Mary Neri King, a Winters-based artist, participates in YoloArts’ Arts & Ag project, formed to raise awareness of Yolo’s rural farmland, history and the arts.

Mary Neri King, a Winters-based artist, participates in YoloArts’ Arts & Ag project, formed to raise awareness of Yolo’s rural farmland, history and the arts.

Bringing Art Where It Isn’t

YoloArts helps students find their voices

Back Article Jul 8, 2016 By Bill Romanelli

Danielle Whitmore, YoloArts’ executive director, tells a story about a student named Diana. When Diana — a pseudonym — was a student in a local continuation school, she wouldn’t even get out of bed to attend classes.

It wasn’t that she was lazy. She was uncomfortable in school and had low self-confidence. It was only when she started taking art classes, made possible through the arts education programs of YoloArts, that she started showing up. Today she’s in her fourth semester at a community college and credits her arts education for giving her the confidence to return to school.

“Our goal is to connect artists with our community to create vitality, emotional and intellectual enrichment, and fun,” Whitmore says. “‘Diana’s’ story is an example of how art helps give students a voice and, in her case, overcome the obstacles that held her back.”

With a $400,000 annual budget, YoloArts oversees an impressive list of programs. From Arts & Ag, which has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, to the Veterans in the Arts and “I See You” programs which, respectively, highlight the value returning veterans bring to their communities and connect the homeless with the arts, YoloArts is living out a mission to “bring art where it isn’t.”

Within that mission is YoloArts’ work to integrate arts into education for K-12 students. The program was launched in 2006 and in 2012 expanded its outreach to continuation schools and youth in juvenile detention facilities. “Many of these kids are disaffected, have no way to express themselves in a positive way, and don’t feel like they’ll be heard even if they do,” Whitmore  says. “We’ve found that engaging them in the arts helps many of them find that positive voice, and it’s instilling a sense of pride, courage and confidence that’s been lacking in their lives for whatever reason.” Even more, Whitmore says the kids are learning about planning, discipline, teamwork and cooperation with others through frequent group projects, and that’s giving them skills they can use productively in the real world.

In any given year, more than 20,000 Yolo County residents are “touched” by the work of YoloArts. That includes more than 2,000 students in 11 local schools and, like any nonprofit, they welcome the help of volunteers and other support.

Their funding comes from three primary sources — what Whitmore calls the “triangle of love” — including grants, donations and earned income from matching programs. They’ve also received a Silver Seal from GuideStar, an international organization that rates nonprofits for their work and how they use their funds.

Whitmore says that supporting the arts yields greater benefits for the community as a whole: “The arts really are an essential part of our lives,” she says. “They are how we share and build our community.” For more information about upcoming events, gallery shows or how to get involved, visit YoloArts at