December 17, 2014

A couple weeks ago, Arts For All’s Executive Director, Anna Roberts Ostroff was interviewed by Allison Plitt for an article in NY Parenting Magazine. You can read the entire article below.

Ensuring there’s arts education for all

By Allison Plitt

After years of seeing funding for arts education slashed from their budgets, New York City public schools got a big surprise this past summer when Mayor DeBlasio promised $23 million dollars would be spent on arts education for the 2014-2015 school year. Besides stating that the money would be used to hire 120 new, certified art teachers, DeBlasio also said the financial support would also be appropriated to improve art facilities in schools as well as create “new partnerships with cultural institutions.”

The city’s public schools aren’t the only recipients of this much-needed funding. Non-profit organizations that bring arts education into public schools have also received additional money from the city for this school year. One such organization, Arts For All, has been bringing free arts programming into public schools and youth organizations for nearly a decade. Seventy percent of the clients that Arts For All serves are public schools that lack access to an arts curriculum.

The services Arts For All provides are free of charge to its clients, so the organization has to focus a lot of effort on fund-raising.

“We’re always working really hard to get funding wherever we can,” admits Executive Director Anna Roberts Ostroff. “We have a number of wonderful private donors. We’ve also now secured city and state funding, which has been really helpful, and also corporate sponsors, and family foundations. We’re always out there looking for fund-raising opportunities to offer more quality art programs to the children we serve.”

The story of how this non-profit was created is an inspiring story in itself. According to Ostroff, Arts For All started as a small club at New York University and taught at a couple of organizations at the time. When Ostroff and the club’s other founder graduated in 2003, they realized no one was going to take over the club, but they really believed in the work they were doing and decided to try to continue to sustain the club.

For four years Arts For All worked with two established non-profit organizations that helped it expand its programming and grow.

“Back when we were first getting started, there was certainly a lot of us introducing ourselves to youth organizations,” recounted Ostroff. “It really did take a while for people to realize what we were doing. We weren’t trying to sell anything. We were trying to offer accessible programming to organizations that may not have had the opportunity to offer that to their students. We now have a waiting list of clients.”

By 2007, Ostroff said, “We realized we were ready to branch off on our own and became our own non-profit. As a non-profit standing on our own, we’re still pretty young, but we do have a history with some of our clients, our schools, and our programs that go back beyond 2007.”

In addition to increasing in size, Arts For All increased its clientele. Through an application process, a public school or youth organization can apply to have Arts For All come teach arts education in the classrooms. The board of directors reviews the applications to get a sense of what the organizations specifically need, who their students are, and why these organizations need arts programming to be accessible to children.

When Arts For All approves the organization that it knows will fit its mission, the staff works one-on-one with the individual school or youth organization.

“We basically will discuss with each of these organizations what age group is most in need of our programming and specifically what art forms the students would most respond to,” says Ostroff.

Arts For All offers a wide range of art programs from visual arts to dance and music to drama and film. The organization hires teaching artists who are not only talented in the artistic discipline, but who are also comfortable teaching their art form in challenging learning environments.

“We work really hard to then pair the right teaching artist with each school,” explains Ostroff. “We do work really closely with the schools and youth organizations to create unique programs that work for them whether in terms of the artistic disciplines, the lengths of the residency, and the specifics about what that teacher might want to focus on to enhance what they’re already learning in the classroom.”

Arts For All also does academic-based art programming. For instance, its Literacy through the Arts Program, which is one of its strongest programs, works with kindergarten through second-graders to help improve their reading, writing, and verbal expression. Literacy through the Arts Program also has a teaching artist tie the lesson plans in with the Common Core Standards and what the teachers are doing in the classrooms.

Giving an example of another academic-based program, Ostroff offers, “We’ve also recently created a haiku program that blends haiku poetry of the late Sydell Rosenberg, with either visual arts or music. This program is made possible because of a very generous donor, Amy Losak.”

Arts For All changed its mission statement two years ago to one that is now more specific about arts education helping children mature through the arts. The mission statement reads, “Arts For All offers accessible artistic opportunities to children in the New York City area who face socioeconomic, physical, or emotional barriers to exploring the arts. Through Arts For All, professional artists work with youth organizations to build self-confidence, self-expression, teamwork, resilience, and creativity in children.”

Ostroff explained the reason for the change.

“What was really important to the organization and to the board of directors was to put out our core values in our mission statement, so people had a really strong understanding of what we were doing through the arts,” she says. “We believe very much in art for art’s sake. However, our staff is doing a little bit more than that in teaching life skills through the arts.”

She adds, “We may or may not have someone in one of our classes that one day becomes a Broadway star or a famous painter, but that’s really not the goal of the work we are doing. We want all children to have access to the arts and feel all students, even if they don’t necessarily do this as a career going forward, can gain so much from having accessible arts programming.”

As for the mayor’s current support of arts education in public schools, Ostroff says everyone in her field is “very excited” to see an increase in funding, although she thinks there is still more work to be done.

