New Orleans is a city one might expect to be bursting with accessible art programs, given its thriving music and festival scene. But when Dana Reed moved here in 2010, the dancer realized that the city’s art programming was excluding a lot of kids because they couldn’t afford it. Noting that she grew up in a household that didn’t have extra money for art classes, Reed says she wanted children to have the opportunities she never did.

            She decided to create an arts camp that provides scholarships to its students based on a sliding-scale, thereby allowing those in families with lower income levels to participate. This was the birth of Upturn Arts. What started out as a two-week summer camp with 23 students is now a flourishing program offering 12 weeks of summer camp, after-school classes and holiday programming, and including diverse art classes ranging from dance and theater to stage combat and African drumming.

            In 2016, some 50 percent of the 600 students who attended Upturn Arts did so with a scholarship or financial aid. The sliding scale allows the nonprofit to promote diversity in an organic way, Reed says. Children from all over New Orleans participate, and they collaborate and promote one another's growth. “We have an environment where students point out the strengths of their peers,” says Reed, who remains involved at all levels of the organization, in addition to serving as its executive director.

            She says she knows the names of every child in the various programs and continues to teaches a dance class. To her, focusing on each individual child and creating a community is important. “We put the child at the center of the curriculum,” Reed says. And she believes that through art, each child learns leadership skills and confidence. To that end, the students are responsible for writing 100 percent of the final shows, she says.

            Going forward, Reed is hoping to expand community awareness about Upturn Arts and its programming. With a mission of “Arts for All,” Upturn is truly devoted to providing art education for all children at all times, Reed says.


            For more information, visit upturnarts.org. Claire Davenport in an intern at Nola Family Magazine.