Helping Underserved Students Thrive Through Arts Classes That Reflect Their Reality
“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.
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.
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Co-Founder & Executive Director: Ja Ronn Thompson
To make arts education more inclusive, accessible and relevant.
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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.
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.”
California Arts Council
City of Oakland Cultural Affairs Division
Golden State Warriors
Oakland Unified School District
Roosevelt Middle School