SAY Sí students show press conference attendees their new equipment. Photo by Camille Garcia.
SAY Sí students show press conference attendees their new equipment. Photo by Camille Garcia.

SAY Sí , a nonprofit after-school arts program, announced on Tuesday that their arts programs and resources would expand with the help of local and international grants and awards.

“Today we celebrate the new and exciting opportunities that the additional financial support will allow us to provide for our students,” said Dora Verde, SAY Sí board president.

Verde told an audience of program supporters, staff, and alumni that SAY Sí was one of six San Antonio organizations awarded a $200,000 John Santikos Passion Grant. The grant will be used to strengthen existing film and media programs, and update equipment and supplies for the students.

“The truth is that Mr. Santikos loved art, loved artists, particularly young artists, and he loved SAY Sí,” said Dennis E. Noll, president and CEO of the San Antonio Area Foundation. “It’s really a privilege and honor for us at the San Antonio Area foundation to continue out his legacy of supporting the things that he loved.”

SAY Sí was one of seven local agencies approached by the Area Foundation to submit grant applications.

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In addition to the Santikos Passion Grant, SAY Sí was awarded an inaugural Creative Catalyst Award by Adobe System’s Project 1324, a new corporate responsibility initiative that encourages creative youth from ages 13 to 24 to use the arts as a vehicle for social change.

The Creative Catalyst Award is given to seven youth arts organizations worldwide that provide support, inspiration, and resources for young creatives. Award recipients, or “Creative Catalysts,” receive Adobe’s Creative Cloud software for up to 25 computers in their organizations. The software features programs for filmmaking, photo editing, and design.

Isabella Borgeson, community curator for Adobe, commended SAY Sí for its work with San Antonio’s creative youth community.

“There was a process where dozens of projects applied for the Creative Catalyst Award and SAY Sí was really on the radar,” Borgeson said. “The incredible work SAY Sí is doing is definitely being heard in other places outside of Texas.”

“Creative Catalyst” youth also have the opportunity to apply to the Adobe Creativity Scholarship Program that provides grants those hoping to pursue a creative path in higher education.

As a recipient of a Creative Catalyst Award, SAY Sí applied for and received an Adobe Project 1324 Innovation Grant, a process that required proposing a creative digital media project or initiative to accomplish in the coming year, and was one of six international organizations to receive it.

Guillermina Zabala, SAY Sí media arts director, said the program used the proposal process as an opportunity to challenge the staff and students.

The $175,000 Innovation Grant will fund the new SAY Sí-led initiative called Project Papalote. The inspiration behind the project’s name came from the English meaning of papalote, kite.

Papalotes, or kites, hang from the ceiling at SAY Sí in celebration of their initiative "Project Papalote." Photo by Camille Garcia.
Papalotes, or kites, hang from the ceiling at SAY Sí in celebration of their initiative Project Papalote. Photo by Camille Garcia.

“When you have a kite, first you need to hold it and move it and find the right wind breeze for it to be able to fly high,” Zabala said. “Once it kinds of flies on its own, it eventually kind of goes and travels on its own, so that’s the idea of the young people. We give them the support system and we nurture them here but at one point they’re going to fly and go visit other places.”

Project Papalote will give select SAY Sí staff and students the opportunity to travel internationally and within the U.S. for digital media collaborations, with other youth organizations, that center on the theme of “identifying borders and breaking boundaries.” The U.S. project destinations are Boston and Salt Lake City and the international locations include Mexico City and Kolkata, India.

Since the project incorporates physically crossing borders, Zabala said, it will give the students perspective of what “borders” and “boundaries” they face in their everyday lives.

The program is only open to high school juniors and seniors in the SAY Sí program. A total of 12 SAY Sí students will be selected through an application process to take part in Project Papalote, Zabala said, with four different groups of three students traveling to one of the four project locations. The first excursion is to Salt Lake City in March.

The digital media projects will be a mixture of mediums – film, photography, visual arts, and performing arts among others – that will all be made into a cohesive digital media package.

“Using a digital media package is about reaching out to the world, and that’s really the big impact of Project 1324,” she said.

Project Papalote will also “empower SAY Sí students and other students in a way that they haven’t been before,” Zabala added, since they will gain the perspective of collaborating and working with youth in other cities around the country and world. About 150 SAY Sí students have applied to take part in Project Papalote and SAY Sí staff is planning on revealing the names of the three students chosen for the Salt Lake City excursion by the end of this week.

SAY Sí staff will gauge the success and effectiveness of Project Papalote after its first year in order to determine its possible future as part of the SAY Sí curriculum.

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Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) announced that the City’s Department for Culture and Creative Development in conjunction with the International Relations Office will provide scholarships for five SAY Sí students to attend the annual Sister Cities International Youth Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. in July. The SAY Sí scholarships were also created in partnership with Adobe Systems and Santikos.

The Youth Leadership Summit was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 to help create a network of youth that fosters peace and prosperity, and connects people from all over the world. Nirenberg said the summit will provide SAY Sí students with the experience of “working in an environment that mirrors what they will be experiencing as leaders in the future.”

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) was also present at Tuesday’s press conference and spoke about SAY Sí creative youth as future community leaders.

“San Antonio is a great city on the rise, but we should not forget who will help us to continue on this path to successful growth: San Antonio’s young people,” she said.

SAY Sí offers tuition-free classes to San Antonio middle school and high school students. They offer programs in visual arts, theater, media arts, filmmaking, coding, game design, and more. Since opening their doors in 1994, they have grown to accommodate students from across the city, with the majority coming from the inner-city in districts 1, 2, 5, and 7.

*Top image: SAY Sí students show press conference attendees their new equipment. Photo by Camille Garcia.

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Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is