Art aid

A local nonprofit upstart calls on rock and roll to help save the day.


Northwest Asian Arts Theater, 409 Seventh S., 956-8372, $5 all ages, 8 p.m. Fri., March 15

EMMA MARGRAF can tell stories that will break your heart. In four years of working with foster children she’s just about seen it all. Frustrated by the lack of real-life options for these kids, she dreamt up a plan for what has become the Alliance for Fostering Arts (AFA), a nonprofit organization aimed at pairing 13- to 17-year-olds with adults in the professional arts and music community.

“The kids get stuck in these endless circles of special ed, counseling, and teen meetings,” she says. “They end up getting through high school without really learning anything useful—and particularly nothing to do with arts and music.

“The kids typically have a hard time with groups and arbitrary rules, but one-on-one they do really well,” says Margraf, explaining the core belief behind the organization. Margraf and her team of board members and teachers hope to provide local foster kids with meaningful, educational interaction and exchange with successful creative adults—the very thing, plus some, that they miss by virtue of being without a permanent family. They hope the kids will develop and express an interest in a particular field of music or art based on the professional role models they’ll encounter through Margraf’s matchmaking.

“Working with kids can be really fun,” she says, speaking from experience; she’s worked as an individual therapeutic aide, which, she explains, is a “lofty title for someone who hangs out with teenagers.” Margraf knows what her army of volunteers—professional drummers, seasoned sound engineers, expert producers, and qualified artisans—is getting into.

“I hope that they’ll have a friendly relationship, and I hope that they get along,” she says. “But [the kids are] too old to be molded. It’s much more important that they learn a tangible skill. People use words like ’empowerment,’ but we’ll try and keep things simple. Some of these kids have horrible stories, and when you hear them, you want to fix them. But you can’t erase what’s happened to them. It’s all about being loud. They want to make noise.”

MARGRAF KNOWS all about making noise. Starting a nonprofit and getting funding in this time of economic slowdown is not an easy endeavor, but she’s moving quickly forward. She’s secured the help of a pro bono lawyer from the firm of Foster, Pepper, and Scheffelman, enlisted Evergreen College’s resident art historian and advocate Hiro Kawasaki, and had herself appointed to the City Council’s Music and Youth Commission.

“It’s hard, it’s really hard. You have to prove yourself constantly because a lot of nonprofits are losing money,” she says. “But every time I get discouraged, I end up getting a check in the mail. We’ve had some people send us their tax refunds from George W.; they feel guilty about keeping them.”

Help also comes in the form of manpower. Margraf recently enlisted the aid of a 17-year-old foster child who is about to begin the process of transitioning out of state care and into independent adulthood. She says her new intern is excited about bicycling around town, hanging up posters to advertise their upcoming benefit show.

With the additional support of the Vera Project (the AFA’s benefit show is being held in the all-ages organization’s current home), various community leaders, the music scene (the three local bands on the bill have donated their time), and small businesses like the Sit & Spin (co-owner Lisa Bonney is on the AFA’s board of directors) who provide meeting space, it won’t be long now until the plan moves into action. Beginning this summer, the AFA will host hands-on workshops that will give the kids and the administrators a concrete idea about who wants to learn what. Emma hopes to have kids matched up with teachers by early fall.

If you can help the Alliance for Fostering Arts, visit or send an e-mail to