Youth Arts Journalism Initiative (YAJI)

New Haven, CT

Contact Name
Lucy Sullivan Gellman
Project Dates
April 2018-June 2018
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2019
Social action and justice, Workforce Development
The Youth Arts Journalism Initiative or YAJI pairs two professional journalists with 10 public school students to pitch, cover, draft and finalize critical, deadline-driven arts coverage over eight weeks in the spring semester of the school year. Like freelance reporters, students sign a contract and are compensated for their labor after each article. Those who complete the program are invited to stay on as freelance writers for The Arts Paper, the editorially independent arm of The Arts Paper. First beta tested in April 2018, the initiative emerged out of a genuine desire to help propagate a small, but structural shift through New Haven’s overwhelmingly white and middle class arts and nonprofit sector.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
For eight weeks beginning in April 2018, The Arts Paper paper contracted with seven teen correspondents, enrolled at Cooperative Arts & Humanities (“Co-Op”) High School, to each produce three original short-form articles on New Haven’s arts and culture, as well as a feature-length, 1,200-2,000 word capstone. For their four contributions, The Arts Paper paid the YAJI teens a stipend of $400—its regular print freelance rate of $100 an article—and comped them travel and work expenses.

The decision to collaborate with the “YAJIs” as fully-fledged freelancers was not just a vague commitment to pay equity in the arts. It was an honest admission that The Arts Council and The Arts Paper stood to benefit from a public program like YAJI. It was also a frank recognition of the fact that the YAJIs were already total pros before they ever met our team. The Arts Paper could not possibly “train” the YAJIs, but was merely there to bring the print and the professional development. The latter took the form of a five-day intensive at the very start of the program, where the YAJIs met with representatives from nine New Haven arts organizations and media outlets for conversations and hands-on practicums.

The intensive was an opportunity to expose the YAJIs to a broad cross-section of creative and common-good careers. Some of the YAJI teens entered into the program as strong writers, but others entered as violinists, or on the recommendation of their science teachers. While some YAJIs might choose to keep developing their ability to craft clear and thoughtful copy, it was crucial that the entire experience open doorways.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
In year one of the program, facilitators Lucy Gellman and Stephen Urchick found that expectations had to be tempered—sometimes the learning and article writing process was more important than the finished product itself. While our goals for the program remained focused on four finished pieces in the short term and workforce development and sustained mentorship in the long term, both facilitators realized that students who did not "finish" in the traditional sense had not failed. The Arts Paper also found itself expanding definitions of media, from traditional articles to podcast, videos, and radio interviews.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The founders of the project were Stephen Urchick, now a graduate student in the History of Art at Yale University, and Arts Paper Editor Lucy Gellman (who is still acting editor and point person on YAJI 2019). Community partners included local journalists Markeshia Ricks of the New Haven Independent, Diane Orson of Connecticut Public Radio/WNPR, and Sumorwuo Zaza formerly of Huffington Post; dramaturg Madeline Charne at the Yale School of Drama; Reverend Kevin Ewing of Baobab Tree Studios. Institutional partners also included Co-Op High School, the Yale University Art Gallery and Yale School of Drama, Gateway Community College; and the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT), which allowed students to observe and cover its 2018 culinary cohort.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The Arts Council of Greater New Haven sees YAJI as contributing to sustained workforce development and mentorship with a genuine commitment to equity, access and inclusion. We are creating a wave of journalists of color in a field that is not diversifying as fast as we would like it to.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
We were inspired by Chicago's "South Side Weekly" (, a nonprofit newsprint magazine and radio show dedicated to supporting cultural and civic engagement on the South Side, and to providing educational opportunities for developing journalists, writers, and artists. However, the South Side Weekly is produced by an all-volunteer staff. It was important to us to empower our writers through compensation.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
There were months of curricular planning that meetings preceded YAJI, including a day where students could "test drive" the program to see how they liked it. Gellman and Urchick spent time identifying guest educators who could create tight, purposeful workshops, which will continue to be a chief objective in future program iterations. While year one funding came largely from small grants and The Arts Council, continuing the program will require sustained fundraising efforts.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Editing high school students' work with a firm but gentle hand, discussing best workplace practices, finding accessible assignments for students, and making sure there were enough hours in the day for our editor (Gellman) to also run a news site was difficult.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The eight-week pilot taught The Arts Paper a lot. While it is easy, for example, to engage people in open-ended conversation about a painting, it is less easy to find similarly “engaged” ways of talking about the 1099 economy or the ethical importance of being clearly on or off the record. We found that patience, advanced planning, and drafting a weekly pitch document were incredibly helpful before weekly meetings. We also used a space that could meet our technical needs—the school had a bay of computers that students could use, meaning we could maximize our time working with students. In year two, we plan to have "office hours" for students who are struggling to finish their articles.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Patience! We were surprised, humbled and exhausted by the emotional toll that the program took on us. While editing itself is perhaps most time intensive, so too is learning how best to work with students who are struggling with problems at home, food insecurity, insufficient funds for transit, and sometimes abusive parent and partner relationships.

2. Make sure you have the technical and logistical assistance that you need! Bus passes, access to computers, food for students who may otherwise not eat lunch, and so forth.

3. An ideal YAJI demands a sharper division of labor: a part-time programs officer and assistant editor to help the editor-in-chief of The Arts Paper, freelance teachers who design their own hour-long modules, interns who can literally do the indispensable heavy lifting.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Currently, two YAJI graduates now freelance for The Arts Paper on their terms. All of them remain connected to community partners they met during the program, creating a mentorship network (specifically among creatives of color) that did not exist before. And all have published samples that they are able to use as clips for future freelance assignments, should they choose to pitch publications.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
Currently, two YAJI graduates now freelance for The Arts Paper on their terms. All of them remain connected to community partners they met during the program, creating a mentorship network (specifically among creatives of color) that did not exist before. And all have published samples that they are able to use as clips for future freelance assignments, should they choose to pitch publications.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We collected student testimonies and asked for input on how to improve the program. In addition, we looked to potential future iterations with a rubric of what we might have done (and need to do) better.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Gellman and Urchick have remained much closer with the YAJI graduates—those who freelance and those who do not—than they imagined they would. Since the program, they have served as references, spoken on students' behalf, and worked with them to edit further pieces of writing.
CCX Workshop Handout