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American Voices is a nonprofit organization that has been conducting cross-cultural engagement with audiences in over 110 nations worldwide since 1993. Founded with a focus on the recently independent nations of Central and Eastern Europe, American Voices has expanded its mission towards supporting youth in nations emerging from conflict or ...

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Ron Kadish
(812) 339-1195 X 204

YES Academy celebrates ten years of supporting the rich legacy of the performing arts in Iraq. Emerging from the Rubble of Mosul and ISIS Occupation, musical academies endure as safe havens for recovery, training and collaboration

St. Louis, MO, June 22, 2017 – American Voices, an award-winning U.S. Cultural Diplomacy and Youth Engagement organization, is proud to announce the 10th anniversary of the Youth Excellence on Stage (YES) Academy in Erbil, Iraq (Kurdistan Region), taking place July 14 – 27, 2017. The training and performance program will welcome over 150 of the nation’s most talented aspiring young musicians and dancers for intensive collaborations, trainings, rehearsals, and performances on the campus of the Institute of Fine Arts, Erbil.

With support from The Sinquefield Charitable Foundation, The U.S. Embassy, Family Mall Erbil and Babylon FM, and private donors around the world, the YES Academy Erbil affords participants the opportunity to study breakdance, jazz, songwriting, youth orchestra, composition, guitar, woodwinds, and piano with a faculty of 14 selected from the United States’ finest universities, orchestra, bands, and hip hop crews. Program participants are recruited nationwide and come from across the Kurdistan Region as well as from cities such as Mosul, Basra, Najaf, Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Kurdistan.

The YES Academy is the nation’s only international training program offering rare opportunities for Iraqis and Kurds from a of plethora of confessional, linguistic, regional and ethnic backgrounds to study a together and build lifetime bonds. All programs encourage student and faculty collaborations across genres and musical styles, whether Kurdish, Iraqi or Western traditions. Among the planned collaborations in this Academy: The First Step Crew, comprised of break dancers from across Iraq, will dance with the Academy Youth Orchestra; and a band of traditional musicians from Mosul (recently featured on BBC and Al Jazeera) will partner with Argentinian-American composer Alejandro Rutty of University of North Carolina-Greensboro in creating an arrangement for the YES Festival String Orchestra of Ameen Mukdad’s composition, Yosur, composed while jailed by ISIS in Mosul.

The faculty is represented by artist teachers such as Julliard School graduates cellist Avery Waite and violist Kim Mai Nguyen; conductor Mariano Vales of the D.C. Youth Orchestra Program and the Orchestras of the Americas for Social Inclusion; dancer/choreographer Rick Camargo aka Bboy Lil Ric of HaviKoro Crew; violinist Robert Diggins of the Portland Baroque Orchestra; Derek Beckvold of the Boston Philharmonic; guitarist Susan McDonald; Marc Thayer of Symphony New Hampshire; Baritone Ira Spaulding of City College of New York;  composer Dr. Patrick Clark of University of Missouri and YES Academy founder and director, pianist John Ferguson. New this year is the Cultural Entrepreneurship seminar, led by motivational speaker Ravi Hutheesing, designed to inspire youth to envision and create new career paths, opportunities, and institutions leading to a more peaceful future.

The YES Academy will conclude with two free public concerts on Wednesday, July 26 at 4:00pm UTC +3 (9:00am EST) and Thursday, July 27 at 7:00pm UTC +3 (12:00pm EST) at the Institute of Fine Arts – Erbil. Wednesday, July 26 is the YES Erbil 2017 Showcase, featuring performances in guitar, voice, woodwind, piano, and strings, and the debut of new compositions by Academy composition students. Thursday, the YES Erbil 2017 Gala will feature Festival Strings, the Academy Choir, Mesopotamian Guitar Orchestra, the First Step Hip Hop Crew, Awtar Nergal (a new band from Mosul), and others. Also planned is Iraq’s first nationwide B-boy battle, on Saturday July 22, 8 pm, at the Family Mall in Erbil. All events will be streamed live and available for viewing after at

Despite rich performing arts heritages and educational institutions, most nations emerging from conflict and isolation are unable to provide such opportunities to their next generation of teachers, performers and cultural leaders. American Voices provides a cultural lifeline to young artists in fragile nations through the YES Academy programs. Similar programs are held annually in Lebanon, Sudan and Indonesia and the nations of ASEAN. More information can be found at and