What’s New

We are excited to announce that as part of Performing Arts Workshop’s new Artist Leadership Training Program, this fall we will begin piloting an internship program in partnership with the University of San Francisco’s Performing Arts and Social Justice Department. Students who share our commitment to social justice and are interested in pursuing a career in the arts or education will be paired with a Workshop teaching artist who specializes in dance, music, spoken word/hip-hop, or Capoeira. Together, they will develop a curriculum and co-teach a 15-week residency in their art form. USF students will be eligible to receive course credit, and our young students will benefit from two teaching artists learning and growing with each other.

We’ve accepted one student for the pilot program next year. She’s a rising senior at USF, majoring in Performing Arts and Social Justice (Dance Concentration) with a double minor in health studies and child and youth studies. Stay tuned for an update in future newsletters!


The Workshop was founded on the core belief that an artistic education should be viewed as a basic human right and a vital part of developing a compassionate, fair and just society. We sometimes get asked how these social justice values show up in our classrooms. We offer this vivid example, from spoken word artist/teaching artist Natasha Huey on a class she taught in 2014-15.

The news of Darren Wilson’s no indictment hit on a Thursday night, and my spoken word poetry class (at Visitacion Valley Middle School) was the following morning. After some hours of wrestling with different options for how to address this with my students, I contacted my partner teacher, Mr. Bandy, to let him know I would be doing a whole new lesson plan discussing how word choice, an element of composition in poetry, can contribute to potentially fatal stereotypes.

After a powerful class full of questions and troubling discoveries about how we misrepresent each other, Mr. Bandy and I sat down to plan the next few weeks. Mr. Bandy, who was always down for a challenge and trying new things that would be relevant and engaging for students, came up with the idea of a class project to have students make altars to Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We collaborated on the project guidelines to integrate poetry and source-based essay writing.

For the poetry components, students were asked to write through the point of view of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or any other fictional characters they could imagine that witnessed either’s death. Some students wrote through the point of view of a little kid (“‘Mom, when is this going to stop? I’m tired.’ Mom said, ‘I don’t know sweetheart.’”), police officer, grandmother, person who filmed Eric Garner’s death (“I was really scared to go back down there again because of what I saw. I told the interviewer that I said to put an oxygen mask on him when I heard him say, ‘I can’t breathe.’”), and more.

Lastly, students were asked to describe the world they wanted to imagine into existence—a world in which Michael Brown and Eric Garner would still be alive. Many students used the opportunity to “rewind” the scenarios they wrote about in their personas and “replay” them where conversations or advice happened with police instead of violence. On the first day of class, we worked on persona writing, and after weeks of working on specific detail and “show don’t tell,” we were ready to bring personas back and apply these new skills to the projects. But this was more than an exercise to get students to make cardboard altars or write pretty poems. This was an exercise in empathy.

Empathy was particularly urgent because many different classes featured students bullying each other and groaning, “Why are we still talking about this? What do these people have to do with us?”

We began to answer this each week when we tried to step into the shoes of another more and more effectively. What would this person’s hands be doing while they watched what was happening? What words would they choose to describe it? How would a child and a police officer see the scenes differently? To what and whom would they go home to afterwards? What does their home look like?

Mr. Bandy and I hoped that these altars could offer a sense of honor for the black lives lost that were not honored by the justice system or media. We also wanted to provide a space in class for students to work through these timely conversations and explore personal connection with the topic through poetry. So does specific detail and persona writing affect empathy? With this project, we just began to dig below the surface, but it certainly planted some seeds.

By the end of our residency, several students chose to write source-based pieces about social justice, and leaders in the classroom took an active role in encouraging their peers. How these seeds will continue to grow, I may never personally witness, but I find hope in a classroom full of students walking in the pain of someone else’s shoes and imagining love in its place.


Superstar Teaching Artist (and 2016 Showcase Emcee) Natasha Huey with her students from Galileo High School. Photo credit: Robyn Navarro.




The Power of a Spotlight

By Emily Garvie, Executive Director


The excitement of capturing your child’s first experience on stage: a priceless moment from our May 20 showcase. Photo credit: Robyn Navarro. 

On May 20, families and friends packed the Brava Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District. They came to celebrate the 86 young performers taking the stage that night. From preschool tots to older teens, these artists performed their own original compositions in dance, music, and spoken word/poetry, sharing what they had learned over a year of residency classes with Performing Arts Workshop artists.