“The biggest hope is that it can sustain and we can really start to see those results,” Ostroff observed. “As New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer recently stated in his State of the Arts report, last year, 419 schools in New York City still lacked one full-time, certified arts teacher, so we still have a long way to go.”

For more information about Arts For All, visit www.arts-‌for-a‌ or call (212) 591–6108.

Allison Plitt is a freelance writer who lives in Queens with her husband and young daughter. She is a frequent contributor to New York Parenting.

Check out this great interview with 94.7 Nash Matters host,  Kelly Ford, and Arts For All’s Executive Director, Anna Roberts Ostroff and teaching artist, Robin Cannon Colwell!

NASH Matters is a public affairs program that highlights organizations and charities that serve the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut areas. The interview aired on November 2nd.  Thanks so much to Kelly Ford and NASH Matters for spreading the word about Arts For All to their constituents!
Click here to listen to the interview!

October 17, 2014

Arts For All and two of our teaching artists, Mélissa Smith and Franklyn Strachan, were recently mentioned in this article on

4 Ways to Foster Middle School Students’ Creativity

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer for

“Middle school can be a confusing and brutal time — it was for me, at least,” recalls Melissa Smith, a teaching artist with Arts for All in New York. “While you’re still a kid, your workload is increasing, you have to start thinking about your future, and to top it all off your body is changing! Woof!”

Having the right outlets can make all the difference during this overwhelming time. “Creative activities help middle schoolers explore their psyches and the deeper parts of themselves in a way rigid academia does not,” Smith says.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Arts For All and teaching artist, Lena-Moy Borgen, were mentioned in another article on titled “Teaching Through Art and Activities in the K-5 Classroom.” Click here to read that article.


Here’s a recent article from,  by Suzi Parker, that features Arts For All’s Haiku Program.

Well Versed: Why Teaching Poetry Matters

In this era of short attention spans and 40-word tweets, poetry may be the ideal vehicle for enticing students to learn.

(Photo: Helen Rushbrook/Getty Images)

April 19, 2014 By

Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

full bio follow me

In classrooms across the country, Emily Southerton witnesses the magic of poetry and its ability to transform kids.

As Teach for America’s digital initiative specialist, Southerton is part of the organization’s Poet Warriors Project, a nationwide program that helps kids write and publish poetry on tough issues they face, such as poverty, gangs, and peer pressure. The idea is to generate positive changes in their lives. More than 50 classrooms around the country, and more than 2,500 students, have written for it.

“Poetry ignites students to think about what it’s like to share their opinion, be heard, and make a difference in their world,” Southerton said. “Students can let go of traditional writing rules with poetry. I tell the kids the most important thing about poetry is that people feel differently after reading it.”

For centuries, poetry has enlightened students in classrooms and, yes, occasionally bored them to tears. In 1996, the Academy of American Poets inaugurated National Poetry Month; it’s held in April, “when schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture,” according to its website.

Literature teacher Andrew Simmons lamented, in a recent story for The Atlantic, that many schools no longer teach poetry and that it often gets a bad rap for being boring.  He wrote: “In an education landscape that dramatically deemphasizes creative expression in favor of expository writing and prioritizes the analysis of non-literary texts, high school literature teachers have to negotiate between their preferences and the way the wind is blowing. That sometimes means sacrifice, and poetry is often the first head to roll.”

Simmons, however, said that teachers shouldn’t shy away from poetry because it can help students become more versed in writing and literature. He’s not alone. Throughout the country, teachers and academics say that poetry should be a curriculum priority in English classes.

“Writing poetry remains one of the best tools we have for knowing what we think and what we really feel,” said Anna Marie Hong, a published poet and a visiting writer at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. “Writing provides a way for us to process experience, which is often difficult for young adults, to understand it better, to connect our lives with the experiences of others, and to change events through this new understanding.”

Schools and programs are striving to expose students in every grade to poetry and not just during the month of April.

In New York, P.S. 163, a public school in the Bronx, launched a haiku program last fall for second graders that brought to life the haiku of Sydell Rosenberg, a public school teacher, an ESL teacher, and a published American haiku poet who lived in New York City before her death in 1996. The haiku program, which continued this spring, was led by Arts for All, a nonprofit in New York City that offers accessible artistic opportunities to inner-city children who face socioeconomic, physical, or emotional barriers to exploring the arts.

Resident artist Vidho Lorville led six visual arts workshops that used Rosenberg’s haiku as a teaching tool. The students painted landscapes inspired by the short poems. Students drew and colored animals that were mentioned in the haiku and then put them on scenic backgrounds. The children were taught that they should see haiku and poetry everywhere and then turn those moments into poetry by writing down their thoughts and creating art.

“I am neither a teacher nor a poet, but I think children need poetry in their lives—poetic language that engages them…words that can open up worlds and help them not just to ‘see’ and to imagine in a heightened way but to interpret what they see artistically,” Amy Losak, Rosenberg’s daughter, says. “Every observation, no matter how seemingly mundane or ‘small,’ can be turned into a haiku poem, and the images conjured or captured in haiku can be ‘translated’ into a highly personal piece of art. The art the kids create brings the words to tangible life.”

