The balcony at the new YAYA Arts Center, with a viewing window (left) that looks down onto a glass studio.
In its 26 years as an arts education program, YAYA
(Young Aspirations/Young Artists) has grown from a single-school operation to one that serves New Orleans youth across the city.
On June 30, after breaking ground last September
, YAYA got its first, official, custom-built home on Lasalle Street in Central City. Harmony Neighborhood Development
, Bild Design
and Landis Construction Company
all helped build the two-story arts center, which is complete with classrooms and glass and ceramics studios.
“I'm most excited about a new phase in programming that has more of a community impact,” YAYA operations coordinator Lesley McBride told Gambit
. “This is the first time that we've been in a purely residential neighborhood. Previously we were on Barronne Street downtown, and then off Conti and Carrollton in Mid-City. So this is the first time that we've been in a true neighborhood where we can service the people that are directly at our doorstep.”
A classroom in the beginning stages of getting unpacked.
YAYA designs arts education curricula for 28 different schools in an attempt to provide career and college preparations to students in New Orleans. A total of 40 students can now practice art inside the $1.3 million arts center, which is modern and airy and feels like a treehouse. An eco-arts sculpture garden will reinforce that feeling. “We're working back into stationary sculpture based on input from our landscape architect,” says McBride. “More environmental conscienceless, so natural plants from the area and bringing more of an awareness to the coastal region.”
The balcony where the garden will be installed overlooks the glass studio with a viewing window. It occurred to YAYA staff while moving that the window could serve two purposes: looking down, but also looking up. “We're considering theater performances,” says McBride. “Like if we had puppet shows coming up through there, you could stand down here and look up. It's an incredibly transformable space. Right now, every time that we've been coming in, I just see the possibilities for new growth, new programming.”
The move wasn’t easy. Equipment and furniture from YAYA’s old home on Conti Street was moved via crane, car and human arms, and many of the staff joked that they were covered in bruises from all the heavy lifting.
The public is invited to take glass and sculpture classes in the new space beginning September 1. As before, public classes support youth programming, so adults can learn a new skill in a brand new space while also supporting an institution that’s helping young artists learn skills to help them thrive.