Postcard Art!

If you received our 2014 Annual Report in your mailbox, you know that we included a blank, self-addressed postcard, inviting our donors to take a risk and mail us their own works of art. We’re happy to say that several of you accepted our challenge! Thanks for sharing—and cultivating—your creative spirit! Here’s a sampling of what we received:

If you haven’t sent us your postcard art yet, please do! We’ll post a second round of what we receive.


Hiring for Part-Time Grant Writer!

Arts Corps is now hiring a a part-time Grant Writer! Contribute to Arts Corps’ growth as an organization by cultivating strong relationships with institutional funders.

Grant Writer Position Description

Position is open until filled, but priority will be given to applications received by January 27th, 2015

Please forward all inquiries with a resume and cover letter to or mail a hard copy to Arts Corps, 4408 Delridge Way, SW, Suite 110, Seattle, WA 98106. Please reference the Grant Writer position in the subject line.



Racial Profiling Painting Oraca K-8 2013
Racial Profiling – Painted Box by 8th grade students at Orca K-8, 2013

We at Arts Corps wish to express our solidarity with and our gratitude to the youth, artists, and activists who are rising up with courage and persistence to confront injustice. The recent high profile events of unaccountable police violence against individuals and communities of color are extreme examples of the oppressions experienced by so many in our community on a daily basis. In our work, we seek to address one manifestation of systemic oppression—the inequity in access to arts education within our public school system based on race and family income—while also equipping our students with creative tools and strategies to express their voice and make change in the world around them. And that is precisely what they are doing. They are telling their stories, they are advocating for change, and in doing so, they are helping to lead us all to a more just future.

Let’s listen.

Poem by Donte Johnson, Arts Corps Teen Programs Co-Coordinator and Youth Speaks Seattle alumn






Black Art-ivist

Once again the country has shown it’s behind and we are in another state of chaos.
Youth from around town have been asking me “Donté what do I do as a new community organizer and artist in this time of deep pain”
I wanted to say “Take the streets, block the roads, make them hear us, let everybody know that we have been crying and afraid and ashamed for too long and its enough its BEEN enough”. But I couldn’t even answer back, I thought about the question so intentionally but I was like as an artist and activist living with depression and anxiety I don’t feel safe enough to be in the streets and protest even though I feel like I should be there and I had to meditate on what is my role in this movement? I had to remember that activism doesn’t look any one way. It takes multiple different approaches and actions and kinds of things that adds to a movement including taking care of the people in the movement which I feel like can be my role reminding folks to take care and to hold space for all the black folks who are actively hurting every day watching the full out attack on our people.
There are artistic video projects in the works, and more and more folks feeling the call to action. Figuring out the many ways we can be vocal about our needs, below is my first step into how I do activism:



A List Poem for the way my body reacts to the death of Black People

  1. Freeze, Eye lids fading, Eye lashes tickle eye brows in an attempt to feel anything besides melting

  2. Mouth and throat going Sahara as your eyes lose focus on tracking motion

  3. You feel the burn of a solar eclipse passing in your throat

  4. Freeze, and you do, the word seems to rattle in your head till the tinnitus  sounds just like the last phone call you made to your mother

  5. Freeze, and they did until they spilled,

    watch the blood pool in the dark of every unlit street

    visualize how they cleaned them off the floor

    read facebook till you cry

    read articles till you cry

    Pick corners for you to die

    I wear all black most days because I don’t know when I’m gonna go

    But Capricorns anticipate everything, so I wear my face like a veil, wear my skin like a red delicious dress at a funeral, the crisp bite into death as flames fuck my flesh into ash

  6. Count breaths,

    Like loose change

    in attempt, to regulate breathing

    Asthma, holding Fourth of July in your lungs

    Another Black body,

    Evaporating into social media rants and swept under consumerism and white supremacy

  7. Freeze, that’s what they screamed, trying to mask murder with lies,

    Tryna mask murder with mock justice and Christmas carols

    Freeze, because everyone knows it’s easier to hit a target when it don’t move

    You have read another article about a Black body turning sunset

    You feel the light fading from their mothers eyes, it feels like a heart coming to a halt

    You haven’t moved in hours as if you were obeying the law, as if they had already killed you

  8. You find comfort in knowing that if you were dead you wouldn’t have to watch them kill your family

  9. Your mouth begins to thaw, you feel the heat of carbon dioxide between your teeth, your teeth dance like a tambourine in full explosion you can barely make a sound but the only thing you say is

  10. If all lives matter, then why aren’t you dying-

    To save me.

