Mission & History

YMA's mission is to provide young people with a unique personal experience in the visual and performing arts, where they share creative interests in a positive environment that builds confidence, enhances self-esteem and reinforces a sense of community.


History of YMA

In 1965, Sister Ann Miriam, a music teacher at Portland’s Madeline School, established the Young Musicians, Inc. summer program known as YMI. The purpose of the camp was to bring young music students together in a cultural atmosphere that was highly positive. She wanted the students to be motivated enough to continue practicing their instruments throughout the summer. Sister Ann Miriam wanted “to give children an opportunity to study, live and relax in a cultural atmosphere, thus making it possible for the cultural arts to become a reality of their every day lives.”

The 1965 YMI camp lasted one-week and was located at Gearhart on the Oregon Coast. There were 54 string students, 10 counselors and 16 instructors. The classes were: Orchestra, Physical Fitness, Foreign Language and Orientation. For the next six years YMI (later YMA) operated at Menucha, Mt. Angel, Troutdale, and George Fox University and each year courses were added to the program: flute, piano and clarinet (1966), brass and percussion (1967), art (1968)—prompting the organization to change it’s name to “Young Musicians & Artists, Inc.”—drama (1969) and dance (1971). A second, two-week session of camp was added in 1970. In 1974, YMA moved to the campus of Willamette University, where is has been housed ever since.


In 1985, Sister Ann Miriam retired and Brian M. Biggs, the YMA Drama Director since 1973, took over as Executive Director and Camp Director. Over the next few years YMA significantly expanded its programming by adding Choir and Piano to First Session and Photography, Creative Writing, African Dance, Musical Theatre, and Technical Theatre to Second Session. Mr. Biggs retired from YMA in 2007 after thirty-four years with the program. 

Over 13,000 youth have attended since its founding, and many have gone on to distinguished careers in the arts or used their experiences at YMA as a springboard for an appreciation of all the arts. Distinguished alumni include Peter Frajola, associate concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony; David Ewart, a studio musician in Hollywood; Zachariah Spellman, a tuba player for the San Francisco Opera; Adrienne Flagg an actor and director in Portland; Emily Harris, a correspondent with NPR; Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists; Nicholas Crosa of Pink Martini; Rick Schafer, professional photographer in Portland; and Ben Whiteley, a conductor for Broadway musicals.