2022: Year in Review for PYCA

PYCA has had a fabulous year and we hope you have, too!

But first I will get right to an important point – if you are planning your end-of-year giving, I hope you will be able to contribute to Phoenix Youth Circus Arts. 2022 has been busy – the demand for our work has grown tremendously during the current school year. Hundreds of kids from all over the Phoenix area have been gaining confidence and having magical fun through circus arts with the help of friends like you. And now the demand for new equipment and money to help underwrite circus clubs at schools without funding of their own to spare has grown, too.

And if you are also the type to jump to the point, here is the link!


So what exactly have we been up to?

This fall Phoenix Youth Circus Arts has eight different weekly classes going! Each one is led by a team of two or three coaches and has from 20 to 25 kids! This is a large leap from previous years. The majority of these classes are at title-1 schools, meaning a great percentage of the students are from low-income families. And in our current Arizona public school environment, this also means these are schools with many demands on their staff and little in the way of spare funds for arts and extra-curricular activities. So PYCA is providing quality youth development at low cost to kids with few other opportunities – and doing this for more kids than ever.  

In order to meet this growing demand, our staff has grown to eight part-time coaches, a regular volunteer and special guest instructors. Without these talented folks – jugglers, acrobats, aerial specialists, and folks that are good at just about all the arts we teach, none of this would be possible. And really, their most important talent is the positive attitude, patience, and encouragement they bring to the kids in our care. At Bethune School, we have been operating with the help of a grant from the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture. In October the Bethune kids were given a special treat in the form of a demo and instruction on unicycling by the world-famous King Charles Troupe. The club kids are preparing for an end-of-semester show at the school’s parent literacy night.

At Emerson School, we are working with a local non-profit, Groad, to augment their after-school programming. Back at the start of the year, a few of the Emerson students from the club wowed a large crowd at the School District’s 150th anniversary celebration.

At Clarendon School, we are part of their 21st Century grant program. The circus club is a tremendous hit there with a waiting list and a large group of parents that are able to watch our “show off” each week. This parent engagement is a natural by-product of our type of program – in this case the parental involvement is a key part of the school’s improvement plan.

At ACCLAIM Academy, a K-8 charter school, the circus club is in its 8th year, thanks to a school-wide emphasis on character development and the arts. The club will once again be the opening act at the school arts program, “Concert for Peace”, and plans to have the club perform at a local senior center are also in the works.

At Desert Marigold School, two different age groups practice on two separate days. The club members will have a chance to perform at the school’s winter market in December and other school events later in 2023. This is the second year that the circus club is being run as a PYCA project and it is the only weekly class where we get to regularly teach aerial arts, owing to the practices being outdoors (and having aerial rigging purchased with a grant from Cirque du Soleil back in 2016).

At Heatherbrae School, we also have a holiday show coming up, this time with our group of highly motivated second and third graders. Two PYCA coaches have teamed up with a dynamic duo of teachers who took it on themselves to bring this opportunity to their own classrooms kids and help keep everything running smoothly.

Our Coronado Park homeschool group is thriving with long-time students and newcomers joining together outdoors to learn from us, and in some cases teach each other. These often independent and self-directed kids frequently provide the backbone of our public performances.

The year had several public shows:

  • In February a large group of PYCA stilt-walkers did their act at an outdoor theater festival in Goodyear, Arizona.
  • In April, the largest group of PYCA kids ever took part in a “First Friday Live” show at the Herberger Theater in downtown Phoenix.
  • Later this month will be our fifth appearance at the Phoenix Festival of the Arts.

At these shows, our kids get the thrill of sharing the joy of circus with the public and the public gets to see a diverse group of kids come together from many different parts of the city and work as a team as if they had known each other for years.

In the summer months PYCA is even busier than during the school year! This summer we had several weeks of filled-to-capacity day camps in Phoenix and Moab, Utah. At each camp we offered scholarships to students that would not be able to afford to attend otherwise. At the same time as the camps are going on, other coaches were working in various school districts providing workshops that varied from one day to two weeks and included performances for families and other students.

Throughout 2022 we were finally able to resume appearances at weekend special events and festivals where the public gets to drop in and walk a tight-wire or try out juggling and flower sticks.

The PYCA staff has been fantastic through it all. They have all hauled mats in and out of gyms, packed the trailer, driven long distances, and then brought their entire selves to assist kids in a tremendous variety of circus skills. They all have to be versatile, adaptable, tireless folks.

There are many people to thank for our success this year. First, the circus coaches: Dave and Athena Davis, Melanie Webster, Paulina Milligan, Ashleigh Paul, Dan Barber, Tabitha Kelley, Orlene Carlos, and Katherine Coleman. Special guest instructors Carlo Gentile, Brian Foley (clowning), Evalina Tinkelpaugh and Elizabeth Griffiths (aerial), Cody Williams (unicycling), and Olivia Cabelli (aerial) also helped out. Special thanks to Heather Barton for her tremendous volunteer services throughout the fall with our Phoenix Elementary District kids. Former students Danielle Mahkee, Liberty Kratzer, and Chloe Skowbo helped with the summer camps; thanks go to Aeroterra for allowing us to use their aerial equipment in September and to Adrian Castillo and Kyle Larson for photography and video services. The Hazlett family and Amrah Hubbard housed our coaches in Moab, Stephanie Duffrin spent hours sewing stilt pants, Don Ball used his expertise as a machinist to make some circus equipment, and Jeff Gleason kept our trailer rolling and lighted!

It is a great privilege to be able to bring these fun and enriching experiences to our kids and our community. It is a great privilege to be able to attract other talented people to help out. It is a great privilege to be present for all those “Look what I can do!” and “Look what WE can do!” moments.

And it is a really great privilege to have people like you that believe in all this enough that you share and contribute.

So once again, if you can help, here is the link to make a Tax-free donation to Phoenix Youth Circus Arts  (Tax ID #86-0975231) https://phxyouthcircus.wedid.it/

Wishing you all the best in 2023,

Jens Larson, director

Phoenix Youth Circus Arts

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