to continue its dedicated creative training and award-winning programming. In 2017, Arts Street was named, Denver’s “Best Youth Arts Program” by Westword magazine as well as “Outstanding Non-Profit Partner,” by Denver Public Schools’ Career Connect/Career Launch program and in 2019 was named Launch Internship Partner of the Year. Arts Street has also been awarded the INC Youth Civic Engagement Award for our Journey 2 Unity project in 2018 and our EnvironMENTAL project in 2021.

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Our powerful partnership with DHA brings opportunities to youth from our most marginalized communities. The opportunities provided are designed to nurture and inspire the education of these young adults, cultivating them to become tomorrow’s professionals and use their creativity to support the workforce needs. This is achieved by developing and implementing highly diversified career-based educational programs that incorporate real-world learning, artistic expression, and creative thinking. The program is designed around teaching creative, critical thinking to youth, particularly those who may not connect well with traditional educational process and youth who do not have the financial or social support to succeed. By using hands-on experiences, core academics, visual arts, video, graphics and web technologies, Arts Street participants are given a chance to discover how their creativity can lead to a career and a rewarding life.

  

Equally important to our job training programs is the impact Arts Street has on our community. By leading community-centered art projects, not only do our youth gain experience and meaning in a project, but so does the community we are working in. We establish relationships via art, and our youth demonstrate to the public what amazing creations they are capable of. Arts Street is committed to community development and will continue to build strong, positive relationships.

“I love the opportunities they provide. Arts Street has helped me grow in almost every way possible: artistically, mentally, and financially. I now feel more confident in myself and my skills.”

Because Arts Street has been such an impactful program for so many years, we see long-term results. Since 1995 Arts Street has worked with thousands of young people with many of them becoming successful creatives and returning to contribute to future generations. Just a couple of our alumnus have included Hitu Parmar, now a professional architect, who provided renovation design and construction management for the Arts Street studio and Anthony Garcia Sr, a nationally known artist and Executive Director of Denver’s Birdseed Collective, who continues to partner with Arts Street in inspiring the next generation of Denver artists.

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Program Summary: Arts Street serves youth ages 14-24, with 90% in high school at time of enrollment. We are a training program that cultivates low-income/underserved youth into valuable members of the creative workforce. It uses the power of the arts and technology to engage youth in learning and career development, nurture leadership, build integrity and help the community at-large.

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Our Creative Industry Academies utilize up-to-date technologies to introduce youth to careers in creative fields such as graphic design, photography and public art. Each academy is designed around real-world client needs. Youth are given specifications of the project, including deadlines and receive feedback throughout the process to make a final presentation to the client and demonstrate proficiency in entry-level industry skills. These academies can run from short weekend intensives of 15 hours up to 120-hour long academies in the summer. In addition, we partner with Denver Public Schools Colorado High School Charter Osage campus and provide academies for elective school credit during in-school time. We focus on how STEAM education, in combination with social and emotional training can help youth overcome the larger obstacles they see in their lives and their communities.

Our Internship program provides youth real-world “learn & earn” experience working on client-based public art and design projects in a working studio while learning valuable job readiness skills. We utilize up-to-date technologies to introduce youth to careers in creative industries such as graphic design, illustration, e-commerce, photography, and public art. Internship sessions run from 40-120 hours over successive weeks, with youth eligible to participate in multiple internship sessions. Interns improve their tech skills through training in Adobe Suite and use these techniques to grow their overall understanding of career paths. In addition, the internship program focuses on job readiness skills from attendance, teamwork, communication skills and workplace culture.

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Arts Street’s Mentorship & Mental Wellness Program provides a safe space where youth can continue to build their creative skills, receive mental wellness services, find their own passions, and pursue further education. Youth are encouraged to explore new creative tech and to use alternative materials to create marketable art pieces that can be sold through our EntrepreMURALship program. These products can be found for sale at YEA’s social enterprises the Osage Café & Mercado and Decatur Fresh marketplace.

“What I like best about coming to Arts Street is being able to be creative and express myself through the projects we do.”

Impact: In 2021, Arts Street served over 150 unique youth, ages 13-21, over 5,500 contact hours with 93% self-reporting as low income and 92% reporting BIPOC. Youth were primarily referred to programing through community partners including Denver Public School Career Connect, Colorado High School Charter and Denver Housing Authority and came from underrepresented and marginalized communities. We served 139 youth in our creative industry academies in the areas of graphic design, photography, digital animation, digital design and traditional visual art techniques. The academies saw a 93% completion rate, with 94% showing an increase in industry skills. We had 15 interns placed who were responsible for specific project management and more intensive creative industry skill training. We had 100% of internship completions with 100% of those youth staying in school or graduating. Through our mentorship program we served 32 youth during out of school hours and these youth were eligible to be part of our EntrepreMURALship team and earned incentives for their work on client projects. 100% of mentees stayed in school or graduated.

“The staff was wonderful! It made the environment less intimidating overall.”

Evaluations: Throughout our programing we utilize multiple evaluations tools to assure that we are providing the best training and social emotional opportunities to each participant. Our main evaluation results come from a survey tool created by the National Research Center (NRC) for the Colorado Alliance for Creative Youth Development. All Arts Street participants complete this survey at the end of programming, and it is submitted anonymously. Here are some of the overall results from this grant period:

 

Real-World Experience:

• 100% of our youth artists completed the client projects.

• 92% of participants said that coming to Arts Street helped them understand the importance of arriving to appointments and work on time.

 

Creative Industry & Academic Skills:

• 94% of students improved their industry skills with many learning totally new software that will be useful in the creative industry and in schoolwork.

• Based on self-evaluation results, 100% said they gained a new artistic skill.

 

Social and Emotional Skills:

• 100% agreed they are more prepared to handle whatever comes their way.

• 96% of participants said that because of Arts Street they are better at taking responsibility for their actions.

• 81% of participants said that Arts Street helped them understand that someone who looks or sounds different than them may not be that different at all.

• 100% of participants said they feel staff care about them and can be trusted.

“[What I like about coming to Arts Street is] Being able to create great memories as well as having the creative freedom to work on many types of mediums and having a safe space to come when things at home are rough.”