What Makes a Good Summer Youth Program?


My internship with The Sanctuary for Independent Media started in late May, 2015. However, my connection to The Sanctuary began in 2008, when I was 15, and I participated in a “Youth Media Sanctuary” (YMS). It was a summer youth program and gave me my first experience using video cameras and media art. That summer youth program helped shape my creative vision and led me to make my own documentaries, which I still do today. I would not have realized my passion for documentary filmmaking if not for The Sanctuary. My documentary film is an ongoing project that consists of a series of interviews and video diaries about my family grieving my father’s suicide. The film is called Daddyless. On my 18th birthday in 2010, I moved independently to Troy, New York. Living alone in a new city, I found salvation in The Sanctuary, which was the only thing I was familiar with at the time. I attended events there regularly, volunteered as much as possible, interned almost every summer, and even had my own video art installation exhibition in 2010. 

This past summer, I interned as the Project Manager for Uptown Summer. Uptown summer is an intensive five-week program for adolescent workers.  About twelve high school students applied, and were paid through a platform called ‘Rensselaer Summer Youth Employment. In addition to providing these youth with hands-on experience using technical equipment, the program gave them an opportunity to serve the community by teaching them to urban farm in an area that is very much a food dessert, and instructing them to pick up garbage from the streets.  The youth also gave voice to community members by conducting audio interviews they turned into podcasts. In the interviews they asked residents what they wanted in terms of positive change, and how violence, poverty, and drug use in the community is related to them. These podcasts were aired live on The Sanctuary’s radio station. The community members had the chance to discuss the issues impacting their neighborhood and have their voices heard.

In the eight years I have been involved with The Sanctuary, I have gone from attending the summer program to leading it. As the Project Manager, I hosted technical workshops, group discussions with youth, demonstrated and planned different creative projects.  You can read blog entries, view photos, and find more details about Uptown Summer here:, and get an insider’s view of all the different activities the teens did over the five-week period this summer. 

Part 1: Introduction 

            The intention of this study is to analyze The Sanctuary for Independent Medias summer youth program. Through my examination I have explored several questions:


  1.  How can a summer youth program be defined?
  2. What are the tools needed to assess the quality of a summer youth program?
  3.  What constitutes a successful summer youth program?
  4.  What is the management structure of a summer youth program?
  5.  Does The Sanctuary For Independent Media have a successful program?


With these questions in mind, my goal is to analyze specific areas of arts management to gain a better a better understanding of summer youth programs and to also represent the importance of summer youth programs particularly in locations that are economically disadvantaged.



Media Alliance was founded in 1977. It addresses common needs of non-profits by strategizing ways to keep its community oriented services operable.  It also provides services to artists in the field of, but not limited to, media arts and film production of all kinds. It moved its headquarters to a historic former church in 2005 that is now known as The Sanctuary for Independent Media, a telecommunications production facility located in North Troy, New York. The Sanctuary serves the community through media arts and community collaboration. 

2.        Mission 

“The Sanctuary for Independent Media is a place where community-engaged interdisciplinary artists experiment with aesthetic form and challenging content, with the overarching goal of shedding light on media artsvital role in the process of building a democratic society”.  

3.        Statement of Purpose

The Sanctuary for Independent Media is a telecommunications production facility dedicated to community media arts. The Sanctuary hosts screening, production and performance facilities, training in media production and a meeting space for artists, activists and independent media makers of all kinds.”  

4.        Vision 

“We use art and participatory action to promote social and environmental justice and freedom of creative expression.” 

5.        Summer Program Planning Structure 

            The Sanctuarys 2015 program Uptown Summer was planned about three months in advance. Working as the Project Manager, I gained a lot of first-hand experience planning the program. Emmy Award winner Branda Miller, Director of Arts Education and co-founder of The Sanctuary for Independent Media, wrote many emails and used a shared Google document so that all the mentors could make additional changes or post their ideas as needed. There were about ten mentors who collaborated together to run this program. The mentors are the workshop leaders, media interns, and volunteers.

            The first step Branda took in planning this program was defining the overall theme. She did this by asking herself what The Sanctuary needs, what the community needs, and the resources she had available for addressing these needs. Here is a direct note from the Google doc that Branda shared with me and the other mentors: 

Documentary – Uptown Summer – Brainstorm 

*Theme: growth, creation, cultivation, growing community – cultivating
 *Analogue (plants/garden) and digital (audio/video)

*Ask camp participants about their own take on relation between radio, garden & community


*Radio host introduces documentary – documentary begins as a radio program

*Wires of station infrastructure = roots. Roots of plants = roots/wires of radio

*Student podcasts/stories featured in documentary
  *Garden – how it relates to Sanctuary and radio station (shots of plants growing out of radio equipment and equipment growing out of garden)
 *(I’m also thinking of the chronology of the story and will brainstorm while traveling; I’ll have a rough outline next week)



      After she established the theme, she locked in the players. The players are the funders, educators, interns, artist, mentors, and media technicians. She talked to a lot of people and communicated with everyone by including their inputs, considering various ideas, and discussing themes. This is a highly effective management skill to possess in order to keep everyone clear about the schedule and program in general.


