Meet New Staff: Katherine Robles-Ayala

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Please meet Katherine Robles-Ayala, the Workshop’s new administrative assistant! We are thrilled to have Katherine on the team, greeting visitors with her natural warmth, bringing her keen eyes and attention to detail to all tasks, navigating all things Salesforce, and assisting in numerous programmatic and development-related tasks. Katherine does A LOT, and she does it with the utmost grace, humor, and optimism. She’s a music enthusiast with a passion for food (could fellow staff ask for more?), and she’d love to chat with you in German (if you can).  In this month’s newsletter, Katherine discusses her passion for the Workshop and what brought her back to the Bay Area from Massachusetts!

What brought you to the Workshop?

Word of mouth. A few months ago, I moved back to the Bay Area (from the East Coast), determined to find a job that was both related to my background in music and my desire to make the arts accessible to lower income people of color. With that determination, I contacted anyone and everyone I knew. I announced to the world that I was in search of a job in the arts non-profit sector, and before I knew it, a friend of a friend connected me to Performing Arts Workshop. After an hour-long informational interview, I fell in love with the Workshop’s mission and applied for my position. I’ve now been working here since August, and I love every minute of it.

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

Witnessing one of our teaching artists being totally embraced by his students. After a rigorous dance practice, many of the students ran up to him and hugged him before being escorted out of class. The next class was already behind the closed doors, eagerly looking through the windows and waiting to start.

How has working at the Workshop affected you?

Working at the Workshop is a blessing. To be surrounded by artists and people who care so deeply and share in my mission to make the arts accessible to lower income people of color is a dream come true. Working at the Workshop has fortified my passion for the arts and why they’re important. It has given me a sense of place and reignited in me a sense of purpose.


Sitecation: A Week to Observe, Reflect, and Discuss

By: Katherine Robles-Ayala, Administrative Assistant

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Workshop staff posing outside of Visitacion Valley Elementary School, after a successful site observation.

This year, Workshop staff participated in our first ever Sitecation—a week dedicated to having staff visit partner sites. Our aim was to develop a deeper understanding of successes and areas for growth in Workshop classrooms in order to be better advocates in our respective areas of focus.  

We visited six different partner sites. At each site, we encountered talented and passionate teaching artists educating their students in their respective art forms. From Salê’s Capoeira instruction to Dazaun’s Hip Hop dance, Workshop students were seen energetically collaborating with their peers and teaching artists.  

Students, ages 3 to 11, joyously engaged in dance, music, and martial arts, where they explored topics, such as history, creativity, inclusion, original composition, and community building. But the students weren’t the only ones able to engage in such topics through the arts! At the beginning of the week, Workshop staff participated in a Chinese dance class led by Artist Mentor, Chinchin Hsu. In the class, Chinchin challenged everyone to think about the power of our emotions and cultural inclusion (or divide) through our body movements. Participating in such a class and witnessing younger students’ participation in similar classes proved to be a positively impactful experience in our Sitecation week.

Thank you to our program staff, partner sites, teaching artists, students, and everyone who made our first annual Sitecation week possible!

A Mission Bigger Than Any One Classroom

By: Katherine Robles-Ayala, Administrative Assistant

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Like our students, Performing Arts Workshop believes that dance and other art forms are integral to sharing compelling personal narratives. This is one of the reasons we strive to make arts education accessible to students who might not have such access otherwise. Through this mission, we are able to work with more than 4,000 students, assisting and supporting in their exploration of the arts and self-expression. Our mission—to help young people develop critical thinking, creative expression, and essential learning skills through the arts—extends far beyond any one classroom.

To ensure our students continue receiving the arts education they deserve, please consider donating to our Fall Campaign. You can mail your checks to our office (address below) or donate with credit card via our Fundly. (Bonus: if you visit the Fundly page, you’ll see some pretty cute student photos, and can watch an inspiring video from our Showcase.)

Why give to Performing Arts Workshop? According to our board president, Michelle Parker:

“This is it. This is an organization that is providing arts instruction and building relationships with the communities it serves, like no other. We prioritize schools and students who don’t often have artistic opportunities outside of school, and give them amazing opportunities to shine and be their best selves.”

Maybe you’re like Michelle and believe deeply in this work, supporting it with your time, energy, and resources. If you are, we want to hear from you! Why do you choose to support the Workshop? Email us at or post on our Facebook and Twitter pages, and let us know. We’d love to feature supporters in future newsletter pieces!

Please make checks payable to:

Performing Arts Workshop
1661 Tennessee St., #3-O
San Francisco, CA 94107

A Workshop Farewell

By: Christina Magaña, Development Associate

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This January, the Workshop will sadly say “see you later,” but not “goodbye,” to someone very close to our hearts, former teaching artist and current board member, Garth Applegate. Garth started with the Workshop 13 years ago as a teaching artist at a site formerly called Impact High, a school serving high school-aged youth on probation. True to heart and true to Garth, he made magic in the classroom by improvising a class on three-dimensional drawing, a feat considering Garth is a trained musician and not a visual artist. (Visual art was the class sitting vacant for a year before Garth took on this full-time teaching role through the Workshop.)

Garth managed to create a class that folded music into visual art, eventually creating an art and music curriculum that served every student who came through the program, some for many months and others for only a few days. Garth remained at Impact High for three years until the city cut funding, transitioning Garth into a new role at the San Francisco Friends School, where he currently works as Music Director.

