The arts have always proved to be a catalyst for success in inner-city communities, especially when incorporated into education. Hollywood veteran Rosie Perez joined NBC News on Wednesday (March 15) to celebrate and highlight her organization’s 25-year-and-counting endeavor dedicated to serving underprivileged youth.
Perez commits her time to the Urban Arts Partnership (UAP) because she represents an example of how the arts can make way for a promising future. The Boricua actress discussed her experience as a ward of the state, growing up in Bushwick and only ever being exposed to Title I schools—federally-assisted schools where at least 40 percent of the students come from low-income families. She attests that, sadly, there were more arts programs then than there are today. In response, she acts as co-founder of UAP to provide solutions for an issue she self-identified as: “What separates the privileged student from the underprivileged student is opportunity.” And since 45 percent of the 15,000 students UAP serves yearly are Latino, the matter is held that much closer to her heart.
UAP has bridged the gap between privileged and underprivileged for over 500,000 students in its 25 years of activity. Urban Arts has assisted in the co-founding and first-hand development of three schools in New York. One of those schools being New Design High School, “a progressive small high school that integrates the study of design and the arts into a four-year sequential curriculum,” introduced in 2003. Just four years after its launch, the school produced a 76 percent graduation rate, which tripled that of the school it replaced.
Two of the students that have continued on successfully heading into college, spoke on behalf of the positive effects UAP has had on their college process.
“If it wasn’t for Urban Arts, I’m not even sure where’d I be right now—if I’d even be in college, just because of how crazy the college process is and how overwhelming it could be. I think with Urban Arts, I got a lot of help with that. I think that they were just crucial to just my acceptance into college.”
“To be able to sort of find a place where I could, you know, develop my craft and apply that afterwards to help me get into school and help me get internships. You meet tons of great people and this place starts to become your family.”
Urban Arts currently only operates in NYC and LA, but are planning to expand to other cities. While the quantity of areas they affect are numbered, it doesn’t disqualify the strength of their impact. UAP has managed to receive funding from Robin Hood back in 2009 – “a competitive foundation known for funding programs with proven methods for breaking the cycle of poverty” – and was one of few organizations to join the 9/11 initiative, School Arts Rescue, to implement their Art of Recovery Curriculum in 14 schools affected by the tragedy.
The Urban Arts Partnership has only been successful because of the support and belief of its village that championed for them the past 25 years, and according to Rosie Perez, “It takes a village and it’s important for the village to stay together.”