Who we are: a video snapshot!


A huge thank you to Yazmany Arboleda, an ASTEP volunteer and multimedia artist extraordinaire, for creating this colorful and enthusiastic video highlighting our programs over the years. For some of you, this will be a trip down memory lane since some of the images captured here are from the very beginning of ASTEP! Enjoy!!

Discussing the artist’s role as citizen with the Justice and the Arts Initiative at Santa Clara University

By: Mauricio Salgado, Director of Domestic Programs

From April 16-April 21 2012, I had the honor of being an artist in residence with the Justice and the Arts Initiative (JAI) at Santa Clara University. For the fifth year, JAI Co-directors and SCU Dance faculty members, Kristin Kusanovich and Carolyn Silberman (pictured left), invited me to connect with their community, which seeks to create an intellectual frame of reference for examining and fostering artistic processes that are critically bound to issues of social justice, and to support practices and methods of developing artist-activists at SCU. As usual, the experience was uniquely invigorating! Aside from the workshops I presented, I witnessed performances affirming the power of art and many one on one conversations considering the artist’s role as a citizen.

On my first morning there, I witnessed SCU’s production of “What Strangers May Know,” a play commemorating the 32 victims of the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. The outdoor event involved  76 members of the SCU community ( students, staff, alums and faculty members), focusing on 32 separate one act plays memorializing each of the victims. Aside from immersing myself in the 32 stories, I also found myself reflecting on the culture of mourning; a thought that I continued to explore while visiting class reflections and in personal conversations with students and faculty. From the beginning, I found myself enlivened by a community that is processing profound social issues.

The next day, I led the first of two workshops exploring the empathic process and its use in community development. About 40 students participated in the workshops, where we also discussed ASTEP’s practice of using Arts Education to develop empathy in students. Most importantly, the workshops provided a space for students to consider what it means to pursue justice for the oppressed and impoverished, and how artist activists should prepare for that pursuit.

While at SCU, I also attended the 2012 Bannan Fellow Lecture by Dr. Maeve Heaney. Entitled, “Beauty and Beast; the role of the arts in Jesuit higher education,” the performance landed the importance of the arts in higher education in order to broaden intellectual capacity. I specify that the event was more of a performance than a lecture, because it included scenes, music, dance pieces, and painting. As Maeve demonstrated, singing about beauty lands the point more effectively than speaking about it – and if so, it is equally more effective at relating social injustice.

As happens each time I visit SCU, I left inspired to deepen my own understanding and pursuit of Justice and eager to relate the stories that moved me. I left ready to take the next step in helping artists strive to end poverty.


Congratulations, Annika Sheaff and Alejandro Rodriguez!

At ASTEP, we strive to cultivate a community of artists who use their gifts to inspire youth. In order to continue providing ongoing personal and professional development opportunities for our volunteers, we have launched the first A Step Towards Empowering Artists Scholarship for ASTEP volunteers.

We know how important it is for an artist to have the time and space to explore their practice and experience meaningful exchanges or immersions. Partnering with SPACE on Ryder Farm, the A Step Towards Empowering Artist Scholarship will award two 5-day 4-night residencies with a goal of supporting socially conscious artistic endeavors. These endeavors include creation processes, residencies, exploration or research, exhibits, and performances. The residency will provide each artist with room, board, working space, and artistic support from Ryder Farm faculty for the 5-day 4-night stay.

ASTEP received an impressive set of applications, which had to focus on the scholarship’s 2012 theme: Overcoming Discrimination Through Art. After careful evaluation, ASTEP is thrilled to announce the 2012 A Step Towards Empowering Artists Scholarship recipients: Annika Sheaff and Alejandro Rodriguez.


Annika Sheaff

Annika: I am thrilled to receive such a great residency! As an emerging choreographer some of the biggest challenges are finding space and time to work on a new creation. ASTEP is awarding me with 30 hours of time to work in the studio with the dancers of my choice! I could not be more excited! This is the most precious gift; I can’t wait to get my feet wet and dive into a new piece about “Overcoming Discrimination”. ASTEP’s belief in me is encouraging and this space grant will help me further my choreographic career. Thank You ASTEP!!


Alejandro Rodriguez

Alex: The common misconception about the work I do with ASTEP is that it’s entirely selfless. Sure, I think there’s a certain spirit of generosity that fuels our efforts, but I have always received much more than I’ve given. The young people I’ve met, and the artists I’ve gotten to work with, have given me new perspectives and provided me with the inspiration for many characters I’ve played and pieces I’ve written. Now, with the A Step Towards Empowering Artists Scholarship, I get to to take that exchange to a whole new level.

