Improving access to the arts and art education has never been just a hope or dream of Leah Fregulia. It’s been her passion, her career, and her constant goal. As a founding faculty member of the Arizona School of the Arts, as well as the CEO and Head of School for over a decade, Leah has seen a lot of growth in the artistic community of Phoenix. Yet she continued to ask how she and ASA could do more, and in 2015 she was awarded a Piper Fellowship to spend a year answering that question.

Leah learned that ASA could have a much greater impact by becoming a leader in the community. She didn’t want to simply replicate the school, she wanted to bring in other organizations and nonprofits to create a collective to share resources, space, and staff. Leah found six other groups that believed in the same mission she did: “a commitment to quality art, diversity in artistic offerings, and putting the youth voice in the center of the work.”

The group chose the name The Phoenix Youth Arts Collective, and while they had the idea, they did not know how to take the next step. Leah and PYAC applied for a grant from Arizona Together for Impact to match the capacity-building grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and with these grants they were able to retain Tiffanie and her team. That’s when they met Dr. Tiffanie Dillard, Founder and CEO of Avenir Consulting Partners, who helped them navigate next steps.

“The earliest struggle is always ‘where is it you’re trying to go?’,” Tiffanie outlined, “not simply, ‘we think we’re going North’ but ‘we’re going to Flagstaff on Thursday, here’s where we need to get gas, and so on.”

Tiffanie first met with PYAC for a “deep discovery workshop” to help the group decipher key goals and metrics of success. From that workshop, PYAC created their guiding visual – the group’s compass to remind themselves that regardless of every other overthought detail or discussion, these were the core ideals to come back to.

Today, a little over three months into their year-long exploratory process, PYAC is no longer stuck on the question of “what do we want to accomplish?” Instead, they are actively working towards organizing how they can share their resources, utilize their spaces, and continue serving the youth.

When asked about how PYAC is handling the COVID-19 crisis this early in its foundation, Leah responded that “this hasn’t changed our goals. We have always been focused on the needs of our students. This has simply shifted our thinking, but it’s not an obstacle.” Just a few weeks ago the group started working on an Asset Map, a spreadsheet of every class offering, workspace, and resource each group had. “It felt heavy and awkward,” explained Tiffanie, “but after COVID, it instantly became an active discussion of what one group could share and what the others needed.”

Both Leah and Tiffanie also said that their best piece of advice is getting a professional guide and not being afraid to test a sustained collaboration before committing to it. “This is not a marriage and then you get counseling,” Leah described it as, “this is where we are exploring and deciding if we’ll get engaged.”

In closing, Leah explained, “The sense of excitement about what it means collaborate, and the synergy and innovation that emerges from that, is the most exciting work we’ve been doing.” Having the adequate time to understand what every member of the collective can bring to the table and having the support to truly test whether the sustained collaboration works has been a massive opportunity for PYAC. And while ASA’s campus might be quiet right now, the bustle of activity for Leah, Tiffanie, and PYAC is only growing and will lead to a more sustainable future for every organization involved.