About Neighborhood Art School (NAS)
Working on the Leadership Pipeline Project, Michael and I had an inspirational interaction with the Neighborhood Art School (NAS). NAS is a nonprofit in Detroit that provides a walkable and accessible arts education to neighbors of all ages. Not only does it have in-person learning at its physical NAS Hub where there are Artists in Residence, but it also has virtual classes. The type of arts the organization covers include music, fashion design, and fabric arts. Beyond regular classes, NAS holds many events to showcase neighborhood art projects.
Although I have seen several nonprofits like NAS in terms of making arts education more accessible to all communities, I appreciate how NAS specifically has focused on intergenerational education—emphasizing how it is never late to pick up arts.
Above is some basic information about NAS from its website (www.neighborhoodartschool.org). But I think the unique part of NAS is in its organizational structure that is unique from other nonprofits. And it is reflective of the leaders’ unique perspective on what a nonprofit can be beyond its traditional ways of operating. Notably, one of the leaders whom we have talked with described how they do not like nor believe in the “trickle down” structure of nonprofits. The structure usually involves nonprofits (at the bottom of the pyramid) trying to get funds from philanthropies and/or foundations (at the top), which creates a particular power dynamic in the sector. And in the process, nonprofits are required to provide their accountability in the form of grant writings.
Instead, they believe in the power of community and self-sustaining nonprofits. They believe that local nonprofits are the ones who know their communities the best and, thus, cannot be financially and emotionally discouraged by non-local sources of money. Although they recognize the necessity of money from such larger sources, they have tried to create a system that is more manageable based on the organization’s rate of growth and capacity level. For instance, they have their workshops paid for and, with that small profit, help those in financial need with scholarships. This cycle starts out small when the organization is small, but it is expected to grow bigger and generate greater benefits to the community as the organization gets bigger as well. I also loved how they mentioned this sustainable scaling and growth reduces burnout among staff naturally because everything seems manageable.