When I learned I’d been awarded a residency at SPACE on Ryder Farm, I was ecstatic. It’s hard to put into words what this opportunity means to me. Like many of us who volunteer for ASTEP, I’m a freelancing artist. As such, I spend a lot of my time in waiting rooms, knocking politely at the doors of the commercial theater, hoping the gatekeepers might let me into play for a while. And, I imagine like most of us, I end up feeling like my Vision cannot be accommodated by the studios at Ripley Grier, or even by some of the beautiful theaters I’ve been lucky enough to play in. My art is for the World; and yet, as a young artist I end up fumbling with it, awkwardly, growing increasingly insecure as I put it on display for strangers to praise or criticize. What ASTEP and SPACE have blessed me with is an opportunity to find stability, and to spend some time in relationship to my own Voice and to my own stories, many of which have been culled from the rich experiences I’ve had on ASTEP sites.

Will I create something that lasts? Who knows. Will I never have to audition for casting directors ever again? Certainly I will. But for a moment, however fleeting, I will feel like an Artist. And, in the final wash, that is the greatest and most transformative gift that ASTEP gives its volunteers: the feeling of actually being what you told your mom you were moving to New York to become.

Thank you ASTEP. I hope our friendship lasts a lifetime.

ICC students claim victory during the 2012 Slamin’ Olympics!

On April 10 & 12, 2012, ASTEP hosted the 3rd annual ICC Slamin’ Olympics at the Incarnation Children’s Center in Washington Heights, New York City. The Residents triumphed over the Staff this year, although the score was neck and neck throughout the competition!A favorite among the art-based events was “Ready-Set-Slow”, a race (always run with “Chariots of Fire” playing in the background) in which the last competitor to cross the finish line is the winner! But perhaps the most memorable moments came from the “Create A Story” event, where teams have just 10 minutes to create a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but for extra points, they must try to include moments of slow-motion, singing, repetition, and an element of surprise.

Of course, players can always earn extra points for their team by coming up with inventive dance moves during the “Lord of the Dance”, an ongoing event throughout the Olympics and a huge source of entertainment for all spectators. However, the most popular way of gaining the extra points comes from supporting and cheering on the opposing team! Thanks to all who participated and to all of the volunteers who came out for the Olympics! A great time was had by all and we’ll see you next year when the Staff will have their chance at redemption!

A big thanks to Tanesha Ross, an ASTEP volunteer, who coordinated the event and to our volunteer judges: Krystle Armstrong, Michael Liscio, Gabrielle Reid, Anne Markt, Yazmany Arboleda.

One of the final competitions involved creating a piece of art using elements found during a scavenger hunt!

Launching the ASTEP Leadership Seminar. Get empowered!

ASTEP’s volunteer artists are the key to our success. We believe in cultivating a community of artists who use their gifts to inspire youth and in providing ongoing professional development opportunities for our volunteers. Starting this year, we’re excited to begin offering the ASTEP Leadership Seminar series for active ASTEP volunteers.  During the two-day intensives, we will explore the skills and strategies necessary to be an effective facilitator and leader when using the arts for social change. Focusing primarily on communication and organizational skills, the seminar will prepare individuals to be ASTEP On-Site Administrators, key leaders who help us manage the partner and volunteer experience. Most importantly, the seminar provides a space for like-minded artists to share their ideas about, experiences with, and challenges on leadership.

Our first ASTEP Leadership Seminar took place on March 1-2, 2012 in NYC. In attendance were 9 volunteer artists, ranging from dancers to actors to musicians to visual artists. We covered topics such as communication, conflict mediation, and evaluation—we were lucky to have a special presentation by Annika Sheaf, a Pilobolus dancer, who led the group through movement exercises that explored movement and how it relates to quick thinking, group productivity, awareness, trust, and communication.

Over the course of these two days, everyone involved not only grew closer as a volunteer community but also strengthened their leadership abilities and personal connection to this work.

Hear from several of the participants:


“Thank you so much for including me in the ASTEP Leadership Seminar. I really can’t tell you enough what a meaningful time I had. I feel so lucky to be a part of such an incredible community. I really look at ASTEP as a defining part of my life–the ideals of the organization and of the people within it are ones that I constantly push myself to strive for. And attending this seminar only made me believe this even more. I treasure my time spent with ASTEP and look forward to many, many, more years as part of the ASTEP family.”

–Alli Job, ASTEP volunteer | bassist and visual artist