A good ol’ fashioned holiday concert. With a twist!

 (photo by: Monica Simoes) 

ASTEP appreciates everyone who came out to support our 4th annual presentation of  our New York City Christmas Benefit on 12.12.11 at Joe’s Pub.  Conceived, produced and music-directed by orchestrator Lynne Shankel (Cry-BabyAltar Boyz), the evening featured Broadway’s most sought-after talent singing fresh, original approaches of holiday songs from the ‘New York City Christmas’ album, available for purchase.

A special thank you to the performers and musicians who were instrumental in keeping the energy high and the festive spirits bright:

Raúl Esparza (Speed-the-PlowThe HomecomingCompany,Taboo), Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday RaptureDirty Rotten Scoundrels) and Orfeh (Legally BlondeSaturday Night Fever), as well as Sierra Boggess (Master ClassThe Little Mermaid), Chester Gregory (Sister ActDreamgirls), Lindsay Mendez (GodspellEveryday Rapture), Betsy Wolfe (Tales Of The CityEveryday Rapture), Andy Karl (Wicked9 to 5), Sally Wilfert (Make Me A SongAssassins), recording artist Anya Singleton, David Josefsberg (The Wedding SingerAltar Boyz), Michael Buchanan (Addams FamilyCry-Baby), Katy Basile, Derrick Cobey, Carlos Encinias, Desi Oakley, Seph Stanek and Julia Burrows, among others. In addition, were Lynne Shankel (piano), Joe Mowatt (drums/percussion), Randy Landau (bass), and Summer Boggess (cello). Mike Aarons (guitars), Craig Magnano (guitars), Justin Smith (violin), Cliff Lyons (sax), Jeff Schiller (sax), and Colin Brigstocke (trumpet).

For reviews, video, and photo recaps, visit Playbill.com and Stage-Rush.com and BroadwayWorld.com

All proceeds from the concert and album sales benefit ASTEP



High school students using the arts for change. ‘Tis the season.

Walnut Hill ASTEP focuses on raising money for impoverished youth by using students’ artistic talent. For the Holiday Season, Walnut Hill ASTEP created a holiday album featuring readings and musical performances of winter-themed work (by students majoring in Writing, Music, and Theatre) with a cover designed by a Visual Art major. To sell and celebrate the CD, the school community gathered in holiday-decorated dining hall as the students on the CD and others performed winter favorites.  — Renee Richard and Jake Evans, Co-Presidents of Walnut Hill ASTEP 

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Many thanks to Renee, Jake, and the Walnut Hill School for the Arts community for holding this festive fundraiser and for being an example of the transforming power of the arts! The ASTEP community appreciates all that you do.




What’s it like to Walk in Your Shoes?

In the summer of ’96, thirteen-year-old Max Depaula, an ASTEP Alum, was asked by one of his summer camp counselors what it was like to walk in his shoes. In response, Max took off his shoes and tossed them at the counselor. The counselor tossed the shoes back and said, “You know that’s not what I mean. What’s your story, Max?”

Although Max didn’t respond initially, he went home later that day and free-wrote a six-page narrative about his journey. When he finished, he was surprised to realize that sharing his story felt good and wondered, what will happen next in my story?

Over the span of four weeks this fall, the ASTEP student and volunteer community participated in the A Story per Step Campaign by responding to different prompts and questions, including: What’s it like to walk in my shoes?

We appreciate everyone who participated, and we invite you to watch the final video from Alejandro Rodriquez, an ASTEP Volunteer. It includes a compilation of the voices and stories shared by the ASTEP community.


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Below are several stories from volunteers and students who participated in the A Story Per Step Campaign. They were responding to certain questions and prompts, such as “When is the first time art rocked your life?” or “Tell us a super funny ASTEP story”. More stories and accompanying videos will be posted in the weeks to come!

The first time art rocked my life was, well, always. I do remember a specific moment, when I was about three, that I got a new pair of dress shoes. I remember they were very shiny, but more importantly that they made noise whenever I walked. I wore these new shoes to church one day, and the church had wooden planks on the floor. I’m not sure how I made my way there, but I ended up standing in the center row between the pews during the service, and I just tapped for all I was worth. I was so excited that my shoes made noise that I would not stop, and my aunt had to scoop me up and run out of the church with me under her arm. My mom always tells me that this was the day she realized she’d have to pay for me to take dance lessons so that I would stop ruining new shoes and church floors.   — Elisabeth Rainer, ASTEP Volunteer

When art rocked my world it was literally my first day of Art in Action 2006. I remember like if it was yesterday. I was put in a group with four other students and a facilitator (Johnny). Our group had to come up with a group name and a dance (mind you, as a child I loved coming up with my own songs and dances), but the song and dance my group came up with was a silly one: we named our group “tiki bananas” inspired by the “Traketeo” and the bananas sitting on the Traketeo. Our dance was a mixture of air guitar (Manny’s idea) and monkey arms…LOL. At first I thought it was all wrong and that we would be made fun of when we shared it with the camp. Turned out I was wrong. Everyone loved it, and I then realized we made art.  — Erica Morillo, ASTEP Art-in-Action student

