$750,000 in Funding for Groundbreaking Job Training Program - The Theatre Lab

The DC Arts Education Alliance Announces $750,000 in Funding for a Groundbreaking Program to Train Disconnected Youth to Work as Theater Technicians
17 of the city’s largest arts organizations unite to address the effects of the pandemic on marginalized youth and repair a disrupted workforce pipeline in DC’s creative economy

WASHINGTON (JULY 1, 2022)The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, Washington, DC’s largest and most comprehensive school for the dramatic arts, along with 16 arts partners, today announces the formation of the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement, a year-long education and apprenticeship program in technical theater to launch in January 2023, in which participants will be paid to learn and work.

The Institute seeks to address two pressing challenges faced by our city: 1) the barriers to a meaningful career path for youth ages 18-24 from DC communities hardest hit by the pandemic, and 2) the labor crisis in the DC theater and entertainment industries caused by a lack of skilled technical production workers in the area. Applications for the Institute will open July 15, 2022 and the inaugural class of 20 students will be notified in November.

The Share Fund, one of Washington’s most generous supporters of both professional theater and youth development, has provided a $500,000 matching grant for the first two years of the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced this week that she secured $250,000 in Community Project Funding for the pilot year in the House’s fiscal year 2023 appropriations bills. In addition, the DC Arts Education Alliance is working to make the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement the city’s first official apprenticeship sponsor in the arts under the Department of Employment Services.

Seventeen of the largest arts education organizations in the city, led by The Theatre Lab, Life Pieces To Masterpieces, Sitar Arts Center, and Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, have teamed up to train young people who are disconnected from or under-engaged in school and work to enter DC’s creative economy through a year-long education and apprenticeship program in technical theater, preparing them for careers as offstage theater professionals whose roles include lighting and audio engineering, set construction, scenic painting, rigging, and stage management. This intensive educational program will not only be tuition-free, but the students will also be paid for undertaking the training, removing one of the most pernicious barriers to career skills development, so participants will not have to maintain full-time jobs in order to survive while pursuing a rigorous training program.

Built into the Institute curriculum, and unique for a workforce development program, are arts-based socio-emotional training and support drawn from the DC Arts Education Alliance partners’ vast experience of working with youth whose opportunities have been limited by systemic racism, poverty, and educational challenges. Alliance organizations collectively serve over 15,000 students annually and employ more than 450 teaching artists and more than 125 full- and part- time staff across all eight wards.

This program is unique in its design to attend to the whole student,” according to Amy Moore, Executive Director of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, the Alliance organization serving as the fiscal sponsor of the Institute. “The collaborative programming brings the best of what local arts education organizations have to the table and establishes a clear, comprehensive and sustainable path to employment for students who have not had an opportunity to grow professionally in one of the most vibrant industries in the city.”

There is an immediate and critical need within the D.C. community for youth to receive opportunities for social and emotional healing, reconnecting with community, and re-engaging with meaningful work and study following pandemic-related disruptions in school, family, and community. COVID-19 erased ten years’ progress in reducing the number of youth disconnected from school or employment in a matter of months.¹ Collective impact strategies, especially those focusing on the “whole child,” have proven highly effective in working with disconnected youth.²

“By bringing together arts education organizations from here in Washington, DC, each bringing our unique strengths, we are sharing in this powerful mission, and can bring a new culture of environment to apprenticeship programs,” says Mary Brown, Founder and Executive Director of Life Pieces To Masterpieces, a non-profit that uses artistic expression to develop character and leadership, unlock potential, and prepare Black boys and young men to transform their lives and communities.

The Institute has been embraced by Washington’s professional theater community as a solution to a critical problem in the local entertainment industry.  

“The Arts Institute for Creative Advancement is a workforce development program that will address a crisis faced by nearly every professional theater in the District: a shortage of production workers who have the skills to support DC’s theatrical productions,” says Theater J Managing Director David Lloyd Olson. “If unaddressed, this labor shortage will cripple DC’s nationally-renowned theater industry. The Institute will be a boon to DC’s thriving creative economy.”

Theatre Washington, the service organization for the region’s vibrant theater community, applauds the effort as a “citywide training program to reawaken the necessary and vital connections between students and the arts. And most importantly, connect them with workforce development pathways that they may not otherwise know exist in their communities,” says Amy Austin, CEO and President.

With more than 1,000 hours of paid skills learning and on-the-job training resulting in nationally recognized certifications in Lighting and Electrics, Audio Engineering, and Rigging, the Institute is looking for young adults with a strong desire to learn a trade that has both physical and creative components and requires a high degree of commitment. The program is open to 18+ individuals who did not complete high school, as well as those who have diplomas, GEDs, and some (limited) post-secondary experience, and no prior theater experience or education is required.

“We’re thrilled to be creating and implementing a curriculum in technical theater that will be accessible to young adults who have faced obstacles in traditional learning environments,” says Deb Gottesman, Co-Executive Director of The Theatre Lab. “And, at the same time, we look forward to doing our part to diversify a high-wage, high-demand field that is currently more than 80% white.”

The Members of the DC Arts Education Alliance, who are providing training, mentorship, and/or apprenticeship opportunities for the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement include the following:  

Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, Children’s Chorus of Washington, CityDance, Critical Exposure, Dance Institute of Washington, DC Youth Orchestra Program, Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, Levine Music, The MusicianShip, Life Pieces To Masterpieces, Project Create, Sitar Arts Center, The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, Young Playwrights’ Theatre, The Viva School, Words Beats & Life, and 826DC.

For more information about the program visit www.dcartsedalliance.org/arts-institute or contact deb@theatrelab.org.

The Theatre Lab is a returning member of the 2022/2023 class of the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington, which recognizes the best nonprofits in the region and is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2022. The Theatre Lab’s directors have received the prestigious Linowes Leadership Award from the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region for their efforts to improve the metropolitan community through accessible arts training. In addition, The Theatre Lab has been recognized with a Mayor’s Art Award for Innovation in the Arts, and by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities as one of the 50 “top arts- and humanities-based programs in the country serving youth beyond school hours.” For more information, visit theatrelab.org.



¹Measure of America of the Social Science Research Council

²National Roadmap for Opportunity Youth, a report by Civic Enterprises with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2012.

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