Teenagers in Oregon's rural communities may have little exposure to the arts, so their latent passions never take hold and they wind up living a life unaware of their talents.

The Young Artists Institute at Southern Oregon University, which just received a $20,000 grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, seeks to remedy that, giving youngsters a 10-day, residential taste of acting, painting, poetry and dance, all in the culturally rich environment of Ashland.

“It allows students to be surrounded by other students who are passionate about art and may not have ever been to an art gallery,” says poet and high school English teacher Jay Schroder, program director of YAI. “It’s exciting for them. A lot of them say ‘I’ve finally found my people.’”

The program lets young students live in dorms, eat in college cafeterias and “live like college students, having really great teachers and professional artists to learn from,” says Rachel Jones, director of SOU’s Pre-College Youth Programs, which includes YAI.

YAI has a partnership with Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The penultimate event of the 10-day artistic trek is an evening inside the OSF’s Black Swan Theater, in which students kick out the jams and try on any art form that sings to them, including, hip-hop, skits, standup comedy, poetry slam and more, says Jones.

Grant-funded scholarships for the school are aimed toward underserved, at-risk, low-income kids from throughout Oregon, “who may not have been able to come to any residential art camp,” she notes.

“If kids don’t have exposure to the arts like this, there will be certain cylinders that are not firing in life," Schroder adds. "There will be potentials that continue to sleep. This helps them to become more inspired, more confident, thoughtful and engaged as people and as artists.”

The grants help offset the basic tuition of $1,095, which includes room, board and materials — and that’s under their true cost, says Jones.

“I wanted to help create a program that I would love to have attended when I was a teenager, something that would change how I saw the world and inspire me as a creative artist,” said Schroder.

YAI has a network of grantees and partners. The steering committee that started it in 2014 includes OSF, SOU, Chautauqua Poets & Writers, Medford and Ashland school districts and others. Donors can give directly to the Young Artists Institute or through the Oregon Cultural Trust.

In addition to the YAI program, local Oregon Cultural Trust grants went to:

The Rogue World Music in Ashland, $5,000 for the "Triple Play" Cultural Performance and Participation Events, to support a music and dance event series, featuring cultural traditions of Mexico in partnership with Ballet Folklorico of Medford.
Southern Oregon Film Society in Ashland, $11,567 for Regional Filmmakers Project, to support regional filmmaking, giving access to youth and adults in rural areas to produce and experience local films.
Talent Historical Society, $6,109 for museum makeover, to support a capacity building project to improve the function of collections and exhibits in the museum and increase attendance.

Donors this year lifted Oregon Cultural Trust fundraising to a new high, with a record $2.94 million in grants given to 136 cultural nonprofits for fiscal 2017-18. The Cultural Trust is funded by private sources, but Oregonians who contribute to the trust can claim a 100 percent tax credit from the state. See culturaltrust.org for more information.

The Cultural Trust, according to its news release, awarded $736,000 to five statewide partners, the Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Humanities, Oregon Historical Society and the State Historic Preservation Office, an equal amount to 45 county and tribal cultural coalitions for regranting in their communities and $1.4 million in competitive Cultural Development Grants to 86 cultural organizations across the state.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.