Using Arts and Cultural Expression to Promote Equality by Nicolle Guerra

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The arts are increasingly recognized as a major tool for promoting communication, equality and inclusion.  In today’s pressurized societal environment the most promising students arrive at college already burned out.  Children are struggling in preschools and kindergartens to master tasks that are inappropriate for their age. Desks and worksheets are replacing blocks.  Our culture seems to have taken a wrong turn and forgotten the importance of creative play, considering it as time unproductively spent. (Golinkoff, et. al, 2005)

Thankfully, there is a movement for change.  An example of a program that utilizes music and art in all its forms to stimulate children’s creativity and to give children’s opinions agency and a voice is the “I Have A Dream” Foundation – New York (IHDF-NY). Its mission is to motivate and empower children living in low-income communities to reach their educational and career potential by providing a long-term program of academic support, mentoring, enrichment and tuition assistance that prepares them for higher education.

Since its inception in 1986 by businessman Eugene M. Lang, more than 15,000 children have been served in 200 “I Have A Dream” programs operated in 27 states, Washington, D.C., and New Zealand.  In the New York Metro Area alone, there have been 32 “I Have A Dream” programs in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Long Island, and New Jersey (IHDF-NY, 2013).

“I Have A Dream” traditionally sponsors entire grade levels of students in under-resourced public schools and housing developments, programming that has dramatically changed the lives of many. “I Have A Dream” also shares its model with government agencies, corporations, individuals, religious and community groups to generate similar support programs that develop stronger pipelines to college for students from underserved communities.

Most recently, “I Have A Dream” – NY launched its newest flagship program at PS 7 on East 120th Street in East Harlem.  The program heralds a new era , as the nonprofit builds on decades of success and offers students robust academics, cultural enrichment, health and wellness literacy, and mentoring – all of which are not readily available in their neighborhoods – continuing the philosophy that exposing young children to different environments and people introduces them to new ideas and dreams.

“Dreamers”, as the participants are called, benefit from a long-term relationship with partner Free Arts NYC, which provides an educational arts and mentoring program.  As Free Arts is also committed to working with NYC youth from cradle to college, the young participants grow with their art program, often receiving one-on-one guidance when it is time to apply to specialized arts programs. Through a long-standing relationship with Lang College at the New School, current college students lead Dreamers in drama and dance literacy lessons.  These lessons provide an introduction to performance while also connecting the children to college students, helping them to further visualize themselves as having college potential.

Elementary school “dreamers” participate in weekly music education from Music IMPROV, a program led by Dr. Bert Konowitz, a dynamic educator with over 50 years of experience. Lessons encourage students to experiment and improvise in music based on emotions, sounds, and noises, build their music literacy, create their own songs, and occasionally conduct each other in performance.  Program lessons are also structured  so students can feel, look and act like professional musicians.  Dr. Konowitz incorporates a wide range of genres into lessons, using the music to help students identify the culture and era that created it.  Older participants who want to further their musical interests can also participate in keyboard classes.

Upon high school graduation, each student receives tuition assistance for higher education.  It is the “I Have a Dream” Foundation’s goal that one day all children will have the opportunity to fully capitalize on their talents, aspirations  and leadership to create a brighter future for themselves full of opportunities never imagined.

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For more information:





  1. Yee, V. (2014, April 7) Arts Education Lacking in Low-Income Areas of New York City, Report Says.  The New York Times
  1. Golinkoff, R; Hirsh-Pasek, K; Singer, D.  (2005)  Play=Learning.
  1. I Have a Dream (IHDF-NY).  (2013)

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