Student-Led National Arts Youth Alliance Promotes the Benefits of Art


Photo By National Arts Youth Alliance and Hannah Ashtari

National Arts Youth Alliance is a nonprofit led by Westwood students that aims to bring art supplies and more to children that may not have access to them. Photo courtesy of the National Arts Youth Alliance, graphic courtesy of Hannah Ashtari

By Hannah Ashtari, Managing Editor

In June, as the world was beginning to accept a new and consequential reality due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sunny Dandapantula ‘22 founded a nonprofit, National Arts Youth Alliance (NAYA), by combining his passion for art and creativity as well as his compassion for those who might not have the resources to benefit from art as he had. 

“NAYA began with the idea that every child deserves a proper art education. We genuinely believe that with a good foundation in the Arts, a child could dream up anything. During the pandemic, we knew that many children wouldn’t have an outlet to express their emotions in a healthy way, and others would have increased amounts of spare time and less educational means of spending it,” NAYA said in a statement on their website

Through their art box donations, which contain a myriad of art supplies as well as emerging Arts scholarship funds, NAYA hopes to address the gap in the lives of children where art can create a positive impact. Dandapantula has experienced firsthand the influence art can have on someone’s life starting from when he was six and progressing to a lifelong appreciation for the Arts and how they allow for freedom of expression. Dandapantula hopes the art boxes will allow others to experience what he has. 

“I went to a school where everything was taught hands-on. By having a hands-on education, I gained a strong bond with creating things,” Dandapantula said. “Art has greatly shaped my identity because oftentimes people express [themselves] verbally, but I am able to express myself through art. I am able to paint something that reflects the way I feel. I still have pieces of work from years ago which clearly show how I have adapted over the years as an artist [as well as] mentally.” 

While Dandapantula focuses primarily on oil painting, NAYA provides a variety of art supplies in their art boxes, including watercolor kits, paintbrushes, and mixed-media sketchbooks. Over 180 art boxes have been donated to organizations such as the Austin Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE) alliance, The Salvation Army, and organizations in different states, including California and New York. The majority of the boxes have helped homeless or low-income families.

“The quality of the supplies, as well as the quantity, provides for a structured activity that the children will be able to utilize for multiple activities. The box as a whole is very well put together and thought-out. It is a great starter kit,” a volunteer from SAFE said. 

Though NAYA’s focus is on giving back to the community by making art more accessible, the organization also highlights social justice through writing about and supporting movements such as Black Lives Matter on their blog. After the murder of George Floyd in May, the organization’s Executive Content Creator Keana Saberi ‘22 wrote an an ardent and meaningful statement on the importance of utilizing the First Amendment to protest injustice in America.

“The idea of protesting is a fundamentally US principle. It’s ingrained in the words of the First Amendment… the idea that engaging in fluid and non-violent protests are instilled in the pillars of American democracy,” Saberi said. “George Floyd is just one name of the many unduly arrested and murdered. The usage of a phone camera which documented the horrid event of his death is a signifier. Will we only take action when we see the injustices even though they were already starkly present in our society? Maybe ask, well how many weren’t filmed? How many injustices have been hidden in the dark?” 

Along with Dandapantula and Saberi, NAYA’s officers and staff also include fellow students. Juniors Veronika Croan, Samia Bruster, Rosie Deal, Marina Oquendo, Schuylar Salemme, and Greyson Loyd all contribute to the nonprofit, as well as Kaybee Beggs ‘21. Each of them also have a personal connection to art that motivates their work at NAYA.

“I have always loved doing DIYs and thrift flipping. I also adore photography, because it captures the beauty in this world. My family and I have always loved art and I grew up with paintings all around my house,” Bruster said in her officer profile on the organization’s website. 

Though the NAYA team is large, they coordinate their efforts and work together very effectively in order to bring the experience of art to as many kids as possible. 

“The team understands that their voice is important and significant. We do not make any big decisions without working with other officers to see if it is the right decision,” Dandapantula said. 

Currently, NAYA is working to support students in the IB psychology program by allowing them the opportunities to connect with individuals who want to take part in their study. In addition, NAYA is coordinating and expanding their volunteer program. Due to the pandemic, in-person volunteer events have been put on hold, but volunteers can still fundraise to aid the cause. 

“For me, I didn’t have to think twice about being a volunteer for the National Arts Youth Alliance. Not only am I helping kids and doing something good, I am joining a community of caring, kind, and thoughtful people,” Kailani Pennings ‘22 said in a volunteer review.  

Though the organization has only just begun, Dandapantula hopes that in time, NAYA will continue to grow and bring the benefits of art to a larger audience.

“[In the future,] I hope to see [us] supplying boxes to kids all over the world, and working with different organizations that can help us spread our message,” Dandapantula said. “I also see NAYA having made enough money that we could have helped thousands of children. I hope that I will be working along with other huge corporations and celebrities to promote the importance of the Arts.” 

Though COVID-19 has made it difficult for the community to come together, NAYA’s donations and dedication to making the Arts accessible provides a respite from the isolation of this time for many. To learn more about NAYA, visit their website. To donate to the art box and scholarship fund, visit the donation tab on their webpage.


Editor’s note : Information has been updated to reflect altered information regarding IB study.



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