Cuala Foundation supports creative youth to build belonging and stem the mental and emotional distress and suicide that threatens their potential. We view mental and emotional distress in the historical and societal context of racial and economic justice. We co-create new systems of community self-care through projects that connect people more deeply with themselves, each other, and the place where they live through culture. Our programs develop opportunities for creative youth to learn and develop cultural skills that will support them to obtain meaningful work, earn a living, and have affordable housing in the place where they grew up. 

LES Collective 2020 takes place ten years after Cuala's founder and director, Grammy-winner Susan McKeown produced Songs from the East Village, a Lower East Side collaborative cultural project album  that was featured on NPR and raised $25,000 for the East Village Community School. 

Since settlers arrived on this land of many tribes four hundred years ago, the LES has been teeming with diverse cultures, creative movements and stories of struggle and resilience, however in recent years this Manhattan neighborhood known for it's outstanding creativity had been losing its culture and connection: between 2008 and 2017 4,000 artists and arts-related businesses disappeared from the Lower East Side and footfall was greatly reduced. A healthy storefront vacancy rate would be 5%, however on the Lower East Side in fall 2019 it was 15%. Just like retail, cultural and community space has become a rare commodity. Opportunities for creative youth had sharply declined over the previous decade, and with 23% of the inhabitants here living in poverty, mental and emotional distress was rising at an alarming rate. Then on April 7 Mayor de Blasio canceled this year's Summer Youth Employment Program that was expected to serve 70,000 youth. 85% of last summer's participants came from families reporting incomes of less than $31k, 14% living in NYCHA housing. With the city confronting huge job losses, especially among low-income workers, the loss of income may be especially difficult for these youth and their families.


LES Collective consists of a series of a 7-week public LES culture program online July 13 – August 24 and, running concurrently, a community self care system of activities connecting youth and elders. The public program will feature talks, workshops, screenings, music and other opportunities to learn more about the extraordinary people who live and have lived in the neighborhood and helped shape its unique culture. We’ll learn how the creativity of historic inhabitants fueled the resiliency that helped them not just survive crises like this, but thrive. 


Our YOUTH PROGRAM targets creative older teens and young adults who live in (whether in a home, shelter or homeless), or care about the Lower East Side. The program supports them to develop unique cultural and socio-emotional skills through i) creative workshops that give them a greater sense of how their own neighborhood evolved and how their voice and experience is an essential and needed part of that story, and ii) community self-care system (CSCS) workshops where they learn practical communication, organizational and problem-solving skills to support community elders and other vulnerable members in the community. Both the public program and CSCS activities will inform and inspire the creative workshops component of the youth program. 

Inspired by The Lower East Side’s strong musical theatre tradition, creative youth interested in music, writing and dance will collaboratively write a play with music and dance about the neighborhood, based on their experience of living here today and informed by the stories of those who lived through crises here in the past. Those interested in photography, film, art and design will engage in collaborative projects that tell neighborhood stories old and new. At its conclusion, LES Collective will culminate in performances and exhibitions in public art spaces on New York's Lower East Side. For their full participation in the program, at the end of the seven weeks the youth will receive an incentive in the form of a gift card or other means of specifically directing dollars to the purchase of goods or equipment to further their cultural or creative pursuit.

Make A Donation

Cuala Collective 2020

by Cuala Foundation


Cuala Foundation supports creative youth to build belonging and stem the mental and emotional distress and suicide that threatens their potential. We view mental and emotional distress in the historical and societal context of racial and economic justice. We co-create new systems of community self-care through projects that connect people more deeply with themselves, each other, and the place where they live through culture. Our programs develop opportunities for creative youth to learn and develop cultural skills that will support them to obtain meaningful work, earn a living, and have affordable housing in the place where they grew up. 

LES Collective 2020 takes place ten years after Cuala's founder and director, Grammy-winner Susan McKeown produced Songs from the East Village, a Lower East Side collaborative cultural project album  that was featured on NPR and raised $25,000 for the East Village Community School. 

Since settlers arrived on this land of many tribes four hundred years ago, the LES has been teeming with diverse cultures, creative movements and stories of struggle and resilience, however in recent years this Manhattan neighborhood known for it's outstanding creativity had been losing its culture and connection: between 2008 and 2017 4,000 artists and arts-related businesses disappeared from the Lower East Side and footfall was greatly reduced. A healthy storefront vacancy rate would be 5%, however on the Lower East Side in fall 2019 it was 15%. Just like retail, cultural and community space has become a rare commodity. Opportunities for creative youth had sharply declined over the previous decade, and with 23% of the inhabitants here living in poverty, mental and emotional distress was rising at an alarming rate. Then on April 7 Mayor de Blasio canceled this year's Summer Youth Employment Program that was expected to serve 70,000 youth. 85% of last summer's participants came from families reporting incomes of less than $31k, 14% living in NYCHA housing. With the city confronting huge job losses, especially among low-income workers, the loss of income may be especially difficult for these youth and their families.


LES Collective consists of a series of a 7-week public LES culture program online July 13 – August 24 and, running concurrently, a community self care system of activities connecting youth and elders. The public program will feature talks, workshops, screenings, music and other opportunities to learn more about the extraordinary people who live and have lived in the neighborhood and helped shape its unique culture. We’ll learn how the creativity of historic inhabitants fueled the resiliency that helped them not just survive crises like this, but thrive. 


Our YOUTH PROGRAM targets creative older teens and young adults who live in (whether in a home, shelter or homeless), or care about the Lower East Side. The program supports them to develop unique cultural and socio-emotional skills through i) creative workshops that give them a greater sense of how their own neighborhood evolved and how their voice and experience is an essential and needed part of that story, and ii) community self-care system (CSCS) workshops where they learn practical communication, organizational and problem-solving skills to support community elders and other vulnerable members in the community. Both the public program and CSCS activities will inform and inspire the creative workshops component of the youth program. 

Inspired by The Lower East Side’s strong musical theatre tradition, creative youth interested in music, writing and dance will collaboratively write a play with music and dance about the neighborhood, based on their experience of living here today and informed by the stories of those who lived through crises here in the past. Those interested in photography, film, art and design will engage in collaborative projects that tell neighborhood stories old and new. At its conclusion, LES Collective will culminate in performances and exhibitions in public art spaces on New York's Lower East Side. For their full participation in the program, at the end of the seven weeks the youth will receive an incentive in the form of a gift card or other means of specifically directing dollars to the purchase of goods or equipment to further their cultural or creative pursuit.