-Donté Johnson, Teen Artist Program Co-Coordinator

We’re Hiring!

We’re now hiring for the CSI Evaluation & Documentation Coordinator position! This person will support the Creative Schools Initiative (CSI) in Highline Schools by coordinating the logistics of our evaluation, documentation and media. Please see the job description below.

CSI Evaluation & Documentation Coordinator JD

Application Deadline is December 31, 2014

Send a resume and cover letter to Hillary Moore at




Race and Social Justice Learning Series


Arts Corps’ Race and Social Justice Learning Series, is a 3-part sequence of workshops, hosted by Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, intended to foster community conversation and shared understanding on different strands of oppression.  The series kicks off Wednesday, December 3rd with a viewing and discussion of the documentary Cracking the Codes by Shakti Butler.

Please RSVP for one or all sessions here.

December 3, 2014, 6-9pm: Causes and consequences of systemic inequity: film and discussion of Cracking the Codes by Shakti Butler. Facilitated by Arts Corps’ Executive Director Elizabeth Whitford and Arts Corps’ Program Director Omana Imani.

February 25, 2015, 6-8pm: Dismantling Adultism workshop: strategies for shared leadership with young people. Facilitated by Arts Corps’ Community Partnerships & Teen Programs Manager Devon de Lena.

May 6, 2014, 6-8pm: Sexism and Gender Justice: exploring the effects of sexism and the difference between sex, gender, and the gender spectrum. Facilitated by  Molly Pencke, Program Manager at Powerful Voices.

View and share the event on Facebook




Another World is Possible: Visioning Cultural Strategy with Youth Speaks Seattle

ALLI groupComing up as a poet in the Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Slam, I remember constantly wrestling with what our roles as young artists had to do with social change and activism. Stepping to a mic with power, analysis and bravery, we could feel that we were channeling necessary energy. We were speaking raw truth and seeing the impact it could have on audiences– and on ourselves. We knew the slam was more than a game. It was more than pretty words strung together. We weren’t just cute youth poets who had a way with words— we were shifting perspectives and bearing witness to complexity and humanity. At slams, it’s a tradition to chant, “The point is not the points, the point is the poetry!” The point was the poetry but the point was also the people. The point was the transformation of hearts and minds through shared exploration of contradictions. And yet, despite all that, I remember constantly running up against a wall: was our art really activism itself? We wondered, “Sure, we’re all talking about changing the world but when are we gonna start doing the real work?” Yet, we didn’t realize that shifting culture through art is not a precursor or an accessory to the movement. It is movement work in its own right.

ALLI groupYouth Speaks Seattle is rooted in a legacy of fierce artistry and liberatory change work. Since its inception, YSS has been held by political artists whose work was deeply informed by and accountable to grassroots movements. Under the leadership of powerful cultural workers, it grew into fertile space for cultural strategy to thrive. But, what do I mean when I say “cultural strategy”? To define this term, I want to throw out some foundational concepts of culture and change taken from the Culture Group’s “Making Waves: A Guide to Cultural Strategy”. The Culture Group describes the relationship between culture and change with the metaphor of the ocean and a wave. Waves are processes shaped by many powerful and often invisible forces, such as “the gravitational pull of the moon, the speed of the wind, and tectonic shifts at the bottom of the ocean”. Like a wave, change is an ongoing process shaped by strong forces. Culture is the ocean that waves happen within. Culture is “vast and ever-changing” and comprises “the prevailing beliefs, values, and customs of a group; a group’s way of life”.