It was the Workshop’s fourth annual Student Showcase, and my first as executive director. Photo evidence confirms that I was grinning from ear to ear the entire evening. How could I not? The Brava, itself a work of art, positively hummed with the preshow excitement of performers and their families mingling and chatting over food in the lobby. And that’s to say nothing of the show itself, which embodied the audience-performer connection at its best—a two-way flow of powerful energy and warm appreciation.

Since that night, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means for our young artists to take to the stage for the first time in their lives, to be in the rapt gaze of an audience. What it means for them to learn new skills during the school year, to practice (and practice and practice) for that one sweaty-palmed moment of performance that’s over before you even know it.

To be in the spotlight.

That moment reveals to us the value of what we are able to bring forth into the world. We see ourselves and our power with a new clarity, and a spotlight also makes us visible to others on the soul-deep level that art allows.

Next year, our artists will be focusing directly on process toward performance, harvesting the fertile ground that is preparing for performance, from creative spark to spotlight.

The importance of being seen—and feeling seen—simply cannot be overstated.

Toward the end of the show, center stage, in the spotlight, one young poet Cedrica Hampton called out the importance of being seen in her spoken word anthem:

Attention all girls of color, we are not invisible.
I see you.
& I hope one day you can see her too.



Meet Program Manager Adam Levy!


As Performing Arts Workshop’s new Program Manager, Adam Levy manages our school and community site partnerships with the most supreme diligence, which makes sense considering his background. Adam’s a writer and translator, who, together with his wife, just launched a small press, Transit Books. We staff members are grateful for Adam’s commitment to the Workshop’s original book club revival project: the Place of Business Book Club. (Although a few of us have said more than once we plan on attending the staff book club meetings and then don’t, Adam remains patient and dedicated to the project. Maybe it’s the teacher in him.) Read on to learn more about what brought Adam to the Workshop and what keeps him committed to the work.  

What brought you to the Workshop?

After spending a handful of years in the classroom—first as a high school teacher in Budapest and later as a teaching artist and undergraduate instructor in New York—I came to the Workshop eager to support youth and arts programming in a new capacity, in communities that need it most.

What is one of the most memorable things you encountered while at a site visit?

We throw a release party each year for the poetry anthology put together by the students at Marin Juvenile Hall. In one of my first weeks with the Workshop, I was fortunate enough to hear the students read from their work. The power of their stories just blew me away.

What do you like most about being the Workshop’s Program Manager?

I love getting back in the classroom, either to meet with teachers or observe classes, although I don’t mind not having to grade papers!

In spite of our best efforts, we as an office have failed you, because we have failed the book club you started up again (a book club that we get so excited about but sort of fail to attend). Despite our failure, what makes you continue coming to work?

I keep coming to work because I’m surrounded by some pretty sharp, arts-minded colleagues, who care deeply about what we do. What they lack in book club attendance, they make up for in wit and culinary skill.

Meet Program Coordinator Priscilla Lopez!


Priscilla Lopez is the Workshop’s new Program Coordinator, and she’s pretty fearless. She schedules our artistic residencies at school or community sites, manages our internal database, and regularly creates reports from our residency data. But what makes Priscilla even more amazing? She began this role just two weeks prior to our HUGE 50th Anniversary celebration, and she proved she was game for it all. The office has been enriched by Priscilla’s sense of adventure. She even fire dances! (In spite of our best efforts, she WILL NOT fire dance for us at the office.)

In this post, Priscilla discusses how she came to the Workshop, why she’s invested in its mission, and how a certain student in his Adidas track suit taught her the true meaning of swag.

What brought you to the Workshop?

Can I say destiny? (laughing). I think it was a profound desire to find not just a day-to-day job, but to connect my passion with my work. I love the Workshop’s passion and commitment to the students we serve. And as someone who understands the challenges inherent in the San Francisco communities we serve, as well as the power of art, I knew this was the right place for me.

What was most memorable to you about any of the site visits you’ve been on?