Much time has come and gone since Garth taught with the Workshop at Impact High, but he still remembers the students and staff who regularly inspired him. And he can still remember the words of one Impact High student who, when asked why they came to class, said: “The only class where I learn anything I like is Garth’s class.” Garth believes the statement attests only to the value of an arts education, and to what such an education meant for one student. To us, it means Garth was and is a remarkable educator, and also much too humble.

We are incredibly grateful for Garth’s six years of board service, on top of his three years of teaching with the Workshop. As a valued member of the Workshop’s program quality committee, his contributions to the Workshop have kept us connected to the past while always looking toward the future. And the music the Garth Applegate Trio performed for our 50th Anniversary was the cherry on top of an already beautiful and momentous evening.

Garth, we will miss you! But we know where to find you. And you know where we’ll always be: grooving with the students, just like you.

The Geneva Powerhouse: A Return to Our Roots

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By: Allison Thompson, Director of Individual Giving

This spring, Performing Arts Workshop was selected to become the sole occupant and primary program provider at the soon-to-be renovated Geneva Powerhouse. Located in the city’s District 11 across from Balboa Park Station, the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse is the last physical reminder of the city’s first electric railway system. Since 2004, the SF Recreation and Park Department has been working with District 11 residents to create a space for youth and families that focuses on arts-related youth development.

The Workshop was recommended by a selection panel for its 40 years of service to District 11 youth, strong track record of partnerships with public agencies, effective and culturally-responsive programing, and healthy financial standing.

For the Workshop, our move to the Powerhouse is a return to our roots. We were founded in a Telegraph Hill dance studio in 1965 and it’s been a dream of the Workshop to expand our programming portfolio to once again include on-site programming while maintaining the work we do with our external site partners in schools, transitional housing facilities, community centers, and other locations.

We are thrilled with the opportunity to once more have roots in a historic San Francisco community and to bring exceptional studio programming to a planned 2,400 youth and adults a year.

Look for Performing Arts Workshop at the Powerhouse…coming soon!

Thanking Our Artists


By Zoë Bartlett, Administrative Assistant, and Laurie Loftus, Director of Institutional Giving

When Gloria Unti started the Workshop in 1965, she did so with one goal in mind: to provide creative outlets to socially and economically disadvantaged youth who were otherwise shut out from opportunities to participate in arts programs. Because the course of her life was altered through her discovery of dance, Gloria understood firsthand just how transformative art can be, and she pioneered a method that placed young artists at the center of a socially engaged and critical practice. Today, the Workshop continues her mission of closing the arts education gap by providing accessible, social justice-informed arts education to marginalized youth in the Bay Area.

We see our artists as keepers of the flame, and we continue to be amazed at the energy and passion for learning our teaching artists exhibit. Since Gloria’s founding of the Workshop, we have had the pleasure of working with artists who actively dedicate themselves to promoting youth empowerment through creative expression. So we wanted to take a moment to appreciate our artists, both old and new, who have been on the front lines of serving and supporting our kids. Now, more than ever, we know how important it is to provide youth with positive forces of change, and that’s exactly how we view our artists.

We also wanted to take this opportunity to warmly welcome Christine Armand, Lara D’Emilio, Heather June Gibbons, Elizabeth Jennings, and Nicole Jost, who have recently joined our team of artists.

You can learn more about our artists here.

Meet New Staff: Allison Thompson

By Zoë Bartlett, Administrative Assistant


Allison Thompson, Director of Individual Giving

We would like to welcome Allison Thompson, our new Director of Individual Giving! While she entered the scene in the hectic beginning stages of our 2016 Fall Campaign, Allison quickly invested in the mission of the Workshop.

In this newsletter, Allison discusses how she came to the Workshop, what her experience has been like, and what she envisions for the Workshop.

What brought you to the Workshop?

I was very fortunate that the public school district I grew up in was very committed to the performing arts, and I learned so much about leadership, teamwork, self-discipline, and self-expression through my time as a pianist, flautist, drum major, and Queen Band Geek in high school. When I decided to formally pursue a career in the performing arts, my goal was always to make sure that kids have access to arts education in school so they too have the potential to discover a passion in life, or at the very least learn skills that will help them to be successful in the workplace and beyond. I never dreamed I would find myself at such a warrior of an organization as the Workshop, one that is more passionate and protective of all the same things I am, and I couldn’t be more honored to be to a part of the family.

What has been your most memorable moment working on the Fall Campaign?

The Fall Campaign has been my first glimpse into the community of the Workshop. From new major donors setting the stage for a successful campaign, to so many who have been steadily and continuously giving for more than twenty years, to donors who hadn’t given in years and gave a gift again, to our Board who has set higher goals for their own personal fundraising around the campaign, I have been beyond impressed and inspired by the commitment of the Workshop family. And also slightly intimidated! But I can’t wait to meet everyone in our community and hear everyone’s stories.

The Workshop has been working with students in the Bay Area for over 50 years and has a rich history of youth empowerment, social justice, and community building. What are your hopes and aspirations for the Workshop’s next 50 years?

That’s a tough question when I’ve only been here six weeks! I’m quickly learning that because the work we do is in schools, largely behind-the-scenes, and without a performance product like a ballet or play for people to engage with, our visibility to the general Bay Area community is rather low. One of my hopes for the next 50 years is that when someone says ‘The Workshop’ in casual conversation, just as they might ‘the symphony’ or ‘the opera’, everyone in that conversation already knows who we are and what we do, without question. And if I’m really dreaming big, has already made a $5000 gift that year!