Tai and Ivan ALLIIn order to achieve social change, culture must shift. In other words, “there can be no change without cultural change”. The Culture Group asserts that, “We change culture through culture”, making culture both the agent and the object of change. With this framework, art is a truly generative, inspired and courageous form of activism. As I realized as a youth poet, art transforms hearts, minds and communities. Through these shifts, there is the opportunity to build power and activate social change.

This intersection has long been honored by Youth Speaks Seattle’s legacy of cultural strategy. Building off this history, last year we piloted the inaugural Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute (ALLI). This 9-week intensive is centered on building skills around social justice, artistry and community organizing. For the fifteen Spokes youth leaders, ALLI begins their 8-month organizing commitment to Youth Speaks Seattle and the Arts Corps Teen Artist Program. With ALLI as a springboard, the Spokes go on to collaboratively run the Open Mic Series, Poetry Slam Series and Writing Circles, with the support of the Teen Artist Co-Coordinators (aka Donté Johnson and myself!).

ALLI ArtistAfter a successful pilot year, we are launching ALLI for the second year and we’re off to a fiery start. With a brilliant crew of 14 Spokes, 2 returning Legacy Spokes and 3 youth organizers from our community partner Totem Star, we wish to ask: Why is art a tool for social change? What are our roles as young artists and activists in social justice movements? To spark this conversation, we began by collectively defining two terms: “artist” and “activist”. In two groups, ALLI participants created word clouds on the huge chalkboards of our cozy classroom at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. The “artist” brainstorm included a swarm of different words: bold, outcast, free, accessible, connection, inspiration, awareness, reppin’, confidence—to name a few. The “activist” side was equally energized: society, caring, fists, riots, change, speak out loud, advocates. After raucous discussion by both groups, we reunited and had reps from each side of the room share back on how they defined these two different roles. We found sparks, tensions and similarities between the two definitions. As our conversation continued, we were able to find the natural ties and extraordinary potential of bringing artist and activist together in pursuit of revolutionary ideals.

From the chalkboard to the stage, Youth Speaks Seattle continues to be a hive of personal and political transformation. The audience of any poetry slam or open mic will witness amazing boldness and authentic emotional expression. With these performances, complex ideas are brought to life and made accessible to a broad audience. Visions for a more just world are made real when spoken aloud. Youth Speaks Seattle is a space where another world is made possible, against all odds. The page and the stage are where we get to imagine what changes we need to build a society that can hold all of us, with equity, love and freedom. Cultural work simultaneously brings us whispers and flashes of another world while we put in the work of building it. Art can help us access the world to come and weave movements that somehow are already living within it.


- Shelby

Teen Artist Program Co-Coordinator

Arts Corps & Youth Speaks Seattle Seeks Adult Mentors!

If you are an adult ally, old Spokes, Youth Speaks alumni, you development organizer, artist or fan of artists, or just a homie of YSS wanting to get more involved, please apply!


ENCOURAGED TO APPLY: ARTISTS (OF ANY MEDIUM), WOMEN, PEOPLE OF COLOR, QUEER FOLKS, AND AGES 20 AND UP! Helpful to have a social justice values and strong desire to support young artists!

Apply here!

Questions? Email


For more info:

Big News from the US Dept of Education!

We have some exciting news to share: the US Department of Education has just awarded Arts Corps a $1.75 million grant to bring our Creative Schools Initiative (CSI) to the Highline School District! This award will be used over the next four years to expand the CSI program and measure the impact that arts integration has on the lives the students we serve.

Over the next school year, Arts Corps staff will work with Highline administrators to finalize a plan that will integrate arts learning into public school classrooms by forging collaboration between artists and classroom teachers, starting in two Highline middle schools. Imagine an unforgettable lesson that builds deeper understanding of complex texts through drawing and drama. Arts Corps’ aim is to develop students’ creative and academic habits of mind through quality arts learning in the classroom, ultimately supporting their long-term academic success.

“It’s amazing to see kids grow their creative and critical capacities through an integrated arts learning model,” says Arts Corps Executive Director Elizabeth Whitford. “This funding allows us to bring a powerful model to scale as well as understand how and why it deepens classroom engagement in the short and long-term.

