“…when your students surpass your expectations and teach you…”

Founded more than 50 years ago, people at the University City Arts League never stop learning and thinking of news ways to reach their West Philly community. Executive Director Annette Monnier shares thoughts from their community in their answers to our questions of the day.

What revs you up to go to work in the morning?

Working with a community of people who are just as excited about art as I am.

When do you know your work is making a difference?

There are a thousand ways we know our work is making a difference; when the single mother thanks us for working with her to provide arts programs for her kids, when a child spends an hour on a 15-minute pop-up art activity and then comes back to the table to make another, when a teaching artist comes into the office for advice on how to handle a teaching situation, when the staff spends a morning working out how to make people feel more comfortable and welcomed in the space, when a parent thanks you for handling a tough situation just right, when your students surpass your expectations and teach you, when you see a unicorn cat at a dance party with dinosaurs (children’s drawing), when you walk into a classroom and students are working out the mechanics of an elevator for an art project, when your pottery classes have a waitlist, when laughter is often the background soundtrack. . .

What is the coolest thing a participant in your program ever said to you?

“I’m at work today and had a free moment and I just wanted to drop a note to say how much Darnell and I appreciate the opportunity of having the Arts League available to Ekwueme and Idawa and in the past, our eldest daughter, Zoey.  All our children have benefitted greatly from the sense of community and opportunity to be creative on a daily basis that the Arts League fosters. Both creativity and community are important values that we hold and it is invaluable to have a space where our children can enjoy activities that reflect these values when they are away from us. When there are half days, both Ekwueme and Idawa will ask if they can go to the Arts League. During our evening dinner time, what happened at the Arts League comes up regularly- what piece of pottery they are creating or what new piece of knowledge they gained, how an argument was handled that made sense.

When I pick up my kids from the Arts League, I have had the opportunity to observe staff interacting with youth and it has been kind, appropriate and patient. I also want to say as a parent it’s really good feeling to know that staff enjoy interacting with your children and feel comfortable that they are safe and cared for. I love that you guys include children in the pick-up time activities – reflecting that they are a part of this community. Your communication with me as a parent feels like a partnership. I appreciate that greatly!”

-UCAL Arts After School parent, Julee Tweh

What is the most important thing you do to help your teaching artists do their best work?

“UCAL is an Oasis for the artists it teaches and employs, I love being a part of the supportive artist community UCAL offers myself and my 5 yr old son. As a single parent in Philadelphia UCAL has both welcomed and supported us, we both feel like valued members of a wider artist family, the family is a community which works to engage and inspire artists of all ages.”


-UCAL After School teaching Artist and Arts After-School Parent, Olivia Rodriguez


We hire great artists but only ever have part-time work for them. The single most important thing we do is take that into account. Realistically UCAL (the University City Arts League) can’t be a full-time job but we can support artists in other ways, hopefully making their lives easier and freeing up the necessary time to teach.

Part of a continuing series featuring our 2019 Bartol grantees.

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