AYCO Spotlights Social Circus

For Immediate Release: American Youth Circus Organization recognizes 17 Social Circus programs that boost outcomes for youth at risk February 19, 2016 Across the country, teachers, coaches and social workers are harnessing the power of circus arts to help at-risk youth. Today, through a joint project with Cirque du Soleil, 17 Social Circus programs are receiving a major boost as the American Youth Circus Organization (AYCO) announces a network of recognized programs. As Melvin Diggs, graduate of the St Louis, MO program, Circus Harmony, says: “Circus didn’t change my life. It saved my life.” Diggs grew up expecting to join a gang, deal in drugs and face a life of violence. Instead, he found somewhere to belong, to be challenged, and to excel. Today, he tours the world performing circus arts. Only a handful of youth who join Social Circus programs actually become performers. But they all develop a sense of empowerment, tenacity and confidence that helps them find a positive path and overcome barriers in their lives. “This network will help Social Circuses achieve the next level of impact,” says AYCO Executive Director, Amy Cohen. “The network will encourage program innovation, increased understanding of the impact of circus arts programming and an opportunity for funders to connect with multiple organizations across the country.” Each of the programs meets the needs of a specific at-risk population. Some work with children who have suffered violence, others work in isolated or very low-income communities, others serve recently settled refugees. Some, like Prescott Circus Theatre, focus on elementary school aged children, while Trenton Circus Squad builds circus “squads” from a diverse group of teens. Each recognized program is carefully designed to meet the needs of participants, and demonstrates a commitment to measuring outcomes. Social Circus is the application of the art and culture of the circus to help address social issues such as social isolation, impact of trauma, violence in communities and/or lack of access to arts and cultural activity. In St. Louis and Ferguson, MO, Circus Harmony helps heal the rift between racial groups by bringing youth together to create human pyramids. In Portland, OR, homeless youth have found a positive path forward through engagement in demanding circus training with the Circus Project. “Social circus promotes creative youth and community development beyond what can be achieved through other sports and arts activities,” explains Cohen, drawing attention to her organization’s findings from a recent initiative, funded by Cirque du Soleil. AYCO’s Social Circus Initiative highlights four benefits of social circus demonstrated by network members. Their recent meta-study of sector research concludes that social circus: Promotes physical and mental health and wellness Fosters human connection and belonging Encourages civic engagement and cultural and socioeconomic integration Builds resilience The Social Circus Network will promote collective action among its members, including further research into the potential for circus programming to move the needle on key outcomes, such as the ability to survive childhood trauma, improvements in high school graduation rates and teens’ ability to make positive choices for their own lives. The Network will also provide advice and training for Social Circus programs and engage with funders on a national scale to grow existing programs and launch new program in urban centers where no program exists. Anik Couture, Head of Community Relations for Cirque du Soleil, says “We are delighted to have been able to support this initiative financially and as advisors. Cirque du Soleil supports the growth of Social Circus around the world with great effect and we are excited to see this work take hold in the USA”. The programs receiving recognition at the launch of the network are: Bindlestiff Family Cirkus After School Program, Hudson, NY (contact Stephanie Monseu Tel: (718) 963-2918) www.bindlestiff.org/education/cirkus-after-school/ CircEsteem, Chicago, IL (contact Main Office Tel: (773) 732-4564) www.CircEsteem.org Circus Harmony, St Louis, MO (contact Jessica Hentoff Tel: (314) 436-7676) www.circusharmony.org Circus of Hope, Austin, TX (contact Jay Gibson Tel: (512) 906-6036) www.circusofhope.org Circus Mojo / Institute of Social Circus and Vocational Training Center, Ludlow, KY (contact Paul Miller Tel: (800) 381-TADA) circusmojo.com Circus Smirkus Ringmaster Residencies, Greensboro, VT (contact Ed LeClair Tel: (802) 533-7443) www.smirkus.org Circo Social Puerto/Educare, Doraville Dorado, Puerto Rico (contact Glorimar Sierra (787) 678-7103) https://www.facebook.com/circosocialpr/ Fern Street Circus, San Diego CA (contact John Highkin Tel: (619) 320-2055) www.fernstreetcircus.com International School of Louisiana Circus Arts Program, New Orleans, LA (contact Meret Ryhiner Tel: (228) 342-3938) isl-edu.org My Nose Turns Red, Cincinnati, OH (contact Steve Roenker Tel: (859) 581-7100) www.mynoseturnsred.org Prescott Circus Theatre, Oakland, CA (contact David Hunt Tel: (510) 967-0355) www.prescottcircus.org Salida Circus Outreach Foundation, Salida, CO (contact Jenn Dempsey Tel: (719) 427-9232) www.socialcircuscolorado.org School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts Social Circus Program, Seattle, WA (contact Ian Jagel (206) 856-8797) www.Sancaseattle.org The Circus Project, Portland, OR (contact Jenn Cohen Tel: (503) 764-9174) www.thecircusproject.org Trenton Circus Squad, Trenton, NJ (contact Zoe Brookes Tel: (203) 804-1044) www.Trentoncircussquad.org Wise Fool, Albuquerque, NM (contact Amy Christian Tel: (505) 992-2588) www.wisefoolnewmexico.org Zip Zap USA, Washington, DC (contact Jonathan Deull Tel: (202) 657-5947) www.zipzapcircususa.org The American Youth Circus Organization promotes the participation of youth in circus arts and supports circus educators. Founded in 1998, AYCO supplies the organizing force for youth circus in the USA, and for circus educators through its American Circus Educators branch. Visit www.americanyouthcircus.org and www.americancircuseducators.org. Network details at www.americancircuseducators.org/social-circus-network/ *********** Contact: Amy Cohen, Executive Director, American Youth Circus Organization amy@americanyouthcircus.org (914) 441-8834