About Young Artists Initiative (YAI)DSC_0731

In 2019, YAI celebrates its 16th 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.


In 2017 Benjamin Lacina stepped down from leadership at YAI and assumed a focused role on the Board of Directors through a transition of leadership. The company hired its first every staff member Matt Berdahl as the new YAI Artistic Director. Matt transitioned through various roles behind the scenes as director, production designer, outreach coordinator before assuming leadership of the company. 


Today! In 2019 we celebrate YAI’s 16th 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.

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