art start

Our Mission

Our Mission

Art Start uses the creative process to nurture the voices, hearts, and minds of youth from communities that have been historically marginalized.

Through creative workshops, mentorship and youth-led multimedia projects, art becomes the starting point of a larger life process, and the start of larger conversations about the future of our communities.

We work with public schools, youth organizations, alternative sentencing programs, and residences for those experiencing homelessness.

Our Model

Our Model

Our mantra: “Imagine. Believe. Create. Become.”

Art Start uses a youth-centered approach to education and mentorship. Our programs guide young people to appreciate who they innately are, discovering what they have to offer the world, encouraging them to think critically, ask important questions, and identify the opportunities in their paths.

Many of our students are experiencing times of instability and transition, in systems that often stifle creativity. We focus on providing safe space for artistic expression and exploration, with an emphasis on the creative process that encourages positive risk taking and personal development.

For over 30 years, we’ve worked with more than 25,000 young people with the help of 12,000 artist educators and volunteers. The Art Start model has won national recognition as a highly effective way to transform young lives.

Our Values

Art Start seeks to deepen our commitment to our mission—personal development through the creative process—by aligning our approach, philosophy, and discourse with the principles of Anti-Oppression (anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, anti-ableism, anti-ageism, and more). Our organizational values are a reflection of this commitment.


Every member of the Art Start community is responsible for upholding our values at all times. Through consistency and transparency, we build trust among our students, volunteers, and partners.


We believe that every individual has an autonomous creative spirit that is inherently healing. We acknowledge that the creative process equalizes us as a community inside the Art Start space.

Culture and Community

We prioritize intentional representation in the various members that make up the Art Start team. We invest deeply in our partnerships and work to ensure that all our partners share our values.


We value the continuous power of growth both for our organization and with our participants.


We’re focused on helping our participants in the highest-impact ways we can. We give them the means to help themselves, while educating the wider community about the obstacles they face.

Inherent wisdom/self-knowledge

We nurture the creative process with support, space, access to a variety of materials, and open-ended questions that direct the participant back to their own innate skills and ideas.

Well-being/nurturing supportive environments

Art must grow in an environment based on empathy and understanding. We carefully balance structure with exploration and safety with freedom.

Where We Are

Where We Are


526 West 26th Street
Suite 10AB
New York, NY 10001



710 W Historic Mitchell Street
Milwaukee, WI 53204
Our Accomplishments

Over the past thirty years, Art Start has become an award-winning, nationally recognized model for using the creative arts to transform lives.

Awards and Accolades

President’s Service Award Presented By President Bill Clinton, 1997

National Endowment For The Arts Award, 2001

Non-Profiteer Of The Year (Executive Director Johanna De Los Santos), 2010

Pasesetter Afterschool Award, 2018

Guidestar Platinum Status, 2018 - Present

Notable Press

"Stories of Arts for Change" on Bravo, 1998

The Oprah Winfrey Show, 2000

“Fulfilling the Dream,” CBS special, 2003

"The Hip Hop Project" on the Sundance Channel, 2008

New York Times, various years

New York Daily News, various years

Fox 5

The Grio on MSNBC

National Public Radio

107.3 Lite FM