Helping Underserved Students Thrive Through Arts Classes That Reflect Their Reality

By Giving List Staff   |   November 18, 2022
Young artist Demi Taylor rocking the mic. Photography by Darius Riley. Illustrations by Rachel Ngun.

“You can’t be what you can’t see.” This quote from civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman is the guiding force behind Yeah, Art!, a Black-founded Oakland-based education nonprofit. 

As the social justice uprising of 2020 gained attention, teaching artists Ja Ronn Thompson and Mike Blankenship channeled their emotions and experience towards strengthening their community. Yeah, Art! was born, a nonprofit that makes arts education more accessible and equitable. 

“Yeah, Art!’s teaching staff mirrors the diversity of our classrooms. Most of us were born and raised right here in the same communities. Our ability to relate to our students is central to our mission. We have first-hand understanding of our students’ challenges and, more importantly, their potential.” -Ja Ronn Thompson, Co-Founder & Executive Director

The key to their vision is making sure students have learning materials they can relate to. 

“Arts education is not diverse enough,” said Co-founder Mike Blankenship. “Throughout history, textbooks have erased contributions of people of color. Yeah, Art! exposes our students to new creative heroes who look, sound, and move more like them.” 

Yeah, Art!’s workshops aren’t taught only with the classic works of Beethoven, Van Gogh, or Whitman – they’re taught using new-school greats like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ava DuVernay, and Kendrick Lamar. These modern references inspire students to engage with art in more meaningful ways.

Yeah, Art!’s pilot program is running at Oakland’s Roosevelt Middle School, a largely Black and Latinx community just a few miles from where Co-founder Ja Ronn Thompson grew up.

“Our teaching staff mirrors the diversity of our classrooms. Most of us were born and raised right here in the same community,” said Thompson. “Our ability to relate to our students is central to our mission. Our team has first-hand understanding of our students’ challenges, and, more importantly, their potential.” 

At Roosevelt, students are learning vocal performance, songwriting, and music production – all using the latest creative technologies to empower students with digital skills. Yeah, Art! is committed to Roosevelt for three academic years, with plans to simultaneously expand classes throughout the Bay Area.


Yeah, Art!

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(510) 938-9096
Co-Founder & Executive Director: Ja Ronn Thompson


To make arts education more inclusive, accessible and relevant.

Begin to Build a Relationship

We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s Director of Development and/or Executive Director.

Art is an endangered subject. When schools face budget cuts, arts programs are often the first to be sacrificed. Grassroots organizations like Yeah, Art! are helping keep creativity in classrooms, with a focus on the historically marginalized districts that need it most.
Rickey Minor, Advisory Board Member

Driving Artistic Careers Through a Living Wage

Yeah, Art! also creates more equitable arts education for teachers. A core component of the organization’s mandate is to pay its diverse teaching team the radically ethical wage of $125 per hour. “This ensures teaching artists are compensated for not only their time in the classroom, but their hours of preparation and years of experience,” said Education Director Angel Adedokun. 

The organization is hoping to raise funds to grow its staff to reach more students. Currently $6,000 pays one teaching artist of color for one course of instruction for one trimester, while $20,000 covers one teacher for one course for an entire school year. 

Additional needs include technology to help students record and produce their projects. $10,000 provides the technology for students to develop modern digital art skills, with a goal of purchasing 10 new laptops plus arts software.

“We’re designing arts education for a new generation,” said Thompson. “We want to see this as the new standard in the Bay Area and beyond.”

Key Supporters

California Arts Council
City of Oakland Cultural Affairs Division
Darrell Booker
Erin Williams
Golden State Warriors
Handful Players
Keith Dawkins
Nikole Lim
Oakland Unified School District
Randy Porter
Roosevelt Middle School
Rickey Minor