All of us here at Coffee for the Arts have some degree of understanding when it comes to the prevalent obstacles that inner-city and low-income kids have to face in their day-to-day lives. Rather than setting prolonged goals like finding one’s passion, attending college, or building generational wealth, many children having to face these barriers prioritize only one thing: survival. It's exactly this perceived need for survival that prevents some lower-income kids from seriously partaking in music, dance, poetry, or any other art form. In fact, it’s rather typical for these activities to be considered unimportant things to pass the time rather than legitimate art forms that can lead to change. Compared to that of children involved in private and wealthier school districts, where involvement in the arts is generally encouraged, the perspective of the low-income and inner-city child is very different.
Although it can be difficult to acknowledge this inequity, there are currently efforts being made to help address this issue. Not only that, you can actually lend a helping hand and make a big difference in the lives of countless children. Here is a list of several nonprofit organizations and programs you can support to help narrow this gap of artistic opportunity.
Considered one of the most well-accomplished art schools in the country, Inner-City Arts is making efforts to facilitate access to art education to the talented students of Skid Row, California, and beyond. Born out of budget cuts from the LA public schools system in the ’70s, founder Bob Gates wanted to give kids from an already disadvantaged community a space to practice the various art forms. Since its inception, Inner-City Arts utilized funds generated by charitable donations and government grants to narrow the gap between art and the secure future of their students by supporting their studies in the digital, media, and performing arts. As one example of the impact they’ve made in the community, involvement in Inner-City Art’s teen program had a role in graduating 100% of their high school students and sending 85% of them to a four-year college.
Located in Los Angeles, California, the LA County High School of Arts(LACHSA) is a public art high school focusing on bringing quality art education for young students throughout Los Angeles County who want to utilize their talents in the visual and performing arts to make their voices heard. LACHSA emphasizes a tuition-free, conservatory-style school, meaning that their education is focused only on dance, music, theater, visual arts, and the cinematic arts with little to no education in any other field of study. LACHSA students have been nominated multiple times for the title of Presidential Scholar in the Arts, have had guest speakers from the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Salma Hayek, and have been able to send multiple students to prestigious art schools around the country.
3. Create Now
Create Now is a nonprofit based in Los Angeles, California who partners with agencies that directly work with vulnerable youth who have been neglected, abused, victims of domestic violence, the incarcerated, or any other highly severe life circumstances. Create Now provides mentors and volunteers with the supplies and equipment to lead art workshops to schools, mental health clinics, and detention centers. In addition, Create Now operates a Community Arts Project that aims to facilitate the manifestation of artistic ideas to poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
With operations mostly in South Central LA, A Place Called Home provides academic as well as art education to the youth of the local community. A Place Called Home began as a result of the LA Riots that rendered the area unsafe for anyone living there. Since then, the goal of the organization has been to help the disadvantaged youth of LA stay in school and pursue higher learning or meaningful employment. A Place Called Home understands the cognitive and social impacts that art can have, which is why they operate an Arts and Creative Expression program that allows the local youth to create and collaborate with one another. Dance, music, theater, poetry, fashion design, and photography are among the interesting art courses meant to give experiences to students attempting to perfect their craft.
Children with musical talents who come from lower-income areas oftentimes struggle to find the opportunities to showcase their talents. Music Link Foundation was founded on the belief that every child with musical potential should have a chance to show off their talents to a wider audience. The organization does this by providing private lessons to students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch at schools. Thus far, Music Link Foundation boasts a 99% matriculation rate into college for those who stay in their program, 35% of which end up receiving scholarships. Additionally, the organization has been able to serve up to 7,000 students in the DC metropolitan area and raise up to $15,000,000 in scholarship money.
Education Through Music began as an initiative to bring music to New York students as a result of the decline in educational quality that was occurring in local school districts, especially those with minimal resources to support themselves. This organization makes it easier for students who attend under-resourced schools to have access to music education in the hopes of seeing improvements in their academic and personal lives. Education Through Music reports that not only do the majority of students involved in their programs come from low-income households, but many also feel that their music teachers are role models who are there for their needs.
Drawchange was founded by Jennie Lobato, an artist herself by trade, who was able to channel her creativity into pieces of art to navigate through the difficult obstacles of life. After being in the workforce for several years and spending an extensive amount of time in Costa Rica, Lobato started Drawchange as a means of providing art education to children living in areas where it’s noticeably lacking. The programs that DrawChange operates are mostly focused on serving homeless children between the ages of 5 and 10 in the U.S and impoverished children abroad. These programs mostly take place in Louisville, KY, Atlanta, GA, and Orlando, FL, but have been able to expand their operations to Ethiopia, Costa Rica, and Mexico.
Young Storytellers is a fantastic organization that aims to empower young students to tell their stories. The organization works with children from elementary school to high school and provides them with the resources to write out their own scripts and narratives. Young Storytellers serves children who attend public schools that lack appropriate financial measures to adequately support education in the humanities and have been affected by generations of systemic racism. According to polls done by the organization, not only has Young Storytellers has been able to help their students gain confidence and improve their academic performance, but they’ve even been able to turn that into monetary value as their volunteers bring schools $1,064,124 in instructional value.