After all the players are lined up and confirmed then she coordinated their schedules to meet everyones needs. Food is a huge part of the program because the neighborhood is very poor and a major contribution The Sanctuary gives to the community is maintaining community gardens and supplying vegetables to residents. The area is considered a food desert, “an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.” 

 Meeting everyones dietary needs and how to feed everyone is something the crew at The Sanctuary is passionate about. They believe food is a special tool that brings everyone together and provides comfort, nurturing, and nourishment. Food can also be a way to educate people about different cultures and traditions.

The Sanctuary’s presence in the community is very strong and they have many community collaborations with other organizations and small businesses.  There are chefs, bakers, and other farmers who are willing to donate their products or time to come cook lunch for the crew. They are willing to donate to The Sanctuary lunches because it aids in community improvement by helping The Sanctuary eliminate this food desert they are living in. In fact, figuring out a menu and what will be for lunch everyday is another part of daily planning.  

The workshops are planned according to what the players can offer to benefit the organization and the community, based off the theme. For example, a workshop by a Permaculturalist in proper gardening has mutual benefits which are educating youth, providing lunch and creating media art.  They harvest The Sanctuary’s community garden, “Collared City Growers”, and use the harvested vegetables to make lunch for everyone. They document the entire process from picking the vegetables to preparing them. The documentation is used for project programming for The Sanctuary, plus, everyone enjoys a free lunch. Left over vegetables get donated to the community.  The participants learn how to garden, cook veggies, eat vegetables that they never have experienced before, learn about the nutrition of the vegetables, and help maintain a community food source while generating media documentation.

Branda Miller’s mantra is to “keep it flowing,” so the Uptown Summer participants are always moving forward and maximizing their resources. She calls this type of programming the “Yin and yang of structure and freedom”. This makes a successful summer youth program because it benefits the youth, the community, and the organization altogether. Their summer program has been recurring for the past eight years (I was in the first one) with returning, dedicated members. Some youth members have even pursued media arts and filmmaking in college.

As Branda Miller once told me: “I had to hustle to set up Youth Media Sanctuary (which is now called Uptown Summer), but now it just happens because the kids want it to happen. They value what this place is all about.” 

6.        General Organization Financials 

      The Sanctuary has a tax status of a Non-For-Profit, 501 c 3. In my interview with Branda Miller, she states that all of the money they get for programming is from project specific grants. “Its very hard being an arts organization that is community-oriented because there is no outside funding unless its community driven.” They keep capital expenses “down to bare bones” because they receive limited funding for specific projects. Branda strategically finds ways to use project grants for the organization’s general structure. One example of using a project specific grant to fund a project while also using the money for restructuring the performance space took place in 2013. The Sanctuary organized a summer program called Found Art in North Troy. The Sanctuary needed an outdoor stage for performances but Branda said she knew they could not use grant money for construction, but only for art.

      She found a way to use the money to build a stage with a technique she calls “Guerilla Strategies”.  She had participants collect objects, trash, junk, and other oddities that could be used to create a sculpture stage made from a mosaic of found objects. Therefore the initiative was art, a stage, a summer program, and community-driven — and respected the grant. This program successfully addressed themes of re-purpose and re-use by transforming discarded objects into an art piece that functioned as a performance stage.

      The Executive Director and co-founder of The Sanctuary, Steve Pierce, shared with me during our interview that the Sanctuarys annual budget is only about $300,000. This is relatively small compared to most art organizations. For example, The Arts Center of The Capital Region, also located in Troy, New York, not far from The Sanctuary, has a budget of one million dollars. It is located in the downtown area of Troy, which is a tourist destination along the Hudson River surrounded by clothing stores, cafes, a farmer’s market, antique shops, bars and barber shops. The Art Center’s target audience is not community-based like the Sanctuary; rather, it is the entire capital region. 

      In contrast, The Sanctuary is located in a lower income residential area in North Troy, and exists to serve the neighborhood. The difference in location and budgets is significant even though they are just a few miles away from each other. For more information about the Downtown district please visit where you can find event schedules and Troy Night Out Activities to better understand the culture.

