Back in high school, I was very involved with a local family shelter & in my senior year I developed an art class for parents & children living there. I was eager to continue the work when I came to college & Art Start gave me an opportunity to serve a community that I am passionate about.

Ayanna was raised in St. Mary, Jamaica and Snellville, Georgia before moving to New York City in 2010 to attend The New School for Anthropology and Contemporary Music. She currently works at the NYC Department of Education, and is planning to earn her Masters in Ethnomusicology. In 2012, she began volunteering with Art Start on the Hip-Hop teen night at LIFE. Since then, she has volunteered during music and art nights at both LIFE and now, the Bushwick Family Shelter. She has a passion for music, social justice, and creating accessible spaces for learning together.

Favorite song to dance to (when nobody’s watching)!?

This one is really tough but I’ll give two: “(Not Just) Knee Deep” by the Funkadelics and recently, “Work” by Rihanna.

What do you do as a volunteer?

I currently volunteer on Thursday nights on the theater and music night with Nella. We have done so many fun projects with the kids, and I love getting creative with them every week. I am currently working with a small group to choreograph a dance to perform in a few weeks. It’s so much fun seeing all that they come up with when we are together on Thursdays.

What inspired you to get involved with bringing arts to underserved NYC youth?

I have always had a passion for the arts and education, so this was a perfect fit for me when I began volunteering in 2012. Back in high school, I was very involved with a local family shelter, and in my senior year I developed an art class for parents and children living there. I was eager to continue the work when I came to college, and Art Start gave me an opportunity to serve a community that I am passionate about.

Can you share a special moment you experienced during one of our workshops?

Every month we have a family night where we encourage family members to join us at workshop. A few months ago, we had just finished learning choreography to “Love On Top” and we decided to give families the opportunity to join in and perform the dance with our youth. Most of those in attendance were pretty shy, but we had one father who came and totally got down! He learned the choreography and nailed it during our performance. It is always fun to have parents in attendance, as they sometimes get to see a different side of their children in workshop. In this case, we got to see a different side of this parent, which was so funny and sweet to witness.

How has your time as a volunteer impacted you?

My time as a volunteer has been so formative, and my friends and family all know how important Art Start is to me. I have grown close to so many of the kids who attend the sessions, and it is always extremely bittersweet when they move out of the shelter. I have really learned to appreciate the time you have together with people, as it truly is fleeting. Every week that we have with the youth is important to cherish and to value. I wish them all the best as they move with their families, and I hope that our paths will cross again in the future.


Share a dream with us.

I dream of a society that allows all people to live their authentic lives free of hate and injustice. I dream of a people who understand their collective power, with the courage to speak their truth. Last, I dream of a world where we elevate the voice of our youth, and respect that they know best what they need to succeed.


Art is very much like a medicine to happiness, and for some people, it’s life changing, which is what I’ve learned through working with the kids at Art Start.

Xixi raised $200 through selling handmade bookmarksShe is 15-years old an aspiring artist who was born in Canada and moved to NYC in 2014. She has been drawing seriously for 3-years, playing piano for 10, and flute for 6. Xixi is also a volunteer at Art Start.

Share one of your proudest moments. 


What drew you to Art Start? 

Xixi, you felt super passionate and became a fundraiser for Art Start... How did you inspire others to support your campaign?

Has your time at Art Start influenced you or your art in any way? How?

What do you LOVE to do in your spare time?

Can you share your favorite drawing with us?


The Hargrove Family

If you want to be a real rebel, love.
— Beulah Hargrove

Art Start's Family Portrait Project is a multimedia exhibition that presents the powerful stories, hopeful voices, and loving images of NYC families experiencing homelessness.  

From November 11 through December 26 the work will be on view at the Seaport Culture District in Lower Manhattan. Please join us on November 11th from 6-9pm for an Opening Reception at Seaport Studios. 

In the mean time, watch more Family Portrait Project Videos HERE!


When I moved back to NYC after living upstate, I knew I wanted to help somehow. With my love of working with art & kids, Art Start seemed like the perfect fit. It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Meet Lucy, an inspiring woman extremely passionate about bringing the creative arts to NYC youth.  She fundraised for Art Start's 24th birthday campaign and has been a committed visual art & performing arts volunteer at Art Start for 2-years.  

What inspired you to get involved with bringing arts to underserved NYC youth?

I grew up on the Lower East Side in NYC in the 80’s, so at a young age I was fully aware of poverty and struggle.  When I moved back to NYC after living upstate for many years, I knew I wanted to help somehow.  With my love of working with art and kids, Art Start seemed like the perfect fit.  It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Why do you think others should get involved in this cause?

It’s a most rewarding experience all around.  You meet great people with big hearts who are there for the same reason you are and on top of it all- you meet some really awesome kids!  You don’t have to be an artist to be a part of Art Start, you just need to want to be a positive person during a rough time in a young kid’s life.


