NEA Arts Magazine

Leading The Way

Coming Up Taller Recognizes Outstanding Arts Ed Programs


Members and alumni of the Richmond Boys Choir

Members and alumni of the Richmond Boys Choir, semifinalists for the 2007 Coming Up Taller Awards, celebrate the choir's 10th anniversary in June 2006. Photo by Addie Jones.

In the past decade, the Coming Up Taller program has distributed more than $1.2 million in federal funding to arts and culture organizations serving children and youth. These annual awards recognize nonprofit organizations that offer outstanding arts education programs to at-risk and underserved youth.

The list of 2006 finalists included the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra, the only full-sized student symphony in southern Louisiana; Shakespeare in the Courts, a Lenox, Massachusetts-based theater troupe for juvenile offenders; and the Snow City Arts Foundation, a Chicago nonprofit that offers creative writing, music, and visual arts workshops for hospitalized children.

In addition to a $10,000 cash award, two leaders from each finalist organization receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the annual Coming Up Taller leadership conference. The conference is prior to the awards ceremony and hosted by a different city each year. The three-day event gives youth arts leaders a chance to network, discuss fundraising ideas, and brainstorm marketing strategies.

Established by the NEA in 1998, today the Coming Up Taller program is a joint initiative of the NEA, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Time Warner and GMAC provide additional private funding. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and Americans for the Arts also provide program assistance.

PCAH recently announced the 2007 semifinalists for the Coming Up Taller Awards. The 50 semifinalist organizations hail from 27 states and the District of Columbia. In January 2008, 15 of those organizations will be named Coming Up Taller finalists. One leader and one student from each winning organization will be invited to attend a White House reception and awards ceremony with Mrs. Laura Bush, the program's honorary chair.

This year's list of semifinalists includes the Richmond Boys Choir, founded by artistic director Billy Dye in 1996 to offer an arts-focused after-school program to youth in Virginia's capital city. Over the last decade, Dye has mentored dozens of young men coping with much more than just a changing voice. "It's about building a richer human being through personal development," Dye said. His choir boys -- whom he refers to as, "the gentlemen" -- learn to read music and tie their own neckties. In addition to music and performance training, the choristers also receive academic enrichment, including tutoring services. The choir has sung for Queen Elizabeth II and James Earl Jones, and if named Coming Up Taller finalists, they hope to perform for the First Lady.