Arts Corps was one of just 18 organizations out of 105 applicants across the U.S. to receive the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) grant. We’re excited about what this means for the youth of King County, and the future of our work throughout the region!

Thank you all for helping to make this possible. We wouldn’t be in this exciting position if it weren’t for your deep investment in our 2012 CSI pilot project, which continues to serve two K-8 schools within Seattle Public Schools. Your ongoing support is critical as we continue to advocate for systemic change within our education system, so that all of our young people have equal access to arts-rich learning opportunities.

You can read the full press release here. Feel free to reach out to with any questions you may have. And help us spread the word by liking and tweeting this post (below)! Thanks, all!

Days of Awe and the Season of Recommitment

YS_SpokesI’m pretty sure that Seattle doesn’t want to admit that summer is over. It seems like we are all reluctantly clutching rain jackets and umbrellas, peering out bus windows to see if we can guess what season the afternoon weather will resemble. Fall is a strange transition. Sometimes it feels like equal parts renewal and rot, a beginning and an ending in one breath. The trees are letting go of their leaves. Students are trudging through them to begin the school year. The cycle begins again and our sunset times slide earlier and earlier. As I dive into my second year as an AmeriCorps at Arts Corps and Youth Speaks Seattle, it feels like the perfect season for reflection and recommitment. Indeed, on the Jewish Calendar, we are smack dab in the middle of a time called the Days of Awe. This period of introspection stretches from Rosh Hashannah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). As part of a personal recommitment to my Jewish tradition, I’ve been welcoming in 5775 with ritual, community and apples and honey.

The Days of Awe, with their sweetness and reflection, feel like prime time to set intentions for my second year as Teen Artist Program Co-Coordinator. This is the season to ask: what lessons, tensions and celebrations do I have from the previous year? What were our sweetest successes? Where do we have room to grow? The highlights aren’t hard to remember – last year was hectic but bursting with growth and excitement. We continued the YSS legacy with the fierce All-City Poetry Slam Series and ongoing open mics and writing circles. In addition, we expanded the historic Spokes Leadership board by launching the first ever Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute (ALLI). Twelve youth artists went through this 10-week institute focusing on community organizing, artistry and social justice.  With ALLI as their foundation, these twelve Spokes helped to organize, facilitate and outreach for Youth Speaks Seattle and Teen Artist Program events from December to May. By May, we began preparing with YSS slam team for Brave New Voices (BNV), the International Youth Poetry Slam Festival. From May to July, the 5-poet team wrote, practiced, collaborated and built a loving slam fam, before jetting off to Philly for BNV in mid-July. Co-coaching the team with YSS alum, mentor and badass Troy Osaki, I got to end my first term of service with this amazing adventure.

YS_Grand_Slam Reflecting on the year, I’m truly in awe of the transformation I witnessed in individual poets and artists. Shy and reluctant poets began to hit the mic with vulnerability and raw power. New organizers took to the streets and the hallways to outreach for Youth Speaks Seattle and Arts Corps. Some folks started the year scared to speak in public and ended it facilitating an entire workshop on songwriting. Talented performers cultivated their skills as teaching artists and finished the year booking their own teaching gigs. I’m excited to see how these individual growths can mirror our organizational visions for a more just future.

As I return this Fall, I wish to use my reflection as a springboard for recommitment. This past weekend, I attended a Jewish ritual called tashlich. Traditionally, tashlich is a Rosh Hashannah practice where Jews symbolically cast our sins away by throwing bread crumbs or pebbles into a body of water. At this particular tashlich, organized by the Jewish Voice for Peace, our casting away was politicized around recommitment to movements for justice. Rather than simply throwing away our “sins”, we were asked to transform their energy into working in the new year towards collective liberation. Rooted in this practice of looking back as a way to move forward, I come to the new year with intention and dedication. I wish to begin this year as my whole self, trusting that we have the time and space to spark another bountiful year at Youth Speaks Seattle and Arts Corps. L’Shanah Tovah and Onwards!


- Shelby

Teen Artist Program Co-Coordinator