Youth on Record Reimagines and Replenishes UMS

Art — particularly the passionate, agitated act of creation — is a uniquely human power. Intensely felt, like a vein connecting the ear to the heart, music tends to touch a place most can only access in moments of excess emotion. And one organization harnesses that power and passes on as much knowledge as possible to the next generation: Youth on Record. Centering its mission around the belief that music and art are necessary components in the fight for liberation, Youth on Record (YOR) provides a plethora of resources for young people in the Denver community since 2008. Their success speaks for itself as they serve and uplift 3,000 teens living in some of the most vulnerable parts of Denver/Aurora.

Youth on Record Block Party

Youth on Record Block Party performance. Photo by Steph Mathena.

“We are really focused on supporting the next generation of young creatives to build a music and entertainment ecosystem with the values that they have, the way they want to be treated in the ecosystem and access to opportunities for everyone,” said Executive Director and Co-Manager of UMS Jami Duffy.

“YOR designs and implements strengths-based, music-centered programs intended to equip young people from historically under-resourced communities with the skills needed to find success in life by advancing their academic success, increasing their economic opportunities and career skills, and strengthening their community connections and networks.”

Currently, YOR offers 50-60 for-credit classes at middle- and high school levels; Open Lab for those interested in the writing, producing and engineering side of music; FEMpowered, a “social justice-oriented group for creative young women including queer, trans and non-binary, ages 14-20” and a Fellowship program — a 10-month-long program aiming to ease the often confusing next steps post-high school. YOR also hosts a virtual Youth Hub for distance learning, a smattering of workshops and their annual Block Party, now in its eighth year. 

Despite taking up what seems to be every call to action they can find, Youth on Record is still doing more, having signed on as co-owners of the most coveted festival in Denver — the Underground Music Showcase. Along with Two-Parts, YOR is bringing its signature blend of art and equity, particularly in support of young people to South Broadway. 

READ: An Audiophile’s Guide to The 2022 UMS Lineup

“We’ve been the charitable partner, but I wanted to make sure that as a nonprofit, we weren’t just getting donations but that we had a seat at the table,” Duffy said. “And that we were able to help sort of guide and shape the future of the UMS so that it looked a little bit more like what we’re creating [at Youth on Record], which is an ecosystem that is very inclusive, committed to access, to opportunity.”

Even with their short time at the table, YOR has made significant advancements to the landscape of UMS. They focused on thriving artists’ wages (meaning all artists on the bill will receive at least $200), mental health, harm reduction strategies, care for artists and festival-goers as well as a healthy career pipeline for the young people coming out of YOR programming. To achieve these goals, mental wellness activations to support and care for artists have been put in place — notably, YOR’s Impact Days preceding the festival, options to sign up for therapy or non-traditional therapeutic support and the Artist’s Care Lounge. Everything in the Lounge will center around care, from the lighting to the sound to the way it smells. It is a sober space where the artists can regulate and take a breath. It will even offer yoga, Tai Chi and meetings with therapists or coaches.


Photo courtesy of Youth on Record on Facebook

“[The Artist’s Care Lounge] is a trauma-informed space,” Duffy said. “So really just letting the artist know while you’re at UMS, we got you. A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of artists are introverts and many artists are neuro-atypical. Being in an environment with 10,000 people a day, you may need support. That’s essentially where the green room came from. But this is a care green room that we’re setting up.”

Their harm reduction strategies include sober bar activations throughout the UMS landscape, destigmatizing the choice to abstain from drinking at a festival. All these programs are to say, Youth on Record, above all, cares. Their newfound stake in UMS feels strikingly important and delightfully well-founded. Youth on Record has begun to change the ever-more-thoughtful landscape of UMS, pointing out the age-old marriage between the mind and art as they direct a heavy focus on the mental well-being of artists and music-lovers alike.

“Art is a powerful tool, but it also cannot bear the sole responsibility for creating more equitable communities. Still, education and art, when integrated under the right framework, are powerful tools toward liberation and equity.” — Youth on Record