I had one memorable visit at Mission Bay [Head Start, one of our Preschool for All sites] to see Melissa Wynn’s creative movement class. There were 12 kids in the classroom, all excited, all wide-eyed. They were so eager to do the next move in the sequence, to get more and more. It made me think of how much energy you have when you’re between the ages of three and five. When you get older, you’re always thinking about how you appear to others, what you look like. But when you’re a kid, you’re not afraid to mess up, and you are so excited to show and tell. What I love about the Workshop is that it’s giving these kids a new way of allowing their energy to express itself.

How has working at the Workshop affected you?

I feel truly honored in serving the kids we’re serving, and I have a newfound respect for them because I’m even more aware of the challenges at their school sites.

I look at my nieces and nephews who can go to gymnastics classes or take part in a number of other extracurricular activities. Because of their socio-economic status, those classes come more easily. But what we’re doing at the Workshop is serving the students who don’t have access to those activities, or whose access does not come as readily or easily. I feel really lucky to be doing that work.

What was most memorable to you about the 50th Anniversary, especially considering how closely you worked with the student performers?

I think I was just mesmerized by how hyper and nervous and shaky the kids were. I made everyone take three deep breaths to calm down. It was funny, though, because as soon as they got on the stage, they were immediately performers. They just snapped into it! It was pretty amazing. And the parents of the kids looked so proud and excited, too. They took so many pictures!

Priscilla had recently told us that one of the 50th Anniversary student performers was wearing a sharp Adidas track suit. Priscilla said, “Hey, that’s a cool outfit,” to which the student replied, “Thanks, I know,” with a smirk.

What about the student in the track suit? Do you think he got his confidence and sass from the Workshop or was he just born with it?

(Laughing) You know, I think the confidence and sass were just him; he’s pretty indicative of the amazing students we serve. I think the Workshop was just the arena for him to show off that confidence.




Thank you to everyone who supported our 50th Anniversary Celebration on November 12, 2015! Together we raised over $67,000 to advance the Workshop’s mission and support high quality arts education programming in schools and community centers.

Check out the 50th celebration photo album here! 

There’s a litany of people to thank. But first, we want to show you a picture of our favorite part of the event:


These young students, all newly arrived immigrants from Mexico and South & Central America who attend Mission Education Center, showed us what they’d been learning in their Performing Arts Workshop class: English, Bhangra dance, and original composition.

To help these Spanish-speaking students with their English verbal skills, Teaching Artist Vanessa Sanchez challenged them to interpret the shapes of the alphabet with their bodies. Those shapes in turn inspired their original choreography.


All of us in the audience were given a rare look inside students’ creative process: how they balance structure and individual, improvisational creative expression; and how they learn the basic skills and vocabulary of dance side-by-side with language and math skills.

Judging from their nonstop ear-to-ear grins, it’s pretty clear that the essential glue holding it all together is pure joy — and pride.




We’ve been teaching at Mission Education Center for over 10 years. Our partnership is one that is near and dear to our hearts. Some of these students have never stepped foot inside a classroom or turned on a computer. They are learning a new culture and language at warp speed following, for quite a few of them, unfathomably challenging journeys to get here.

To say we are humbled by your support of Performing Arts Workshop is an understatement.

Thank you for supporting this event and making it possible to serve students at Mission Education Center and thousands more students in San Francisco and Berkeley.



Performing Arts Workshop family (left to right): Executive Director Emily Garvie, Board President Sagar Gupta, former Executive Director Jessica Mele, and former Board President Cyrus Wadia.

We want to thank the village of folks who helped make this event possible. [unfurling my Oscar thank you speech…]

Thank you to our sponsors! (Click here for the full list of sponsors.) Your excitement and enthusiasm for the event was unrivaled. Seriously, you’re the best.

Thank you to our talented, driven, and tireless event committee led by Event Chair Aliza Arenson! You all belong in the event planning hall of fame.


Thank you to the many luminaries, artists, change-makers, and friends who helped light up the night.

We have so much gratitude for all the folks who helped make this event pop! This wouldn’t have been possible without all of the wonderful volunteers and friends who helped make the decorations, set up the chairs and tables, stuffed envelopes, and everything else in between. We are also indebted to everyone who supported the silent auction!


Board Member and Silent Auction Chair Gabby Guinea (back, right) with our friends from Hopwater Distribution!


Celebrating 50 years in style. Thank you, Matt Evans, for this beauty! (Check out his Etsy page at Evans Woodshop Design.)