The Sanctuarys annual budget and earned income is very low, so leadership keeps the annual expenses low. They are not concerned about generating earned revenue, i.e., charging fees or tuition for programs, because it will take away from the organization’s core mission in serving the poor neighborhood they operate in. The mission is community driven, not money driven. If it charged for services or raised ticket prices, community members could not afford to attend events. Earned income comes from being a rental space, hosting events, production, at the door, and concessions.  It mainly survives on grants and volunteer labor. It is more involved with bettering the neighborhood than trying to maximize audience outreach, even though it does have visitors from all over the capital region.

7. Supplementary Information 

      An article by The Troy Record, “NY Poverty Rate Tops National Average”, gathered information from a report by the New York State Community Action Association that states New York has the highest rate of poverty among all Northeastern states. Close to 14 percent of New Yorkers, or 2.6 million people, are living in poverty. In the nineteenth century, Troy was a prosperous city during the times of industrialization due to shirt collar production and steel processing plants. Now Troy is a city that is suffering in some areas. According to the U.S. census, Troy’s current population is 53,606, of which 22.4% are below poverty level, or 11,000 people. Additionally, the majority of those families have single mothers as head of the household. 

            Jordan G. Teicher wrote a related article for The Slate, called “A New Way To Talk About Poverty In Troy, New York”. This article exposes a volunteer at The Sanctuary, and close friend to Branda Miller, digital folk artist Brenda Ann Kenneally.  She documents the poor families in the neighborhood with photographs in an interactive way.  Kenneally does not just simply snap a photo, she first builds a relationship with her subject and researches the individual’s life. Jordan G. Teicher describes her creative process of collecting prison letters, family photos, medical records, school records, and Facebook content as ‘not just creating media but curating it.

            Kenneally once lived in poverty in Troy herself in her teen years but left to go work and pursue an education in photojournalism and sociology in Florida.  She began revisiting her old culture by documenting young mothers.  The Slate article quotes Kenneally describing her own work:

My project explores the way that money is but a symptom of self-worth and a means by which humans separate from each other. Poverty is an emotional (rather than simply) physical state with layers of marginalization that cements those who live under them into place. 


Part 2: Challenge, Success, Innovation, or Trend 

A.        Description of C,S,I, or T: 

n Trend in arts organizations: summer youth programs 

The classification that defines a summer youth program is determined by a specific management structure. Provided in the “Literature Review” section is an example of the parameters that are set in order to be considered a summer youth program. The Sanctuarys summer program infrastructure consisted of the following elements, as inferred from Branda’s pre-planning Google document notes:

 1.Purpose: a clearly stated vision and mission

2.Execution of operations and workshops: plan to implement

3.People: workshop leaders, mentors, and managers

4.Organization development: opportunities for program and organization advancement 

 5. Intentions and outcomes: the end results and goals


Literature Review: 

The main case study I refer to throughout this paper is “Building Quality in Summer Youth Programs: Approaches and Recommendations,” written by Brenda McLaughlin of The Wallace Foundation.  The study’s guidelines of what a summer youth program is based on this outline:

A.   Operator: the organization that runs the program (administrative and fiscal authority)

B.   Programmatic focus: the primary goals and activities offered through the program

C.   Duration: the average amount of programming available to the typical participant over one summer; also whether the program is designed to serve youth one (one summer); or over multiple summers (cohort model; year-round model)

D.  Target Population: the youth served through the program, and whether participation is mandatory or voluntary.

E.   Primary Funding Source: the primary source of revenue for program operations (public or private)

F.    Connections: Whether or not the program is connected to a larger network that influences (helps conceptualize quality and accesses resources that support quality)


This outline defines the necessary organizational components of what constitutes a summer youth program.  Although these guidelines are true, other kinds of programs could fit into these guidelines as well.  In order to define a summer youth program based on these parameters, quality analysis needs to exist correspondingly and not just these parameters alone. 

B.        Significance of C,S,I, or T 

            Summer Youth Programs are a worthy topic for a case study for a number of reasons. One reason significant to me comes from the journal Building Quality in Summer Youth Programs by McLaughlin, which states that:

In areas with high rates of poverty, summer learning programs exist to narrow the achievement gap and increase rates of high school graduation, college entrance, and college completion among low-income and minority youth.


Another important factor is that summer youth programming is a platform that distributes/shares information to young people in such a way that they are more likely to absorb the information. The creative teaching methods give the students freedom to explore artistic expression/solutions that are suitable for them. Classrooms tend to have rules and restrictions. A case study titled Gift of The Muse by The Raand Foundation discusses how the school atmosphere can be problematic for some students because modes of teaching may not fit individual styles of learning. Therefore removing the child from the classroom and introducing information to them in a creative space is beneficial to cognitive growth and development. 

