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Training Program Gives Young New Yorkers Stable Jobs in the Arts

By Serena Solomon | January 16, 2014 8:39am
 Kian Ross and Tatyanna Santana, both 22, will be completing a training program with local theaters to learn the behind-the-scenes work of the arts industry.
Kian Ross and Tatyanna Santana, both 22, will be completing a training program with local theaters to learn the behind-the-scenes work of the arts industry.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

LOWER EAST SIDE — Tatyanna Santana wants to be a star — but she also wants to make a living.

Santana, 22, an aspiring actress who grew up on the Lower East Side, squeezes in acting workshops whenever she can, but she spends most of her time working as a home health aide to make ends meet.

"It is not really where I want to be, but it is where I am at now," said Santana, who lives in the Rockaways. "My whole life I have just been watching TV and fantasizing about me being up there."

Santana will soon take one step closer to making that fantasy reality thanks to a program launching in February at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center, designed to help young New Yorkers prepare for financially stable jobs in the arts.

Santana is one of 19 young New Yorkers participating in the center's new Lower East Side Cultural Corridor Arts Jobs Training Program, which will offer training in practical skills such as how to run a theater, do bookkeeping for artistic organizations and manage an art gallery. The seven-month program is part time, depending on the participants' schedule, and comes with a stipend.

"Just in case I don't become an actress, I can be behind the scenes helping with lighting and scenery," Santana said, adding that she's looking forward to learning "anything and everything" about theater.

The idea for the program came in 2008, when a police officer arrested a 16-year-old boy for tagging Clemente Soto Velez's building at 107 Suffolk St.

The police officer suggested to Jan Hanvick, the organization's executive director, that if the center wanted to prevent vandalism, it should open its doors to local teens and help them — and Hanvick said he decided the officer was right.

He soon began working on a way to help young, aspiring artists find jobs they enjoy, and thanks to $150,000 in state funding, a pilot training program will start on Feb. 3.

"We don't want to stop anyone from pursing their dreams, but this will give them something to fall back on," said Monica Harriss, the program's director, who will mentor the 17-to-27-year-old participants.

"We wanted to reach youth that lived, worked, went to school in the [Lower East Side] area and match them to the very rich cultural programs that are here — museums, galleries, theaters, dance studios."

The participants have already started attending daylong workshops teaching them how to work in an office, and then they will be matched with organizations including Teatro Sea, a local bilingual theater group, taking in participants.

Kian Ross, 22, is excited for the chance to work in theater, after creating many one-man shows of his own, including a one-man version of "The Wizard of Oz."

"The best place to be would be to support myself on that work," said Ross, who grew up on the Bowery and lives in the East Village.

Ross' parents both work in the arts — his father is a writer and his mother runs theater workshops — which taught him that behind-the-scenes work can also be satisfying. 

"In small theaters, you are all hands on deck," he said.