What are some creative ways you used to get people to donate to your Campaign?

Social media helped a lot!  And of course my family and friends; I am still so thankful for their donations and helping me spread the word!


What is your most memorable moment as a volunteer?

Our last day at the Catherine Street shelter was pretty rough. There were a lot of hugs and teary eyes. We were excited for the kids to be going to a place better suited for them but sad to see them go at the same time. Although love and appreciation had always been expressed by the kids and their parents, that day I think it clicked for us just how important it was to them for Art Start to be a part of their lives.

How has your time as a volunteer influenced you?

I think volunteering has impacted my creativity. At the program, we have a lot of random donations of material. Watching the kids work with them-- I’ve seen some pretty cool and inspiring ideas come of it

What else are you passionate about?

I really love painting. I’m currently in school for Early Childhood Education, but I try to squeeze in a painting class every semester.  My great grandfather was a painter, and taught art at Cooper Union and the Art Students League.  My grandfather studied with Fernand Léger and Josef Albers, so art is strongly embedded in my roots.




Art Start is honored and excited to be included in Priority Stories, an initiative by bicycle company, Priority Bikes. Each video vignette provides a look into the lives of people making a difference, and their personal motivations behind why they devote their time and energy. Priority Stories reached out to Art Start earlier this year through Art Start board member, Natalie Brasington, to see if they could feature the Priority Story of one of our incredible volunteer artists.

Art Start’s workshop volunteers dedicate themselves to Art Start’s mission year after year. They positively and creatively connect with our participants, helping to transform a time of uncertainty into a time for personal growth and development.
— Hannah Immerman/ Art Start Co-Executive Director

Elena lives in Brooklyn, works a full time job in events at a tech company in Manhattan, and has been volunteering at Art Start since 2007.  One thing she said stood out, “I was never fair weather about anything,” and it shows the type of resolve and dedication that Elena and these volunteers have for these kids.

The piece is directed by Dan Maloney, leading commercial editor at Cut+Run NYC.  In his directoral debut, he spent time with Elena at her home, work, and at Art Start’s headquarter office, working on a silk screening project with some of Art Start’s youth.

The Priority Stories program was developed in collaboration with Dan Maloney of Cut+Run New York, Director Henry Lu, and photographer Chris Ozer, highlighting those who make it a priority to give back to their community.  

Elena was the ideal subject for this project. She was able to just be herself, and share an intimate view into the challenges that these young people face as well as her reasons for volunteering. Getting a glimpse of her passion, energy, and dedication to Art Start was inspiring.
— Dan Maloney / Cut + Run NYC


Ray, 18

From: Manhattan

Focus: Visual Arts

Ray Guzman-Flete Jr.  is a self-taught visual artist and writer, born and raised in New York City. Although Ray has never had any formal training as an artist, he adapted his style of art through drawing early in life and eventually began writing as a teenager. Thus far Ray has designed a sweatshirt that is being sold at a local vintage clothing store in Lower Manhattan.

Ray is currently working and learning as one of Art Start’s Emerging Artists-in-Residence.  As a resident of EAR Ray hopes to gain a professional advantage in the art world through networking.  He also hopes to grow as an artist through collaborating with his fellow EAR members and by studying other artist with his mentor.


Become a monthly donor and 100% of your support will go towards scholarships and the essentials for our Emerging Artists program.


Princess, Age 17

From: The Bronx

Focus: Dance

“Being an Art Start Emerging Artist gave me confidence. Now, I know what I want to do and how I want to do it.”

Princess Reese, also known as “Shorty Q”, is a 17-year old emerging “Lite Feet” dancer who always knew she loved to dance.  Born in Queens but raised in the Bronx, Princess had people dancing around her constantly; her father was an avid break-dancer and into popping, her sister was a choreographer, and her older brother was into a growing dance form called Lite Feet. Because of her unfamiliarity with Lite Feet, Princess gravitated toward it and decided to learn more.

Princess started dancing about two years ago under the training of a Lite Fee dance named Bbq. It is then that she earned her stage name, Shorty Q.  She danced with Bbq until deciding to venture off to learn and incorporate other elements of street dance to her style. She was then introduced to a genre call “bone breaking”. Since then, she has blendedboth dance styles to develop her own, very unique style presentation.  In her short dance career, Shorty Q has been a member of several dance crews including the Juice Crew and the 2 Live Crew.  She has also performed in a number of public venues and dance battles. Some of which have been filmed and put on Youtube for public viewing.  She is currently a Lady-CEO of the Lock in City organization.

As an Emerging Artist-In-Residence, Shorty Q hopes to receive technical and formal training in dance genre such as ballet and modern dance.  She hopes the introducing of these formal techniques will help improve her form, creativity, and endurance.  Keep up with Princess and her EAR experience by reading her blog: HERE


Become a monthly donor and 100% of your support will go towards scholarships and the essentials for our Emerging Artists program.