Understanding the increasing need for ethical journalism everywhere, Youth Journalism International provides free education in journalism to youth all over the globe. Youth Journalism International believes that in order to make strides toward global understanding, communication needs to be effective and truthful. That’s why the organization encourages children from as young as 12 to enter and harbor a community on the principles of inclusion and thoughtfulness in the hopes of discovering the truths surrounding the complex yet pervasive topics of today such as teen suicide, terrorism, and politics. Youth Journalism International is open to all who are passionate about having their voices heard in global discussions. Since its inception, Youth Journalism has been able to publish the works of many of its young participants.
10. Art with a Heart
Art with With a Heart provides qualified art educators and assistants to teach techniques in the visual arts to schools, community centers, and group homes. Although the organization works with students of all ages, Art with a Heart is most well-known for working with younger children and teenagers in the greater Baltimore area. Art with a Heart’s HeARTworks and community service projects are two very unique projects that the organization is undertaking that provide opportunities for students to obtain memorable and/or professional experiences. HeARTworks focuses on giving young people ages 14-24 a space to not only create art but sell it to the appropriate audience as well. But perhaps most exciting, Art with a Heart is helping its volunteers and student participants engage in a city-wide display of art that’s meant to capture the beauty, diversity, and vibrance of the Baltimore community.
Founded in 1945, the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet tries to do away with the expensive cost of good quality ballet training by offering affordable camps and lessons to the residents of Balboa Park. San Diego Civic Youth Ballet brings ballet to local public schools where they serve over 500 students through their Outreach Program. Even better, this organization also works with students with unique special needs in the hopes of including them in the art of ballet. Young students have the opportunity to receive free ballet education for students in the San Diego public school system as well as participate in other programs that aim to form a cross-bridge between the local San Diego community and the art of ballet.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only space in the world dedicated to showcasing eye-catching art made by women artists past and present. The museum has its roots in a very simple question posed by founder Wilhelmina Cole Halladay in 1981: where are all the women in art? From there the Halladays began to collect artworks made by women and showcasing them in their own residence until, in 1987, a dedicated building was bought at the center of Washington D.C in close proximity to the White House. To this day, the National Museum of Women in the Arts continues to recognize the artistic achievements of women and serves as inspiration for up-and-coming women artists looking to tell their stories through art.
Founded by international impresario for the Advancement of Arts and Culture, Voza Rivers, the Harlem Art Alliance is made up of artists and artist organizations united under the desire to spread their knowledge of art education. The Harlem Art Alliance serves as a network of artists so that local art institutions in the Harlem area have the ability to choose experienced and professional teachers to plant seeds of knowledge in up-and-coming art students. The Harlem Art Alliance is a primary source for workshops, showcases, and presentation programs throughout art schools and organizations in Harlem.
The Artist Administration of Color is a network of artists that focuses on community building and social equity through art. The Artist Administration of Color looks to empower artists and art administrators to advocate for tolerance and diversity in the world of art and beyond. Currently, the organization is working on a big project that honors those who have paved the way in arts leadership and have allowed new generations of art leaders to take up responsibilities and fulfill their artistic missions.
Founded by Aesha Ash, a highly accomplished and talented ballet dancer, the Swan Dreams Project aims to dismantle stereotypes and add some color to prevalent Eurocentric ideals of what beauty is. The main goal of the Swan Dreams Project is to expose African Americans to the art of ballet in the hopes of conveying that beauty and talent should not be limited to a specific race or socioeconomic class, but rather, pursued and enjoyed by all. Since starting this organization, the Swan Dreams Project has garnered plenty of well-deserved attention for playing a part in showing young African American women that their futures are limited not by their race or class, but by their own dreams.
Wait, there’s a bonus organization! If you’ve made it this far, then I know how interested you are in helping a good cause. So, as a reward for reading until the end, here’s one more nonprofit.
BONUS NON-PROFIT: Today I’m Brave
Today I’m Brave started through the collaboration of David Angelo, founder of advertising agency David&Goliath, and Tiffany Persons, founder of the nonprofit Shine On Sierra Leone. In 2014, they initially decided to send an encouraging message to 300 children in Sierra Leone, whose school closed down due to the Ebola crisis, and to their surprise, received an inspiring message in return that motivated the pair to start the organization. Since then, Today I’m Brave has made countless efforts to encourage youth to overcome challenges around the world. Such initiatives include support for victims of natural disasters, assistance for the terminally ill, COVID-19 relief, and much more. Their latest project, Brave Camp, hopes to empower underserved teenagers to face the prevalent obstacles in their daily lives, such as bullying and peer pressure, through a week-long immersive camping experience. This organization remains dedicated to unlocking bravery in today’s youth in the hopes of helping them realize their potential and making long-term changes in the global community.
It’s important to keep in mind that these are only a few out of the hundreds of nonprofits that exist to bring meaning to at-risk kids through art. If you weren’t quite satisfied with the organizations mentioned here, we highly encourage you to do your own research until you find one you love and gain joy in supporting.