LEAF Resident Teaching Artist Program

LEAF has the opportunity to impact youth beyond the festival experience. LEAF Schools & Streets’ growing roster of 12+ Resident Teaching Artists lead a variety of programs that allow youth to explore an array of cultural arts! Core Focuses of LEAF Schools & Streets Programs include: Drama, Hip Hop Culture, Music Appreciation & African Diaspora.

Current Programs & Artists



LEAF theater classes explore a wide-range of written, verbal and non-verbal self-expression tools as well as technical aspects of theatrical production.  Youth engage in exercises to hone their interpersonal communication skills and develop self-confidence through script writing, group skit acting, solo monologue rehearsal, public speaking and improvisation. LEAF Teaching Artists bring business experience to the class for a behind-the-scenes perspective of what it takes to put on a professional production including set design, props, lighting and presence.

Teaching Artist: Erinn Hartley
Program Partners: YMCA – 21st Century Horizons Program & IRL (In Real Life)

Circus Arts


Discover the revealing self-expression of clowning around! Circus Arts classes challenge the body and mind in activities that combine balance, juggling, hand-eye coordination, body posture and strength-building with non-verbal communication, improvisation, focus, teamwork and fun. Youth dive into the tricks of the trade while gaining confidence in their ability to convey and control emotion and their own bodies. This unique art hones a high-level of concentration, body flow and relaxation that utilizes the right and left side of the brain. The nature of Circus Arts routines also develops a need for open and clear communication and cooperation among a troupe teaching youth healthy support systems, and the joy of laughter, humor and creativity.

Teaching Artists: Nina Ruffini & Ingrid Johnson
Program Partners: YMCA – 21st Century Horizons Program & IRL (In Real Life)


Puppetry has been used traditionally in India as a popular and an inexpensive medium to transmit knowledge about Indian myths and legends. The importance of puppetry is something which can be continually explored forever. It is storytelling, character and human interaction with the facade of fantasy and a creative medium for visceral expression. Puppetry imbibes elements of all art forms such as literature, painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama and enables youth to develop their creative abilities.Through this program with LEAF, youth participate during specific immersion periods, typically as a week-long residency, during LEAF Festival, LEAF Arts & Parks Summer Camp, or in collaboration with LEAF Family Adventure programming. Youth build puppets using wood, paper mache, fabric and take puppets from ideation to stage performance.

Visiting & Special Event Artists: Edwin Salas, Street Creatures & Faerie Kin
Program Partners: Asheville City Parks & Recreation Department

Teaching Artist Profiles:


Breakdance & Choreography

LEAF and most cross-generational class, dance! Youth from ages 5 to 17 learn to embrace movement to today’s positive and empowering dance hits as well as the throwbacks. Through group choreography and self-designed solos youth develop supportive team bonds and a fun means to express high-energy, but focused body coordination. Participants also have leadership opportunities by creating and teaching choreography to their peers.  Master Teaching Artists collectively bring 50+ years of dance experience, hands-on youth leadership experience, and education/training various dance genres to their students, keeping the lessons fresh AND safe.

Teaching Artist(s): Lisa Zahiya, Teren Gaskin & Otto Vasquez
Program Partners: IRL (In Real Life), Burton Street Community Center, Children First/Communities in Schools, Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Asheville & Studio Zahiya

Graffiti Art

Dance, music and art intersect through hip hop culture programming based at LEAF ONEmic Studio at Burton Street. ONEmic is managed by a music producer, artist and DJ so that the space can grow organically into a hub for music technology experimentation, art, study, and collaboration. The link between hip hop and graffiti evolved as a competition, much like the dance moves of the hip hop culture. Graffiti began to show up on subways in New York and other cities as a form of expression of the culture who listened to rap music. Graffiti distinguished by “tags” or unique marks of the originators and a way to stand out from other artists. Graffiti quickly spread and was picked up by others. Today, graffiti art is acknowledged as a visual art form that is a means of community expression with public consumption.

Teaching Artist: Nex Millen & Otto Vazquez
Program Partner: Burton Street Community Center and Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club

Intro to DJing

The art of mixing, scratching and spinning have taken the globe by storm. What started in urban cities across the Northeast United States, quickly became an embedded artform of hip hop culture, which has continued to explode and evolve as technology continues to advance. In hip hop music, DJs may create beats, using percussion breaks, basslines and other musical content sampled from pre-existing records. All are welcome to learn the equipment used to produce music, the ins and outs of the music industry and the technical art of mixing and scratching with their Teaching Artist. This program has proudly been led by independent artists, hip hop professors, and entrepreneurs who bring business acumen, artistry, and tech detail to students.

Teaching Artist: Nex Millen, DJ Kutzu, Otto Vazquez
Program Partner: Burton Street Community Center

Teaching Artist Profiles:


LEAF Delta House Jazz Band

LEAF Delta House Jazz Band creates a stable foundation for youth to create supportive peer groups while developing self-confidence, self-worth, perseverance and commitment. Led by acclaimed jazz musician, Gary Bradley and local music professional, Sam Irvin IV, the band practices classic jazz music, learns the principles of music composition and master musical cohesion.  Participants also have the unique opportunity to earn a bi-annual journey to New Orleans, LA gaining cultural context on the past, present, future and heart of jazz music. Students sit in on practices, take master classes, light up the city with tours and memories, along with a cultural exchange with the LEAF International New Orleans program.

Teaching Artists: Gary Bradley & Sam Irvin IV (Parent Coordinator: Cornelia “Cornbread” McNeil)
Program Partner: Delta House Life Development, Inc., Preservation Hall Jazz Band All-Stars & Foundation, Trombone Shorty Academy, Roots of Music, Golden Feather

LEAF Instrument Petting Zoo

A diverse collection of instruments from around the world bring global music education home with the LEAF Instrument Petting Zoo (LIPZ). Featured at LEAF Festival, the array of instruments and possible combinations of lesson plans help youth discover and experiment with the sounds and history of various drums, horns, woodwinds and string instruments. Under the guidance of multi-instrumentalist and local musician,then, as a group, youth assume direction over their own learning and creative process by collaborating on original music. Access to the Burton Street ONEmic Studio further provides an opportunity to marry traditional music lessons with modern electronic music production techniques.

Teaching Artist: Agustin Frederic
Program Partner: Burton Street Recreation Center

Teaching Artist Profiles:


Drum, Dance & Costuming

When LEAF Schools & Streets was founded in 2004, the primary impetus was to bring music and art into historically African-American neighborhoods in Asheville & Buncombe County, a need that was largely unmet at the time. Today, LEAF Schools & Streets still works with the community with that original guiding missive, and over the years have realized the value and importance of African-American youth to the heritage, culture and traditions of Africa. Through programming such as LEAF Djembeso, based at the Christine W. Avery Learning Center as well as drumming, dance and costuming at other community centers and schools – students have an opportunity to engage with the sounds, rhythms and customs from the Motherland. LEAF is grateful and fortunate to have had several long-time Master Teaching Artists that hail from Ivory Coast, Malawi, New Orleans, Virginia teaching the authentic oral traditions they have inherited.

Teaching Artist: Adama Dembele & David Kwizera | Visiting Artist (Year-Round): Masankho Banda & Darrell Rose
Program Partners: YMCA – 21st Century Horizons Program, Burton Street Community Center, Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Asheville, Christine W. Avery Center, Asheville Music School

Teaching Artist Profiles:

In Memory Of 

Several LEAF Schools & Streets teaching artists have devoted their lives to inspiring youth through the arts.  We are blessed and thankful to have known and worked with these beloved artists before they passed.  Visit their pages to learn more about their life’s work and ways you can continue their mission.