Dedicated to helping young people learn & grow through the arts

Performing Arts Workshop is a Bay Area, BIPOC-led nonprofit organization established in 1965 to equalize access to arts and arts education and help young people develop critical thinking, creative expression, Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL), and essential life skills.

Today, the Workshop brings sequential arts instruction grounded in inquiry and reflection to more than 4,200 students ages 3-18 each year. Our artists conduct 11-60 session residencies in world dance, music, spoken word poetry, and theater arts. To advance equity in education, we prioritize working with communities with fewer arts education resources available to them.

The Workshop’s success in youth development-based arts education has been recognized by UNESCO, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Endowment for the Arts and has been featured in Youth Today magazine and IssueLab, an online journal for research on promising social practices. Performing Arts Workshop has been honored four times by the California State Senate and Assembly and twice by the City of San Francisco for its work with youth.

Our History

One day in the mid-1950s, as a young dance teacher was teaching one of her classes of young girls in her Telegraph Hill Studio, a group of teens who hung out at the adjacent pool hall approached her. They asked the teacher, Gloria Unti, if she would teach them karate, so they could hone their fighting skills. She told them she didn’t know karate, and offered them yoga instead. They didn’t know what yoga was. After several fits and starts, some weeks later the boys returned, their curiosity persisting. Gloria admitted she wasn’t sure what to do with them. But one day, she tried something different. She put on some kabuki music, instructing the boys to make up a movement of any sport, she would step out and return to guess it. She figured they’d probably take off. What happened instead shifted her entire perception and changed her life’s course:

“They brought me back in the room, and they had the most incredible sequence. Not only was it creative, non-stereotypic, not just dribbling a ball… you know, it was really unbelievable, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end. I was shocked.”

Today, pivotal moments like the one that started it all are happening with our teaching artists in every classroom, every day. Our teaching artists keep alive Gloria’s vision of the students in Workshop classes “not only as technicians, but as creative people who have the beauty and the ability to express themselves poetically.”

Our Growth

In 2018, Performing Arts Workshop acquired Streetside Stories, a non-profit founded in 1989 by brothers James and Seth Levy who biked cross-country bringing storytelling, theater, and creative writing to the communities they travelled to, eventually settling in San Francisco where they began offering their storytelling workshops at public middle schools. Performing Arts Workshop incorporated Visual Media Arts providing our students with a new opportunity for artmaking.

Our Founder

Gloria Unti [1924-2015] was a dancer, a teacher, an uncompromising visionary and an inspiration to generations of young people in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Since 1956, Unti nurtured and developed the creativity and critical thinking skills of thousands of Bay Area children, classroom teachers, and artists. Trained in the Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, and José Limón techniques, Unti chose to dedicate herself to advancing the arts as a force for education, expression, individual empowerment and social justice.

Her work has been featured in major publications, such as Now and Look magazines, documented on film by the Guggenheim and Carnegie Foundations, and covered by numerous television stations. Gloria has been honored with many awards including the Honor Award from the California Dance Education Association, the Honor in Dance Award from the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Hall of Fame Award from Dance Bay Area, the Isadora Duncan Award for Sustained Achievement, and the Women of Achievement Vision and Excellence (WAVE) award from GirlSource.

TAX ID 94-1614596

Meet the people behind Performing Arts Workshop

See our team