Marsha Dobrzynski, Executive Director, Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio


Marsha Dobrzynski has spent the past 17 years making sure that as many children as possible throughout Northeast Ohio have equal access to a well-rounded education that includes the arts, In her position of executive director of Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio, she and her staff work to ensure that students in this region enjoy the educational and personal growth benefits of learning from the professional artists who work in their schools.

Young Audiences (YA) designs programs to support different areas of the curriculum by having the artists use their diverse disciplines to enhance learning in math, science or social studies, for example.

“The arts are a vital component of everything those children do in their every day lives,” says Dobrzynski. “Our artists are creative individuals who look at things in a different way, and they keep the kids on their toes, thinking all the time, so it’s inspiring to see.”

Under her direction, Young Audiences has significantly expanded its programs and its reach. When she started in 1994, the Young Audiences roster numbered 20 individual artists; now there are more than 120. At that time, the organization was producing 750 programs in the schools; last year, they did 7,100 programs.

YA has also expanded its geographic range from six counties to 18 counties in northeastern Ohio. Dobrzynski is particularly proud of a program Young Audiences initiated seven years ago, especially since it’s one that reaches children outside their schools: ArtWorks, the summer multidisciplinary, job-training program for high school students.

While the six-week program does provide training in the arts, it also develops important workplace skills such as teamwork, creative problem solving and personal responsibility. ArtWorks has grown tremendously, as well, from 50 students the first summer to 130 “apprentices” from nearly 60 different high schools.

“To see the impact of the arts on a personal level on those teenagers is incredible,” she says. “I don’t like to use the cliché that it’s a ‘life-changing’ experience, but you do see that with many of the kids.”

Fittingly, Dobrzynski has her own children to thank for connecting her to Young Audiences. The Rochester, New York, native had only recently moved to Cleveland with her husband and two daughters from Montreal, Canada. One Sunday afternoon for Valentine’s Day, her husband, whose management consulting business kept him busy during the week, took the two little girls to a Young Audiences program at the Natural History Museum, so she could enjoy some quiet time at home.

Several days later, recalling the sheer delight in her daughters’ faces as they excitedly recounted all of the dancing and drumming they had done during the program, she contacted Young Audiences to volunteer.

A few years later, inspired by her experience with the organization, Marsha decided to make a major career change to nonprofit management. (She had earned her bachelor’s and graduate degrees in nursing and worked as a nurse, prior to moving to Cleveland.) Then, while she was completing the certificate program at the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organi­zations at Case Western Reserve University, Young Audiences asked her to serve as its interim executive director. Four months later, they made the appointment permanent.

Despite the fact that her organization is now active in 250 schools serving more than 220,000 children, Marsha Dobrzynski will not be happy until she provides Young Audiences’ arts education programs to every one of her young constituents in Northeast Ohio. “There are more than three-quarters of a million kids in this 18-county area,” she says, “so we have a long way to go to reach all of those kids.”

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •