The Young Audiences Story

By Liane McAllister

Young Audiences, Inc. is the compelling story of an exciting evolution that began with the impassioned dream of three ladies—Mrs. Edgar Leventritt and Mrs. Lionello Perera of New York City and Mrs. Nina Perera Collier of Baltimore—each determined to share her love and learning about music with school age children.  Over 60 rich and productive years, Young Audiences, Inc. (YA) has become America’s leading national arts education organization, now boasting 30 regional affiliates that deliver close to 85,000 outstanding arts programs to nearly 7,000 schools and community sites across the country. 

Baltimore, 1950: the first seed sprouts

 At her spacious old Baltimore home, Mrs. Nina Perera Collier regularly received well-known musicians, including Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who played to the absolute delight of her children and friends. Inspired by the Collier children’s enthusiastic responses, she arranged for the South American pianist Raul Spivak to give a concert at a local Baltimore public school.  Immediately after his concert, schoolchildren were so engaged by the music that they begged for more programs.  Quick to respond, Mrs. Collier arranged for 20 more concerts in the Baltimore elementary schools and her initiative in 1950 is cited as the official founding of Young Audiences of Maryland, based in Baltimore. Thus it was that Mrs. Collier’s wonderful idea started an eventual cross- country movement that has introduced millions of children to the arts

The New York connection

Excited about the possibilities of bringing the best classical musicians to schoolchildren, Mrs. Collier contacted her close friends and family in New York: her mother Mrs. Lionello Perera, and Mrs. Edgar Leventritt, a passionate music patron of many famous and upcoming classical musicians who played regularly in her Park Avenue apartment.  They decided to begin a similar program to introduce public schoolchildren in New York to classical music.  Their goal, as stated a 1952 brochure was, “to promote, on a national scale, school concerts of the highest quality.  The organization is founded on the conviction that the child is sensitive to the dedicated artist; that he responds to beauty and best in his cultural heritage.  The young listener brought into contact with the truly creative artist, will be inspired, his vision will be widened, his life enrich.  In this way, future audiences for good music will be built.”

At first, Mrs. Leventritt ran the fledgling program out her apartment and kept files in one of her closets. To help her cause, she enlisted some of her good friends, who were equally knowledgeable and passionate about music. Together they handpicked all the  musicians and selected the repertoire for the in-school music programs.  The group included Beatrice A. Duggan, Anna Lou De Havenon and Edna Phillips.  “These were the first great ladies of Young Audiences’’ says renowned clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, long-time YA National Advisory Committee and National Board member.’’ Stoltzman  adds that “These ladies believed that if great musicians played in Carnegie Hall, why couldn’t they play at PS 61. These early program meetings held at Mrs. Leventritt’s home were so energized and dynamic.  These ladies knew they could and did get things done!” 

During 1952-53, its first season as a national organization, approximately 200 concerts were performed by 27 artists in ensemble and solo appearances. These programs took place in New York City, Connecticut, Boston, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Tennessee, Louisville, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Colorado.  In Baltimore, 59 recitals were given in public and parochial schools.  

In 1952, Young Audiences was incorporated, and the founding board included: Rosalie J. Leventritt, chairman; Carolyn A. Perera, vice chairman; Rudolf Serkin, vice chairman; Nina P. Collier, secretary; and T. Roland Berner, treasurer.

At the same time, the board established YA’s Music Advisory Committee composed of seventeen world renowned musicians, including to name but a few, Mieczylaw Horszowski, Eugene Estomin, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern and George Szell.   

Mrs. Leventritt hired Carol Morse as her Executive Secretary. Carol’s role expanded and she became the organization’s first Executive Director.  Remarkably YA has had just five national executive directors in sixty years: Carol Morse (1952-69) Gerry E. Martin (1969-78) , Warren H. Yost (1978-89), Richard Bell (1989-2010) and David A. Dik (2010 to present day).

Birth of Young Audiences Chapters  and Board Leadership

In the first decade of it’s operation, Young Audiences’ efforts focused on expanding music programs in schools through the development of a chapter network. By the early 1960s, major grants from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations enable Young Audiences to expand it operations and the network grew to 19 chapters with 60 ensembles giving more than 2,000 programs to a half million schoolchildren.  In 1958, Colonel Samuel Rosenbaum, the trustee of the Music Performance Trust Funds (MPTF) supported YA with a matching grant of $50,000 toward the payment of musicians’ fees.  During the next 20 years, MPTF would contribute more than eight million dollars in matching funds to the organization.

With all the growth in performances and budgets, one of the organizations strongest accomplishments is in interconnections among the people it brings together:  from the local to the national, Young Audiences pulls individuals and groups together no matter how disparate they might seem. Many board volunteers believe it is a tradition that is as strong today as it was in the organization’s first years.

National board member Minette Cooper  (who has also served on the board of YA of Virginia since 1963) remembers those early years of expansion. She credits the rapid founding of the new chapters to the board’s ability to attract like-minded leaders who were major advocates for the arts in their communities.  They in turn would make Young Audiences programs a reality for children in their schools. 

National trustee Mary P. Nass, who a long-term trustee of Young Audiences of Louisiana says.  “We have dream board which is racially diverse, and all of our member have a universal enthusiasm for the mission.’’ Mitch Jericho, founder and board member of BigThought, YA’s Dallas affiliate adds “…at least half of our board members are professionals.  It’s not a “yes board” where members do minimal work and get a pat on the back for serving.  Every board member is required to serve on at least one committee.”  With pride, Mitch notes that, “many members don’t like to retire from our board. They want to stay involved, and we have an extremely active past presidents’ committee.”

John Creamer, YA’s current board vice-chairman and former president from 1978-1995, observes that board leadership has played an important role in strengthening the relationship between National organization and affiliates.  He attributes YA’s success to strong leadership in particular current board chair, Corinne P. Greenberg and past board chairs:  J. McLain Stewart (1979- 1985) and Brooks Thomas (1985 - 2010.)   

Mr. Creamer added that the national board and staff have helped build unity across the network through several key initiatives including:  increased funding for network projects, the creation of an Executive Directors Council, involvement in the planning and implementation of the organization’s latest Strategic Plan, and monthly conference calls with affiliate staff and on-site visits by National Executive Director David A. Dik to every affiliate in the network.  Additionally, there is an annual National Conference held each April in an affiliate community, an annual Leadership Conference held every November in New York City, and the Arts Education Leadership Institute, now in its second year, which cultivates new staff professionals in the YA Network.

Transformational changes in arts Education Programs and Engaging children through all art forms

Richard Bell joined Young Audiences in 1973 as a consultant and was charged with creating a new theater residency for 5th grade students. Later, he served as a regional program director, director of National services, and in 1989 was appointed National Executive Director a position he held until his retirement in 2010.  In reflecting on the organization’s early program history, Richard describes the original performance demonstration which dominated YA rosters and the evolution into more intensive and complex programming.

“For the first twenty years Young Audiences was the leader in performance demonstrations at schools,’’ says Richard.  “The artists and ensembles empowered the children by performing music, having them ask questions and participate in the performances, so they understood that music is not static, but people can control and change it.  Kids’ previous experiences with music performances they were expected to just listen!  Many orchestras and small ensembles were already doing this, but this had not been done in schools before,‘’ adds Richard.  The early assembly format was typically thirty to forty-five minutes with about 50% of the program consisting of pure performance, 40% with demonstrations of all the basic aspects of music such as rhythm and dynamics, and the remaining 10% devoted to kids actively participating by coming up on stage individually and in small groups, or reacting as an entire audience.”

However, as the organization grew, Young Audiences met the needs and interests of schools by offering programs representing all disciplines of music, dance, theater, the visual and literary arts. In addition to the traditional performance-demonstration programs two new programming modes—workshops and residencies—were introduced. 

Reporting on the dramatic benefits of such residencies, Richard noted, “In the residencies, children learn all about discipline and perseverance, experimentation with observable data to identify a problem and to strive for the better, best and unique solutions.  Through this process, children also learn about cooperation and teamwork, as well as leadership.  They hone their ability to create their own vision, to share that vision and to get others to help enact this.  This all builds a strong foundation for the child’s self esteem and confidence.”

Silver Anniversary and the YA Sun Logo

On February 27, 1977 Young Audiences saluted National board member and famed opera singer  Marian Anderson on her 75th birthday and celebrated its own 25th anniversary at a gala benefit held at Carnegie Hall.  First Lady Rosalynn Carter was patroness of the concert and brought congratulatory greetings from President Jimmy Carter. The honorary chairman for the event was actress Helen Hayes. The event received a great deal of publicity in local and national publications including The New York Times and helped raise awareness of Young Audiences nationwide arts in education programs. Miss Anderson also served as the National Chairman of Young Audiences Week, March 13-19, 1977.

It has been said that people’s faces reveal the lives they have led.  Perhaps that is true for organizations as well.  Young Audiences “face” is its distinctive logo created by the renowned designer Ivan Chermayeff, of Chermayeff & Geismar.  In 1979,  the Young Audiences adopted the sun logo as its official symbol. The bright yellow sun, drawn in the simplicity of a child’s hand is evocative of warmth, strength, growth, creativity and imagination.  In 2005 Mr. Chermayeff updated the logo, incorporating the same sun image and lettering but adding a defining declaration to the name: Young Audiences Arts for Learning. The new logo makes the connection between “who” the organization is and “what” it does.  It defines the nature of Young Audiences programs: helping young people learn in and through the arts, in schools and communities. 

Reaching beyond the classroom and The National Medal of Arts

By the 1980s, Young Audiences was truly a full service organization to the arts-in-education community.  It was a very busy decade and Young Audiences produced books and videos for artist training, developed major partnership programs with cultural organizations, established an Endowment, a Certification program to ensure program quality and began Arts Partners, a comprehensive arts-in-education program linking schools and community cultural resources with K-12 curriculum.  Arts Partners quickly became a model project in many Young Audiences communities.  Other ambitious partnership projects included: the Master Artist Series, the Family Festival of the Arts, Run for the Arts, Arts Card and the Arts in Education Institute.

Young Audiences significant work in arts in education continued to garner recognition in local and national publications and in the media.  In April 1982 Mobil Oil Corporation made a series of public service announcements that were broadcast on the Independent News Networks throughout the country.  Children from Manhattan’s Public School 166 were selected to participate in the film project, which featured the Lincoln Woodwind Quintet.  In January 1983, Young Audiences gained unprecedented national publicity when Mobil Oil aired public service announcements about YA during the nationwide broadcast of “Nicolas Nickleby.” An estimated fifteen million viewers watched the program, firmly placing Young Audiences in the public eye.

During the 1990s computers began to play a larger role in the every day world.  Keeping up with the times, YA initiated projects to advance arts in education through new technologies. A national web site was up and running and averaged 2,200 “hits” per month.  By 1998, the national organization launched the Arts for Learning web site, an inter net and media based professional development resource designed for teachers and artists.  It featured programs and projects drawn from select YA roster artists and arts and cultural institutions.  In the next decade, thanks to funding from The Starr Foundation and other major corporations and foundations, the Arts for Learning web site would grow substantially offering access to a rich array of resources for teachers and artists. Roster artists and programs from affiliates in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Miami were featured on the site.

It had been a decade of significant growth for the YA network.  By the end of the 1999 school year, Young Audiences artists across the country had presented 82,000 programs to seven million children in 7,024 schools.  While striving to keep pace with how children learn in today’s world, the organization looked back to its roots and created a new national program called the Classical Initiative. The project, which continues to thrive today, aids the development and expansion of classical programs throughout the network.

Young Audiences broad range of programs now reached a wider a demographic of children in grades K-12, young adults and families too. Alternative program sites included, amongst others: libraries, community centers, job training sites, juvenile justice departments. Young Audiences affiliates programs were now fully integrated in school curriculum including language, math, science, social studies.

Young Audiences was indeed succeeding on a national scale and the role it played in arts, education and how children learn did not go unnoticed.  In 1994, Young Audiences became the first organization to receive the prestigious National Medal of Arts in a ceremony held on the South Lawn of the White House.  Cellist and National Advisory board artist Yo-Yo Ma accepted the Medal on behalf of Young Audiences from President Bill Clinton.  National and YA affiliate board and staff members attended the event.

Young Audiences Chapters and Affiliates

Since it’s inception, the Young Audiences idea has thrived in communities across the country.  Young Audiences is structured as a federation and has 30 independent 501c(3) affiliates. The scope and diversity of the affiliates range from large statewide affiliates to small community-based organizations.  In the 1980s and 1990s, new chapters—often with new names—became a part of the YA network. These included Arts Partners in Wichita, Kansas and Arts for Learning in Miami.  Some adopted new names to reflect their expanded role, new partnerships and geographic service area—the Dallas based YA of North Texas became Big Thought.  Two California chapters—YA of the Bay Area and YA of San Jose, combined to form a bigger and better new affiliate now called YA of Northern California. Others merged with other local organizations: YA of Atlanta merged with the Woodruff Arts Center to become Young Audiences Woodruff Arts Center; YA of Minnesota became COMPAS and YA of St. Louis became Springboard; in Bakersfield, CA, YA of Kern County joined the Arts Council of Kern; and YA of Colorado merged the Colorado alliance for Arts Education to become Think 360 Arts Complete Education. 

