ArtsPost: First lady honors youth arts programs

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By Robin Givhan
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 2:31 PM

The annual Coming Up Taller awards, which since 1998 have celebrated grassroots organizations engaged in youth arts education, have been given a new name and higher profile at the White House.

On Wednesday, First Lady Michelle Obama presented 15 community groups with the newly named National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for their work in helping young people tap into their creativity through music, writing and the visual arts. In an East Room ceremony, in front of an audience of students, arts supporters and educators -- as well as members of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities -- Obama congratulated the programs for their arts advocacy but also for the impact they've had in improving students' reading skills, college matriculation rates and self-confidence.

"You're doing more than teaching them to be better artists," said Obama, who was wearing a raspberry-colored jersey dress. "You're helping them become better people."

She added that this White House would do everything it could to sustain the kinds of programs like the ones being honored and to encourage young people to explore the arts and humanities.

The students themselves offered proof of the impact the organizations have had in their lives. Mariana Pavon Sanchez, 19, read an excerpt from her play, "Mariana's Wish," which she wrote through the District's Youth Playwright's Theater Inc. The play was based on Sanchez's longing to see her mother, who lives in Nicaragua. The story had a happy ending; Sanchez saw her mother in December 2009.

"I was a very shy student, afraid to speak out," the petite 11th grader in a sparkly black dress said as she introduced herself to the audience.

"Now here I am addressing the First Lady of the United States."

The exclamation point on a morning dedicated to youthful self-expression came in a performance by members of the Artists Collective Youth Jazz Ensemble. With students jamming on piano, drums, bass and saxophone, two hoofers pounded away on the East Room's makeshift stage.

They were rewarded with cheers and a standing ovation led by Obama.

This year's winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards will each receive $10,000. The recipients include the following:

After-School Playwriting Program - Youth Playwrights' Theater Inc., Washington, D.C.; Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program, Brooklyn; Center for Community Arts Partnerships, Chicago; Community MusicWorks, Providence, R.I.; FACT After-School Programs, Santa Fe, N.M.; Girlstories Theatre Project and Workshops, Tampa; New Directions YouthArts, Las Vegas; Project ALERTA, Boston; RiverzEdge Arts Project, Woonsocket, R.I.; San Francisco WritersCorps, San Francisco; Scripps College Academy, Claremont, Calif.; Mentors of Minorities in Education Inc., Washington, D.C.; Artists Collective's Transforming the Lives of High Risk Youth: Training in the Arts & Culture of the African Diaspora, Hartford, Conn.; Urban Voices, New York; and YouthCAN, Seattle.

The Jean Baptiste Dessaix Music School in Jacmel, Haiti, received the International Spotlight Award.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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