LEAP Expands Arts Access in NYC

LEAP Expands Arts Access in NYC

Membership Manager Taina Sanon spoke with Richard Souto, Executive Director of LEAP, a member organization of Nonprofit New York. Nonprofit New York will continue to highlight the work of our members, LEAP, because we believe when your nonprofit is stronger, all of us are stronger.

Tell me about the organization and a little bit about what you do.
LEAP uses the power of the arts to instill creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking in New York City's most under-resourced public school students. Our mission is to bring educational arts programs to communities underserved in the arts to provide access to these enriching experiences and promote equity in schools. We envision a world where LEAP youth thrive in high-earning careers because of skills gained through their experiences in the arts.

As Executive Director of LEAP, I’m responsible for setting the strategic direction and annual goals for the organization and leading a team of talented staff and Board members to achieve our objectives. I joined LEAP four years ago, replacing the organization’s co-founders who led LEAP for 38 years until their retirement in 2016. It’s been a very exciting and extremely challenging experience as we’ve transformed LEAP from a pioneering grassroots arts education organization to a leading provider of creative youth development programs.

I wear a lot of hats at LEAP, given we’re an organization that works hard to accomplish a lot with limited resources. I spend a great deal of time externally on fundraising and Board engagement with the goal to increase general support to help us build operational capacity and focus on program quality. I’m deeply involved in supporting the management team as they advance key initiatives related to program delivery and measurement, talent development, financial management, and building efficient infrastructure. I also volunteer my time as a Board member of Nonprofit New York so that I can contribute to the success of the entire nonprofit sector.

Tell us about the LEAP team.
LEAP is made up of 35 full time professionals and nearly 400 part time Teaching Artists and Instructors that work year-round to deliver programs. We have a main office in Midtown West but our team works across the city in all five boroughs, which introduces challenges throughout the year. We work hard to establish and reinforce an organizational culture that promotes the same values we teach our children including collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. We embrace initiatives that promote equity and inclusivity and help build and retain a diverse staff throughout all roles. We also find opportunities to have fun together with staff celebrations, art exhibitions, theater performances, and open mic nights. These ways of working help us align toward our mission and overcome the inherent challenges of being a large, diverse, and widely distributed workforce.

Tell us about your programs and the population you serve.
LEAP provides educational arts residencies during the school day as well as comprehensive after-school programs throughout the school year and summer in nearly 150 New York City public schools. Our school day programs include established signature programs in visual arts, theater, literacy, and STEAM as well as custom arts residencies in other genres including dance, music, and new media. Our creative youth development programs reach approximately 20,000 children in grades K through 12 annually in all five boroughs of NYC. Through LEAP programs, young people discover a love of learning and are prepared for success in school and life.

We work in partnership with the New York City Department of Education to deliver our programs with a focus on under resourced communities and schools underserved in the arts. Most LEAP students (83%) live at or below the poverty line and well over 20% have special needs. Additionally, we have programs designed specifically for schools with high rates of multi language learners. Often, our programs provide students with their primary arts education program experiences.

Where do you see LEAP in the next five years and what do you need to grow your mission?
In the coming years, we would like to grow our programs throughout the city by deepening our relationship with existing school partners and bringing programs to additional new schools that are underserved in the arts. In order to expand our reach, we need program funding to deliver programs to schools with limited budgets, as well as resources to build our organizational capacity to support quality program delivery, outcomes measurement, and essential overhead. We also need policy makers and institutional funders to advocate for the power of the arts and promote programs that generate outcomes through creative youth development programming.

How has Nonprofit New York helped you succeed?
Nonprofit New York has helped LEAP succeed through providing multiple resources that make us a higher performing organization. Many LEAP staff attend professional development opportunities and bring those learnings back to their colleagues. We also utilize informational resources like the annual salary survey and recommendations for specialized vendors to serve our needs. Lastly, we benefit from the successful policy work of Nonprofit New York that provides more fertile ground for organizations like ours to thrive in city and state.

What are you currently working on that you want us to mention to our membership?
LEAP is proud of our program strategy and aspires to be recognized as one of the most effective creative youth development organizations in the country. In 2017, we developed a theory of change, and implemented our standardized creative youth development model, which we call "The LEAP Way”. Throughout the year, we measure student progress toward our defined social and emotional outcomes as well as assess our staff’s readiness to deliver programs in The LEAP Way. To demonstrate our programmatic effectiveness, we survey over 1,200 students and 200 staff annually and report on our results both internally and to our program partners. This commitment to program quality and outcomes measurement are hallmarks of the LEAP program model.