It was 8 pm, and we had dancing class. Allie and Ashley were teaching us. We started our class with practicing and getting funky. We were going to dance to “Thriller.” Babu, the eldest member of the class, was just too excited to dance. He thought to himself that he could become the next M.J. He had high hopes that he would master this dance. We started learning the dance. Babu was in the first row. Allie and Ashley lifted one leg straight up in the air and told us to do it. Babu forgot that his pants were too tight for him and were made of very thin material. He lifted his leg as high as he could. Suddenly something tore! Everyone looked down to see Babu’s pant torn, and Babu lying flat on the ground groaning in pain! For the rest of that class, Babu had to sit and look at everyone else dancing, and we could see the sadness on Babu’s face.  — Vijay Kumar, ASTEP student at Shanti Bhavan, 10th grade 

Dance vs. PowerPoint?

A Response to the TEDx Talks from John Bohannon Dance vs. PowerPoint at the TEDx Conference in Brussels’

By: Lucie Baker

In this brief speech about the perils of PowerPoint and the advantages of dance as a form of communication John Bohannon brings up a number of important questions about the way we share information and the role of art within contemporary culture. Two of the most compelling thoughts for me are: Does art have a purpose? and how can I most effectively make someone understand an idea?

I personally believe that art must have no function other than to be art;  a distinction that separates art from design. For example, a beautifully crafted fork is still a fork, not a sculpture. That being said, I also believe that art is a method of communication that is more holistic and intuitive than language. I have understood nuances of rage and tranquility by looking at a Mark Rothko painting that I could never articulate in language or PowerPoint. I agree that PowerPoint is a misused and ineffective tool for communication. However, I feel somewhat belittled by relegating dance to explaining scientific research. It is so much more. I am excited by the prospect of combining disciplines and sharing knowledge between the artistic and scientific communities. Dance is one of the most complicated ways that the human body interacts with the laws of physics which would make it a uniquely articulate way to explore new ideas about physics. However, it communicates a wide range of emotions and experiences as well.

All that aside, I often find that people are woefully habitual when it comes to their methods of communication. People think in many different ways. Why not use all of our senses to convey what we mean? Visual, audio, texture, taste, smell. I often find myself singing a story to a friend or my gestures turning into more of a dance when I am really getting into a good point. I am not interested in turning dance into a tool for rhetoric but I am interested in new ways of connecting to one another and sharing the knowledge of the world.

So move over PowerPoint. Let the dancers take the stage and teach us about super fluids.

Inspiring local communities through TEDx

ASTEP was invited to present at the TEDxYouthDay event on November 19, 2011 at The School at Columbia University. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, the well-known TED conference created TEDx so local communities could spark deep discussions and share a TED-like experience. The theme for TEDxYouthDay 2011 was Play, Learn, Build & Share,  and ASTEP’s Mauricio Salgado presented A Call to Action to highlight creative ways to inspire curiosity and empower young leaders. Read below for his account of the day’s events:

Twelve presenters, including Charles Wilson (author of Chew On This) and Dickson Despommier (author of The Vertical Farm), shared innovative ideas and projects to encourage aspiring middle school students to make positive change in their lives and communities.

For my presentation, I adapted stories shared by ASTEP students and alum during the A Story per Step Campaign to relate the power of story-telling and what it can embody. After the presentation, I received help from a group of ASTEP volunteers–Will Clark, Laura Mead, John Egan, Dion Mucciacito, and Slaveya Starkov–to facilitate a story-telling workshop for students and parents. Both ASTEP presentations were received very positively by the community and a handful of people expressed interest in connecting with ASTEP in the future. Most importantly, I was honored to have 9 ASTEP members and supporters present, including Joe Norton (the Director of Educational Outreach for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS).

The piece I performed was co-created by Alejandro Rodriguez, Slaveya Starkov, Cindy Salgado and myself. At the core of the piece is the following story:

Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her, she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again; clothed in story. Truth knocked again at the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into the people’s houses. They invited her to eat at their table and warm herself by their fire.

Thank you to Karen Blumberg and The School at Columbia University for including ASTEP in this rewarding community building experience.

Celebrating New York City kids

ASTEP recently completed the Celebration Program, a year-long training partnership led by Youth INC, an organization that  supports youth serving nonprofits in NYC.  The program culminated in a fundraising benefit on November 14, 2011 held at The Waldorf=Astoria. For the event, ASTEP launched a $25,000 fundraising target, and we are thrilled to announce that we surpassed our goal!

Thank you to all of the donors who supported us that evening! It was indeed a celebratory evening, and we were able to enjoy the festivities with several students and staff from our New York City partner organizations, Incarnation Children’s Center and IRC Refugee Youth Program.


A volunteer transforms messages of personal identity

Take a look at how Michael Markham, an ASTEP volunteer, transformed the side of a building in New York City into a piece of artistic work.

Michael, an actor with a passion for photography, collaborated with Inside Out, a global art project that posts large scale photographic portraits to discover, reveal and share the untold stories and images of people around the world.

A beautiful visual presentation!


Physical engagement with art. On Monday Morning.

