Arts for Learning teaches valuable life skills through paid arts internships

Miami’s Arts for Learning (A4L), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing teaching and learning through the arts, launched nearly 15 years ago with a vision of connecting professional artists to youth in preschool, K-12, and after school programs.
While there is a targeted effort to work with kids with lower socioeconomic status, Arts for Learning does not focus exclusively on any one kind of community. “Every child benefits from education in the arts and every child experiences growth from that,” says Executive Director Sheila Womble. “We’re cognizant of wanting to be able to reach all children, [including those] who typically have less access to these experiences.”
The organization reaches about 5,000 kids each year, Womble says. Most recently they had 52 different program locations, 252 artist residencies, and 207 professional development workshops. Womble estimates that, counting all of the artist interns and their core staff, they create between 100 and 120 jobs in the arts in a year.
From infancy all the way through high school, Arts for Learning has programs and services that engage kids in art making. Womble says, “The reason we do this is because arts is the one subject area that is most important to a child’s brain development. Also, for a young child, it helps them make meaning and not just receive information.”
Arts for Learning has a wide variety of programs for kids of all ages, from teaching infants and toddlers communication skills like how to express feelings and resolve conflict to fine motor movement, even problem solving. “This can all be done through the arts,” Womble says. “[It is] a really efficient way [for children] to take in and process information. [The artist facilitators] can [teach art] and introduce so many other concepts at the same time.”
The organization provides its own after school programs as well as programs in partnership with other organizations, and covers any and every kind of visual and performing arts discipline: visual artists, actors, dancers, musicians, creative writers, and so on.
While each of the programs offered through Arts for Learning are significant for children at various different stages of development, what perhaps sets this organization apart from most others is their ArtWorks program, a paid summer internship in the arts for high school students.
Womble makes it clear that as interns, these students are artists, first and foremost, and are expected to report into work like any other intern. “They are hired to be artists,” she says. “We commission work from them. They have to produce, create work, exhibit, perform, organize – all of that.” They also have to do things on behalf of the organization, like community outreach events to help with A4L’s visibility and marketing.
Each summer, A4L hires 50 interns for these paid internships. In addition to academic development, the students also learn valuable life skills both as artists and as future working professionals – financial literacy training, how to give and receive feedback, resume writing, time management, and writing skills development.
ArtWorks is now in its fourth year and has spread primarily through word of mouth. They recruit from area high schools near their facility at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, but they get applications from across the region. Students also aren’t required to have prior experience in the arts. “We want a balance of some who have experience and some who don’t,” Womble explains. “In any work environment people have different abilities and skills and expertise, just like in any work environment. There is a real sense of teamwork that develops. The reciprocity has been terrific.”
With the support of a 2012 Knight Arts Challenge grant, 50 interns out of about 150 applications are accepted each year. They typically hire 20 visual artist interns, as well as 10 in dance, 10 in theatre, and 10 in creative writing. “We work hard to make sure there is a balance of skills and abilities.”
Interns have access to exhibition space, workshop space, and a black box theatre and rehearsal space. Some students are interns year-round and have the opportunity to teach and design some lessons while working alongside other artists in after school programs. They’re also taught to consider the visibility of the organization and the program, and host pop-up programs and art making areas at different events and public spaces.
“We’re really focused on transferrable skills to any industry, like project and time management and communication skills. All the things they are responsible for and are learning are things they will need in any career.”
Arts for Learning will continue to expand its program portfolio with a new three-year intensive middle school program for kids with an explicit interest in the arts, as well as a year-round after school program and summer camp dedicated to the arts that will be ran entirely by A4L.