Part 3: Analysis of Entity within Broader Industry

A.        Identify broader industry

            A non-for-profit arts organization is mission-based, as opposed to a for-profit company, which is profit based.  A non-for-profit serves the public and conducts programs to achieve its mission rather than generate revenue for shareholders. Non-for-profits arts organizations tend to have similar management structures that include areas of strategic planning for achieving goals, fundraising, donor recruiting, meeting donor expectations, community outreach, and obtaining volunteers. The main characteristics are providing programs to the community and services for the artist. 

B.        Analysis of entity within broader industry 

The most successful management practice The Sanctuary performs is its deep level of engagement with the neighborhood. Through community collaborations, endless opportunities for volunteers, and the support it provides, local voices can be heard. Its community outreach significantly shapes the strong relationships connected throughout the area with solid initiatives. These initiatives include workshops, peer training, potlucks, exhibitions, film screenings, bands, poetry readings, story telling, among others.

            The Sanctuary is a very unique entity in this industry. Tom Keyser, a writer for the Albany Times Union wrote an article in 2010 about The Sanctuary For Independent Media A Safe Haven For Creative Minds. In this article he interviewed Steve Pierce and Branda Miller. He asked them “How do you decide your season?” This excerpt below is very significant in terms of channeling the essence of what The Sanctuary is all about.  

Miller: We really want it to be cutting-edge artistic practice. And we want to have an interdisciplinary range of work — music, writing, painting, and media. What we’re trying to look at is art and its relationship to social change. Through creative practice, one can touch the heart and spirit of people and motivate them to make the world a little bit of a better place.

Pierce: It’s about representing ideas that are essential truths about life, some of which you can’t sell; you can’t sell the dialogue. Somebody’s got to be out there talking about the war, talking about the neighborhood, talking about all these things that are just outside the dialogue these days.


This excerpt from Branda and Steve is significant because it encapsulates the intrinsic value of all that takes place within The Sanctuary walls and its surrounding territory. As abstract as it may seem, the indispensible quality and spirit that these two individuals convey are reproduced by everyone who encounters this place. The energy force that is created here can soothe an afflicted spirit by showing affection and acceptance to all.  

Part 4: Conclusion 

            From this research I have drawn several conclusions for what makes a successful summer youth program. Defining success in a summer youth program must meet a certain degree of standards that I have seen repeatedly throughout my research in varies articles and journals:

Flexibility allows change and growth without limiting resources and restricting opportunities for improvement.

Communication addresses the needs of all the players involved in the program to maximize the amount of resources available.

Strategic planning involves using innovative management techniques that allows avenues of sustainability.

Outcome analysis helps to assess what was beneficial for the community and the participants, and what aspects of programming need improvement.  

            The authors of the case study “Building Quality in Summer Youth Programs” suggest that these standards address two categories: process features and structural features. Their definition of “process features” is the focus on learning outcomes, enrichment opportunities, relationship building and skill building, youth voice and support for sustainability.  Structural indicators of quality from this case study list staff to youth ratio, participation levels, experienced and trained staff, and the years of operation. The types of summer programs evolve over time. The underlying factors of what makes a good summer youth program do not change. The trends may vary but the standard of quality remains.

In conclusion, The Sanctuarys Uptown Summer program is successful. The organization meets most of the expectations in summer youth programs listed above. Its program has a special component that consists of youth workers. The youth workers are being paid and completing tasks that result in long-term benefits for the community, the individuals, and the organization. This program provides the youth workers with principles and skills to help them develop an ability to communicate their ideas, discuss strategies, and help identify their own personal strengths while working together to accomplish set goals. It also teaches the participants to work at a level with value and a higher meaning that can prepare them for real-world experiences, such as teamwork, problem solving, using professional equipment, collaboration skills, and independence.

            Another measurement of success for this organization is the contributions it receives from prestigious organizations like NYSCA (New York State Council on the Arts) and The National Endowment for the Arts. Other well-known organizations that supplies The Sanctuary with grants is The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, The New York State Music Fund, and Art Works. The fact that these huge funders give to The Sanctuary is evidence that it is successful financially and conceptually by having stable repeating supporters.  


Part 5: Recommendations 

Art managers who want to plan a good quality summer youth program must always keep an open mind. One must wear multiple hats to allow flexible outcomes. This could be directing, managing, planning, teaching, and every other expertise in arts management. In order to have a well-rounded structure, be open to adjusting the original plan for curricular development. Allowing adjustments along the way maintains a structure that has creative freedom, which is a balancing act between two opposites. Having a solid plan is meant for guidance, to give a sense of direction, but not to act as a limitation. Modifying the plan while adapting and listening to the real people that are doing actual creative things is what constitutes a creative environment.