The Poet Warriors Project gives students from low-income neighborhoods an outlet through which their voices can be heard about the issues that affect them.

Langston HughesCarl Sandburg, and Gwendolyn Brooks wrote for their communities and wrote for the purpose of the nation hearing about their communities,” Southerton says. “Not just for the joys of writing, but they had the drive to change the national dialogue. They try to imitate that and try to speak for their communities honestly.”

The project’s website publishes poems by students, including many in ESL classes; it also offers National Poetry Month activities and a year-round curriculum for teachers.

In this era of short attention spans and 40-word tweets, poetry may very well be the ideal vehicle for enticing students to learn.

“The fact is that poems are short to read, and that makes it less intimidating to read  and write one,” Southerton says. “The shortness is something that students really, really connect to. We’ve had an overwhelming positive response. So many students have said they feel like a writer and also see what their purpose is in life. They say, ‘I am a person who has something to say to the world.’ ”

This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.

AFA 2013 Benefit

Aaron Lazar hosts Arts For All’s fifth annual Cabaret benefit, Arts For All Goes Public: Celebrating 5 Years, on April 21, 2013 at Joe’s Pub, directed by Alexander Gemignani.  The benefit features a performance by PigPen Theatre Co. and appearances by Felicia Finley, Dan Cooney, PJ Griffith, Zak Resnick, Lauren Cohn, Elizabeth Stanley, and Jessica VoskThis year marks Arts For All’s 5th year of being our own 501(c)3 non profit, and our 10th year of serving the community!

Tickets are available now.

The Benefit features a Silent Auction, with items and services donated from local businesses.  The Silent Auction begins at 6 PM and the Cabaret starts at 7 PM.

  • $35 – ticket to the Cabaret
  • $50 – ticket, plus an Arts For All tote bag and lapel pin
  • $75 – ticket, Arts For All tote bag and lapel pin, plus a framed piece of original student artwork created in our workshops
  • $100 – ticket, Arts For All tote bag and lapel pin, a framed piece of original student artwork, plus a photo with host Aaron Lazar

Ticket price does not include $12 food minimum for Joe’s Pub.

Aaron LazarAaron Lazar, currently starring in Mamma Mia, is a near constant presence on Broadway having appeared in 8 Broadway shows over the last 10 years. He originated roles in the world premiere of Impressionism with Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen and A Tale of Two Cities, and appeared in the revival of Les Misérables (Drama Desk Award nomination), the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, and Elaine Stritch, The Phantom of the Opera, and the revival of Oklahoma!.  Aaron starred in the Tony Award winning production of The Light in the Piazza and the ‘Live from Lincoln Center’ PBS broadcast. Most recently, he starred opposite ‘Smash’ star Megan Hilty in Encores’ critically acclaimed production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Aaron appeared in the concert staging of Sondheim’s Company with Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert, and Patti LuPone at Avery Fisher Hall. Other notable appearances include: Carousel in concert with the Boston Pops and South Pacific at The Hollywood Bowl with Reba McEntire and Brian Stokes Mitchell. Aaron’s solo concert “Look For Me in the Music” garnered critical acclaim at the Kennedy Center and has played multiple venues in Manhattan.  Film and TV credits include: The Wolf of Wall Street, J. Edgar, The Notorious Bettie Page, Company live with The NY Philharmonic, ‘Person of Interest’, IFC’s ‘Onion News Network’, ‘A Gifted Man’, ‘Ugly Betty’, ‘White Collar’, ‘New Amsterdam’, and appearances on The Today Show and The View.

PigPen Theatre Co.PigPen Theatre Co. creates atmospheric theatrical fables with a unique blend of shadow puppetry, group movement, live music, and clever lighting effects. Formed at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2008, PigPen has toured nationally and became the first company in history to win the top honor for a play at the New York City International Fringe Festival two years in a row, in 2010 (The Nightmare Story) and 2011 (The Mountain Song).   The Mountain Song was presented as Arts For All’s Audience Project tour in 2011, reaching over 2,500 in-need New York City students.  Their first full-length off-Broadway production, The Old Man and The Old Moon, was a critical smash hit, landing the company on several best of the year theatre ranking lists.   Their debut indie-folk album, “Bremen”, was featured by American Songwriter and was named #10 album of the year in The Huffington Post’s 2012 Grammy preview.

Arts For All thanks our generous Silent Auction donors: PIPPIN Broadway Revival co-produced by Infinity Theatre Company, Katy Pfaffl of War Horse, Diane von Furstenberg, Playwrights Horizons, Mary Meyer Clothing, The Macallan, Highland Park, The Rubin Museum of Art, Luna Park, Rattle N Hum, The Beer Authority, The JCC in Manhattan, Levain Bakery, Broadway Demo, Alicia Marilyn Designs, Colwell, Le Boum, Ten Minute Turns, Play On! Studios, Rochelle Edelson, Lena Moy-Borgen, Steven Moy, and Students at The Green School.