I invite all of you to learn about an engaging art project by a member of the ASTEP community, Yazmany Arboleda (who also created our new website!).

His recent article, featured in the Huffington Post, highlights one of his projects, Monday Morning.

A true example of the transforming power of the arts.


Sometimes the Art Matters…Even More than Kim Kardashian

By Yazmany Arboleda

I have lived outside of America for the past 16 months. During this time and throughout my travels as an “artist-in-residence,” I have tried hard to be present in the places I have landed like Bangalore, Yamaguchi, Johannesburg and Nairobi. Despite a genuine effort, I have regularly succumbed to my mass media addiction and have, somewhat reluctantly but always necessarily found a way to stay informed about what is happening back home.

Being this addict-artist, I recognize and quasi-accept my preoccupation, borderline obsession with pop culture. So deep is my addiction that I have actually followed the wedding of Kim Kardashian to Kris Humphries. For the four or five people out there who are unaware, Kim Kardashian’s big Hollywood wedding cost about $10 million for a marriage that lasted about 72 days. It was a lavish, impossibly perfect party that we weren’t invited to attend. At least not in the conventional way. E! Network filmed the entire event and televised it to impressive ratings a few days before the divorce filing. I suspect we’ll all be watching the Kardashian divorce special soon (Kim meeting with her lawyer, Kim jetting off to Australia to find herself and so on).

About a year ago, I decided to throw my own party. Among the many differences between me and Kim Kardashian was that my “party” would include as many people as possible. Since my primary focus as an artist is people’s physical engagement with art, I decided to give out 10,000 brightly colored balloons on a Monday Morning in the transportation hub of cities around the world. Each commuter would be given a balloon and asked to hold on to it until he/she got to work. It was, and remains, a fairly simple concept: the art of modifying a moment and redefining what art means to people using balloons.

The motivation for the installation was to counter that Monday morning feeling. The melancholy that strikes you when you open your eyes in bed, realizing the weekend is over and you must go back to the grind of things. In the West, we call this the Monday blues and just another “Manic Monday” as the eponymous song goes. But even in places like Japan, there is terminology, namely “Sazae-San Syndrome” to describe this phenomenon. Sazae-San is a popular family cartoon that has been broadcast every Sunday evening for the past thirty five years. Although the show is light-hearted and extols simple family values, it tends to depress people because they have come to associate the program with the end of the weekend.

Another motivation of mine was to speak to people across cultures and help them broaden their definition of art. This is especially true in the context of developing countries where education and funding for arts can be, and often is, limited.

I must be clear that I came to Kenya planning to perform another Monday Morning, before any of the recent terrorist attacks or any of the prevailing negativity invaded this beautiful but complicated country. Creating this art amidst the fear of grenade attacks and terrorism in Nairobi further transformed the work. While Americans may be concerned with so much at home (a lot of the worry legitimate, some if it not so much: see Kim Kardashian), Kenyans are resisting the urge to visit their local shopping malls or go to the center of town because they have been warned that these places could be attacked by al-Shabab. These concerns are real and the issues are truly life and death.

But for one morning, a Monday Morning no less, bright yellow balloons changed some commuters’ mood who came across them in the heart of Kenya’s capital city. They smiled in spite of their fear. They accepted a balloon in spite of their genuine reservations. And they went on about their day, in spite of war.

This matters.




Volunteers who share their (he)art. We honor you

We could not make an impact on the lives of the children we serve without the continued dedication of our amazing team of volunteers. From curriculum planning to running the workshops, our volunteers provide nonstop energy and love–their work is both an inspiration and a testament to the transforming power of the arts. From the depths of our hearts, we THANK YOU!

Refugee Youth Summer Academy | NYC

  • Keith Chappelle
  • Jasmine Collins
  • Nick Dalton
  • John Egan
  • Caroline Fermin
  • Catherine Hancock
  • Tiffany Jin
  • Allison Job
  • Julia Boudreaux Mayo
  • Dylan Moore
  • Amanda Toth
  • Hayley Treider
  • Alejandro Rodriguez, On-site Administrator

Art-in-Action Middle School | Homestead Florida

  • Robert Avila
  • Stephanie Borrero
  • Andrey Cassasola
  • Melissa Crepo
  • Laura Lalanne
  • Laura Mead
  • John Pimentel
  • Alex Samaras
  • Maggie Segale
  • Julia Steifel
  • Jamario Stills
  • Katherine Wood

Art-in-Action High School | Homestead Florida

  • Chelsea Ainsworth
  • Damian Gomez
  • Alisa Howard
  • Meera Kumbhani
  • Nadia Kyne
  • Kyle Netzeband
  • Charles Numrich
  • Briana Paige
  • Will Pailen
  • Curtis Peterson
  • Elisabeth Rainer
  • Kendal Sparks
  • Jim Stephens

Incarnation Children’s Center | NYC

  • Lucie Baker
  • Ali Dachis
  • Dion Mucciacito
  • Seth Numrich
  • Tanesha Ross
  • Cindy Salgado
  • Samira Wiley

Shanti Bhavan | India

  • Lauren Berger
  • Elise Seivert
  • Lillian Sposts
  • Rahil Tejani