AS220’s youth work begain in 1998, when Dr. Arlene Chorney served as the principal of the Rhode Island Training School, the state’s juvenile detention facility. Dr. Chorney saw the potential in arts education for juvenile offenders and invited a number of artists and writers to the school to share their skills with youth. A Providence poet named Demian Yettaw began teaching poetry workshops there and found his students to be inspired and brave poets. AS220’s artistic director, Bert Crenca, heard about Demian’s work at the Training School and began to attend class there with youth.
Bert describes falling in love with the Training School students and soon began teaching drawing classes there. He met several Brown University students interning at the school, as well as Americorps VISTA’s who worked to support Dr. Chorney’s progressive educational agenda.
Conversations led to the realization that providing arts education inside a juvenile detention facility is positive – but not transformative. Bert, Dr. Chorney, and the VISTA’s saw that there were no avenues for youth to continue their work in the community after release. And so Broad Street Studio – now known as AS220 Youth – was born.
In 2001, Bert used $4000 from a grant from the Lila Wallace Foundation to rent a garage space on Providence’s South Side. Training School VISTA Sam Seidel became the Studio Director and worked with other Brown alum Laura Rubin and Adam Reich to begin programming in the space.
In the beginning, Broad Street Studio focused on teaching the four branches of hiphop – rapping, DJ’ing, breakdancing and graffiti. Soon this expanded to include a range of different projects like the Broad Street Arkestra (free jazz/punk/hiphop), a literary magazine called The Muzine, and an entrepreneurial Product Design Team. Sisters taught young women to use a critical eye with media and to produce their own videos on gender disparities.
Under Sam’s leadership, funding for AS220’s youth work began to grow, and formal partnerships with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) and the RI Department of Education were established. These partnerships allowed AS220 to sustain programming in- and outside the Training School for all Rhode Island teens with an interest in the arts.
In 2006, when AS220 opened the Dreyfus building and doubled its real estate footprint, Broad Street Studio moved downtown to Empire Street. This allowed more connections between the youth program and the adult side of AS220.
After a lot of soul-searching and dialogue, we decided to change the name of Broad Street Studio to AS220 Youth in 2009. This was mainly to clear up confusion about where the program was located and what our connection to AS220 was.
2009 also marked the year that we began our partnership with the Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program (UCAP), a middle school for youth who were retained at least one academic year and who are high risk for dropping out of high school. This expanded the age range of youth served by the program to 13-21.