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6 organizations that are expanding access to arts education in North Texas

SMART project students creating artwork during a workshop
Nitashia Johnson
The Smart Project students create artwork during a workshop last fall.

The Smart Project, Cara Mía Theatre are among local organizations working to give marginalized youth access to arts programs.

Visual and performing arts programs can help young people exercise their creativity, feel more connected to their community and empower them to tell their own stories. But for some children in North Texas, arts programs can feel out of reach.

According to a Texas Cultural Trust report from 2021, students in schools with high poverty have less access to arts courses than their peers at more affluent schools. Socioeconomic status is one factor that can limit a child’s access to the arts, but things like race and ZIP code can play a role as well.

Here are six local organizations that strive to make arts programs more accessible to underserved students.

The Smart Project

The Smart Project is a Dallas nonprofit founded by local artist Nitashia Johnson with the goal of providing students from underserved backgrounds the opportunity to develop their skills and portfolios. Students in grades 8-12 can register for free workshops in visual arts and digital media, and receive mentorship from artists who can provide insight on pursuing a future in a creative field. Free Saturday workshops are currently being hosted at the South Dallas Cultural Center.

Big Thought:

Big Thought helps provide several creative programs for marginalized young people, including the Creative Solutions program for adjudicated young people ages 13-17. Creative Solutions is run in partnership with the Dallas County Juvenile Department. Those interested in the visual, performing and digital art program are referred by their probation officer to participate in the seven week summer program held at Southern Methodist University. Additionally, Dallas City of Learning is a Big Thought initiative that provides year-round programs, including summer arts programs for ages 4-24, most of which are free or low cost.

OutLoud Dallas

The OutLoud Voices program allows Dallas students to collaborate with local artists and create public exhibitions about issues they feel passionate about. The program lets students use visual arts, film, photography and spoken word poetry as tools for them to share their voice with the community, and inspire people to take social action. OutLoud Dallas offers free summer arts programming for middle and high school students.

The School of YES!

The School of YES! is a youth arts education program from Cara Mía Theatre. The program aims to empower students to create their own original artwork through classes in music, theater, dance, photography and visual arts. The month-long summer program is free for students ages 7-18 in Oak Cliff.

Let the Beat Build

Let the Beat Build, co-founded by Russell Lopez and Brian Allen, works with students in Dallas area schools who may not have access to mental health and wellness resources. Their music programs empower students to explore their own thoughts, beliefs and emotions through music production. Let the Beat Build works with Dallas ISD, Lancaster ISD and other schools to offer programs that blend creativity with math, computer science and social emotional learning.


ArtsVision offers performing and visual arts programs for Dallas-area youth. The program strives to inspire self-confidence and creativity in students through classes and youth-led performances. The organization occasionally holds weekend arts activities and hosts summer programs for students in grades 3 -12. The cost for summer programs is up to $300 per child, but to keep their classes accessible to all students, ArtsVision asks families to contribute what they can if they’re unable to afford the full cost.

Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Michelle Aslam is a 2021-2022 Kroc Fellow and recent graduate from North Texas. While in college, she won state-wide student journalism awards for her investigation into campus sexual assault proceedings and her reporting on racial justice demonstrations. Aslam previously interned for the North Texas NPR Member station KERA, and also had the opportunity to write for the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Observer.