About YAI

Welcome Young Artists Initiative’s newest

Artistic Director: Matthew Berdahl!

Exciting news! After 14 years as an all-volunteer organization on Saint Paul’s East Side, Young Artists Initiative (YAI) is proud to announce the hiring of Matt Berdahl as the company’s first paid Artistic Director!


Continue reading to learn more about YAI’s 14-year journey.


About Young Artists Initiative (YAI)DSC_0731

In 2018, YAI celebrates its 15th season of signature, high quality arts programming for the young people on Saint Paul’s East Side. 


Founded in 2004 by arts educators Benjamin Lacina and Jefferson Fietek, YAI grew out of their desire to provide excellent theater arts opportunities to young people who may lack access to such experiences. YAI’s founders were awarded the 2009 Ordway Center Education Award for Community Commitment. Many artists and families have said they come to YAI because they are impressed with YAI’s mission, artistic quality and integrity, and the organization’s commitment to kids. 


In 2011, Jefferson moved on to other non-profit work in the Twin Cities, and Benjamin took over all Artistic and Education Director responsibilities. YAI recruited additional leaders from the ranks of alumni families and community members, whose commitment included significant long-range planning and supporting the work. 


In 2015, YAI achieved status as an independent 501(c)(3) organization and has used this status to strengthen and build new support for its mission in the community. Benjamin is eager to begin the transition to Matt’s Artistic Director leadership as YAI solidifies plans for 2018. The Board is excited by this transition that will celebrate YAI’s 15th season and many more to come.


As our families and actors will attest, three qualities distinguish YAI from other youth performing groups: our commitment to kids – not just the production; our commitment to excellence – not just quality; and our undying passion for what we do.  YAI brings a strong connection to the greater community of professionals and volunteers who work in youth development, as their efforts intersect or mirror our own.


YAI brings a strong connection to the greater community of professionals who work in youth development, as their efforts intersect with or mirror our own. YAI staff and board ensure that as many financial resources are directed to young people as possible, and YAI staff members assist with the duties necessary to ensure the highest quality experiences for the young artists in its charge.