Young Audiences also is welcoming new affiliates. Last year, Gateway to the Arts based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania joined the national network.  Each affiliate brings a new dynamic and vitality to the Young Audiences network. In acknowledgement of this diversity—chapters are now known as affiliates.  However, all share the dedication to the mission and value proposition of Young Audiences, and fully participate and share in all of the organization’s national programs and services.

Young Audiences Gold Anniversary

At a time when our nation was challenged by events that defied comprehension, Young Audiences found solace in one another, in faith and in art.  Despite the tragic events that had occurred only two months before, on November 15, 2001 Young Audiences celebrated its 50th anniversary with a gala benefit at the Waldorf=Astoria.  The evening recognized the contributions of four long-standing board members:  Gretchen Kimball, Sue Ann Weinberg, Joan Warburg and Anne Straus. The evening included performances by clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and his family.  On November 16, YA hosted a one-day invitational arts-in-education meeting.  More than 150 national leaders in the arts, education, community development, government and business participated in “Young Achievers: A Summit on Arts Learning.”  The Summit was held at The Doris Duke Studios on 42nd Street. 

At YA’s century mark, two major programs, Arts for Learning (A4L) and Arts Partners, still lead the way in extending the impact of Young Audiences programs. Since its launch in 1998, The Arts for Leaning web site grew substantially and included YA affiliate and partnering organizations from coast to coast.  After-school and family programs expanded, new projects were initiatied.  American Honda sponsored a new recognition program called Dream Lab.  Through Dream Lab residencies, artists in schools worked with fourth-eight grade students to produce creative work that focused on improvisation, world cultures and creativity. 

Other network-wide programs included the MetLife Dance for Life Residencies designed to promote physical fitness and the joy of dance in grade K-12 and Make Your Own Radio Show, a collaboration with the national radio program, From the Top, which celebrates young musicians.

As part of that program, Make Your Own Radio Show residencies were development by YA affiliates.  

Student centered learning

Active participation in the arts positively transforms the child who experiences it. Throughout the decades, Young Audiences has proven its effectiveness, and its reach and influence has grown, but so has its challenge, and the organization continues to optimize the effectiveness of art in the educational process. 

National Executive Director David Dik explains the dramatic shift in arts programming as an “evolution from a surface delivery program, offering a catalog of programs and services for schools to buy, to a partnership with schools and teachers where we implement, document and sustain the work.’’  Young Audiences artists and teaching artists are in the vanguard of this new approach in designing current performance-demonstrations, workshops and residencies.

Substantively and most importantly, says David, today YA’s new arts programs place the student at the center of the arts learning paradigm, balanced by the supporting team of the classroom teacher, the teaching artist, visiting artist, the school/agency arts faculty, administrators, community leaders and parents. The ideal is to first create the arts network within the school; this model then spreads to the community and then further outward into the state and region.  The beauty of this child centered approach, says David, is that it is based on individual student’s needs and the student’s best way of learning—whatever that may be-- academic, social, kinesthetic, and thus works well for all types of children, including special needs children in the same classroom.

Arts education is both skills based and standards based, fully cognizant that at each grade level students are expected to perform certain tasks and acquire certain skills, notes David.  At the same time, effective arts education combines a strong teaching/mentoring process, that together with exposure to high quality art as the primary context, empowers children to step up to the next level as creators and innovators, rather than imitators.  Summarizing the multi-facetted impact of arts for learning, David added  “All art forms are strands of literacy with such wonderful elements as color, tone, sound, hue, and light to explore, employ and learn from.”

The signature program that best exemplifies these new program traits is Arts for Learning Lessons and Residencies, a program designed to help students in third through fifth grades achieve proficiency in reading and writing. The University of Washington’s College of Education led by Dr. John Bransford, designed the Lessons and teacher guidelines with input from YA national and affiliate staff members and district reading specialists.  The ambitious program was started in 2006 has been sustained by funding from The Starr Foundation, the Ford Foundation, The William and flora Hewlett Foundation, the Dana Foundation, the Sequoia Foundation and the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. 