SOMArts venue1

Thank you to SOMArts Cultural Center for providing the perfect venue!

Thank you to Carla Sarvis, Gloria’s daughter, for being a part of the celebration. As many of you know, on June 22, 2015, just months before the celebration, Workshop Founder Gloria Unti passed away at the age of 92.

Carla and Tom

Carla Sarvis and Tom DeCaigny

Gloria’s conviction that creativity is a dynamic vehicle for learning has transformed the lives of generations of San Francisco Bay Area youth. We thank her for her tireless dedication to bringing art-making, creativity, and self-expression to young people, particularly the children who need our help the most.

Thank you, Gloria, for everything.  


“Performing Arts Workshop began with the principle that all people have a voice that ought to be heard and that everyone has a right to creative expression, for that is essential to human dignity.”

-Gloria Unti, 1924-2015




Gold Sponsors

  • Nina Kwan
  • Anne and Paul Wattis
  • Paula Williams

Silver Sponsor

  • Wendy vanden Heuvel

Bronze Sponsors

  • AccountingSuite
  • Diane Downing
  • Matthew Clark Davison and Ansumana Hull
  • Karen Harris and Will Cavin
  • Thomas Hensley
  • Rob and Cheryl Lind
  • Ms. RoseMarie Maliekel
  • Annie McGeady and Mike Fratesi
  • Jessica Mele and Doug Wentworth
  • Mark Miller
  • Michael Mullen
  • Olive Grove Consulting
  • Adrienne Leight Rogers
  • Cyrus Wadia
  • Merti Walker

Event Committee

  • Aliza Arenson, Chair
  • Emily Bozentka
  • Emma Feeney
  • Jenna Fiore
  • Janelle Gleason
  • Gabby Guinea
  • Sasha Larkin
  • Elaine Lee
  • Adam Levy
  • Laurie Loftus
  • Priscilla Lopez  
  • Christina Magana
  • Reed Mayfield
  • Jessica Mele
  • Michelle Parker
  • Rick Rochon
  • Jennifer Spoerri


Special thanks

  • Margaret Jenkins, you blew us all away and continue to do so with your groundbreaking performances.
  • Supervisor Eric Mar, thank you for backing arts education in San Francisco and for always fighting for our students’ education.
  • Thank you to Tom DeCaigny, SF Arts Commissioner and former Workshop ED, for leading the Fund-a-Need Auction and getting everyone out of their seats.
  • Thank you to Workshop teaching artists Chinchin Hsu and Natasha Huey for your beautiful, soul-stirring piece.
  • Thank you to Peter Rothblatt for being an amazing champion for the Workshop.
  • Thank you to Jessica Mele for stepping into the action at the last minute and gracing us all with your presence.
  • Thank you to the Garth Applegate Jazz Trio for your beautiful music.
  • Nadya Bratt, thank you for sharing your story with us.  
  • Matthew Evans, thank you for handcrafting the gorgeous marquee.
  • Andrew Ho, thank you for capturing the event with your camera.
  • Photo-matica, thanks for bringing the photobooth fun. (What’s a party without a photobooth?)
  • Many, many thanks to Lisa Wong Jackson of Good On Paper Design for creating a memorable logo and beautiful cards.
  • Old Skool Cafe
  • North Coast Brewing
  • Eel River Brewing
  • Bock Wine and Spirits
  • Smith-Anderson Wine Group


Silent Auction Supporters

Airbnb | American Conservatory Theater | Adventure Cat Sailing Charters | Bi-Rite | Children’s Creativity Museum | Dogpatch Boulders | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco | Hopwater Distribution | HiDive | I Luv My Body Fitness | Incredible Adventures Tours | Marcella’s Lasagneria | The Masonic | Mollie Stone’s Markets | Numi Tea | Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary | Outdoor Adventure Club | Philz Coffee | Piccino | Pier 39 | Presidio Golf Course | San Francisco Ballet | San Francisco Opera | See Jane Run | Sons and Daughters | Sports Basement | Trader Joe’s SoMa | Zazen


Thank you to Beta Alpha Psi, Glenda Bates, Nancy Chen, Anne Trickey, Sheila Pressley, Maya Sussman, Julie Truong, Joan Rose Tiongquico, Rahman Jamaal, Sale Ramos, and many, many more people!