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YMCA arts and humanities program records

Identifier: Y.USA.43


The arts and humanities collection is composed of material concerning the YMCA National Writer's Voice, the chief program of the YMCA's arts and humanities initiative. The collection ranges in date from 1977 to 1999. Earlier material from the collection was created by the Writers Community, a community writing workshop that merged with Writer's Voice in 1986. The Writer's Voice program was based out of New York's West Side YMCA since 1981; however, the program expanded nationally in 1991.

The collection contains a variety of material, including correspondence, applications, budget records, bank records, fundraising material, grant proposals, brochures, newsletters, poems, stories, manuscripts, reviews, newspaper articles, educational material on writing, volunteer/members lists, and reviews and information on workshops, panels, and lectures. Much of the correspondence concerns fundraising, publicity, and requests for writers to present at events. The correspondence of Jason Shinder, the founder of Writer's Voice and the first director of the YMCA's arts and humanities program, is also included in the collection.

Notably, the collection contains numerous VHS and cassette recordings of famous writers, journalists, and musicians who presented their work at Writers Community/Writer's Voice events. These individuals include Lou Reed, Walter Cronkite, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Nora Ephron, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, and the music group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Some correspondence from these individuals can also be found within the collection.


  • 1972-1999
  • Majority of material found within ( 1977-1995)


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


Art activities have played a role in YMCA programs throughout much of the movement's history. Arts and crafts activities were common at after-school programs and YMCA camps around the world. These early art programs included student performances, photography clubs, and painting courses, among other activities; however, these programs were created by the initiative of individual YMCA associations, rather than any concerted effort by the national movement.

In 1982, the YMCA national office hosted a consultation on the arts by inviting fifty associations with arts programs to present their work and program details to the larger YMCA movement. The next year, the YMCA held the National Seminar on the Arts, a three-day conference in Chautauqua, New York, which led to the creation of the YMCA's Arts Week and a comprehensive arts training program at four associations in the United States.

The Writer's Voice program, perhaps the most notable arts program of the YMCA, was conceived of by a New York writer named Jason Shinder in 1981. The program was based out of New York's West Side YMCA, and offered writing workshops and readings by prominent authors, including Allen Ginsberg, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut and many others. In 1986, the Writer's Voice was merged with the Writers Community, a community-based writing initiative that would eventually place authors-in-residence to live and work in YMCAs. Following a $2.75 million grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund in 1991, the program was expanded to become the YMCA National Writer's Voice program, which led to the establishment of six literacy centers around the country.

Arts activities grew in popularity at YMCAs throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Some associations started to offer art activities for members, while others were even opening arts centers staffed with art and dance directors. YMCA camps and associations also offered residence programs for artists who wished work in YMCAs by teaching and creating art. In 1998, the YMCA announced that arts and humanities would become a “core program area” of the movement. Jason Shinder – the founder of the YMCA National Writer's Voice – was chosen to direct the YMCA's new arts and humanities program.

As schools and communities cut funding for arts programs, the YMCA has stepped up to fill the void by aspiring to become the largest and most influential arts provider for kids and adults in the United States. Since 1998, American YMCA arts programs have increased 29 percent on average annually, with more than 1,100 YMCAs claiming to be “arts-friendly” in 2012. In addition, the YMCA National Writer's Voice program has grown to include more than thirty YMCAs.

[ Historical information was adapted from the collection, as well as from "Gibson Foundation Supports YMCA Arts and Humanities Initiatives" ( ; "Laurel Blossom: The Writer's Community" ( ; and "YMCA of Long Island: Cultural Arts" ( ]


14.75 Cubic Feet (12 boxes and 4 trays)


Records of the Writers' Voice and Writers' Community programs, initiatives of the YMCA's arts and humanities program, including numerous cassette and video tapes of readings and interviews with well-known authors.

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project I, 2008. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has been only loosely grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 6418841

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Cody Haro.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area