Ifetayo Youth Ensemble (IYE)


Ifetayo Youth Ensemble (IYE)

Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy
629 East 35th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11203
Phone: 718.856-1123
Fax: 718.856.1192
E-Mail: info@ifetayo.org
URL: www.ifetayo.org

Focus: Dance, Music, Theater

Annual Number Participating: 29

Ages: Middle School, High School

Annual Budget: $243,180.00

Partners: Church Avenue Merchants Block Association; Institute for juvenile justice reform and alternatives; Partnership for After School Education; Safe Horizon/Domestic Violence Empowerment (DoVE) Initiative; Tribeca Film Institute; Urban Word NYC

Funders: Cricket Island Foundation; Leveraging Investments in the Arts; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; New York Community Trust Brooklyn Foundation; New York State Council on the Arts; Robert Bowne Foundation; The Pinkerton Foundation; Tiger Foundation

Young people’s voices are often missing from discussions about issues that directly impact their lives. The Ifetayo Youth Ensemble (IYE), a performing arts group that creates pieces about pressing social concerns, provides youth in Brooklyn, New York, with the opportunity to join the dialogue.

The ensemble is a program of the Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy, an arts school serving neighborhoods in the Brooklyn area where rates of poverty are high and educational attainment is low. Ifetayo Founder Kwayera Archer-Cunningham created the ensemble more than 20 years ago to help young people “develop a voice and have a platform for it to be heard,” she asserts. “We wanted young people to feel powerful, not powerless, to make change.”

Ifetayo is a West African Yoruba word for “love is enough for joy.” It succinctly captures the nurturing approach and intensive commitment that Ifetayo makes to ensemble members’ development as performance artists and agents of social change. Students audition to participate in IYE and receive full scholarships for their training.

Over the course of three years, the ensemble’s 29 members create an original performance piece that explores a social issue of their choice. Participants spend an entire year researching the topic, through interviews and other primary sources, so that they can speak with authority to audiences of their peers. At the same time, members receive high-level instruction in dance, music, and theater.

During the program’s second year, students draw on these artistic skills as they translate their issue into dramatic form. While participants rehearse and fine-tune their productions, they incorporate feedback from a Council of Elders. In the production cycle’s third year, the piece is ready for presentation at schools, theaters, churches, and special events. To supplement their arts-oriented training, ensemble members also receive life-skills and leadership-development coaching.

The ensemble’s thought-provoking and vibrant presentations on such topics as HIV/AIDS, prison reform, economic justice, and educational disparities reach about 5,000 youth and young adults a year. Program participants also incorporate the productions’ lessons of empowerment into their own lives: IYE members show improvement in their academic achievement, as well as in conflict-resolution, communication, and leadership skills. After graduation, 93 percent of ensemble members complete college. And, to help with students’ tuition, Ifetayo establishes matching-fund savings accounts in their names.

By identifying important social problems and then creating a socially conscious performance piece about how to solve those problems, ensemble students learn how to implement change in their everyday lives. These are powerful lessons, and they are ones the ensemble members will have for life.

Marilyn Gelber President Emerita, Brooklyn Community Foundation