In 2010, the Beaverton, Oregon school district started Arts for Learning Lessons and Residencies for 1,300 third-fourth-and firth grade students thanks in part of the U. S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) grant awarded to the Beaverton School District, YA of Oregon and SW Washington, West Ed and the University of Washington.  Eleven YA affiliates  now offer Arts for Learning Lesson and Residency programs to individual schools and schools districts in their communities. Rigorous testing by WestEd has confirmed the positive results this innovative program has had on more than 11,000 students.  

Into the 21st Century and the Future

The Young Audiences Arts for Learning network is growing stronger and meeting the needs of new century.   The organization is communicating its mission and vision by capitalizing on the latest technology to enhance arts in the classroom.  A new Young Audiences web site was launched in August which features the latest news, events and projects, the network’s best practices, as well as advances in research, advocacy and fund raising.  The site, www.youngaudiences.org  is also be linked to social media including Facebook and Twitter.

Bill Pearson points out, Young Audiences will continue to build on its traditional strengths:  attracting dedicated board members, exploring all the new avenues for funding available from federal, state and local agencies, broadening YA’s appeal to corporate, foundation and individual donors—and attracting the best performing and teaching artists to Young Audiences rosters.

All of the Young Audiences leaders interviewed for this article speak with optimism and passion about the future and furthering the vision of the founders: Rosalie Leventritt and Carolyn Perera.

It is fascinating to realize that while the outside world has changed tremendously, in terms of technology, interpersonal relations, and the way businesses and governments operate, the values these women put in place, though executed in different ways, are still core elements of our vision today. 

“We will need a healthy dynamic, a respect of the past and things of lasting value, while being committed to the truly innovative” says Richard Bell.  “Each generation will contribute to this field.  We will always be pushing the envelope, breaking the boundaries.  It’s all about programs and people.’’ insists Richard.  “Artists, children and volunteers will lead us.”

Telescoping ahead to the next fifty years, YAI’s current and past leaders, leave us with inspirational and attainable goals.  Bringing the arts to every child remains close to the heart of the entire YA community.  Says Ann Straus, board member emeritus, who was active with YA for over fifty years, “Young Audiences must continue to make sure arts-in-education programs thrive in our nation’s schools and the arts become a part of every child’s life.”

Board and staff members all agree that Young Audiences’ mandate for the decades ahead is to become the single advocating voice for arts education. Says Richard Stoltzman, “I would like Young Audiences to be the connecting link between advocacy for the arts and government support of arts nationally.  I want Young Audiences to be on the lips of everyone who cares about the arts.”

National Executive Director David Dik concludes by saying “We want to become the national leader for arts education by showcasing our best work and by co-opting the best practices of all arts organizations.  As THE advocate for the entire arts education field, we’d like to prove the timeless value of our work to the world at large and to gain the support of leaders in other fields.  We want to be the leadership voice that represents the most trusted organization in the field.“   

Now more than ever, Young Audiences plays a critical role in helping young people understand and declare their feelings through the arts. “Our strongest way to advocate is to share the work we do and to show the unique role our programs play in a child’s education.  In so doing, we must continue to have exemplary programs and never falter on their quality.   Young Audiences Arts for Learning’s mission remains true to the founder’s principles:  To inspire young people and expand their learning through the arts.”

About the Author, Liane McAllister

Liane McAllister wrote as Senior/International Editor for Gifts & Decorative Accessories for more than twenty years. She recently worked as an Independent Art Licensing Agent and continues to write articles. Liane currently serves on the Young Audiences Arts for Learning National Message and Marketing Committee. In addition to her work with Young Audiences, Liane has given her time and energy to French-American Aid for Children, Inc.

Liane’s mother, Betty Myers McAllister, was a professional opera singer (soprano coloratura) who was involved with music programming for Young Audiences from the very start in 1952 and until her death in 1990. She was devoted to YA and worked very closely with Young Audiences’ founder, Mrs. Leventritt. Mrs. Leventritt was her dear friend, mentor, and distant cousin.



We would like to thank the following current and past board trustees, staff members and friends for sharing their stories and memories of Young Audiences: Richard Bell, Minette Cooper, John W. Creamer, David A. Dik, Mary Ann Fribourg, Mitch Jericho, Gretchen Kimball, Mary P. Nass, Nathan W. Pearson, Jan Robertson, Richard Stoltzman, Anne Straus and Sara Straus. Research: Jane C. Bak and Marcus Romero.


Young Audiences Arts for Learning