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Updated: March 7, 2022 / 2022 Business Leaders of the Year

Business Leaders of the Year: Murrieta turned one week into an arts institution

Photo/MATT WRIGHT Joy Murrieta, cofounder and executive director of Main IDEA Youth & Arts

Joy Murrieta didn’t set out to start a nonprofit organization. In 2011, she was a formally trained musician with a passion for dance, cooking, and other art forms. She was living in Worcester’s Main South neighborhood, and she and other local artists and community leaders noticed kids around them didn’t have much access to art programing. Many programs were too expensive or too far away for neighborhood families.

“We felt that there was a need for a more accessible arts program in Worcester, particularly in the neighborhood we were in,” she said.

So they started a small experiment, pooling their collective skills to offer a free week-long summer program. After the first day, families were so excited about what the artists were offering that attendance nearly tripled the following day. Over the week, 40 kids got the chance to dance, make music and art, and perform in drama workshops.

The event became an annual summer tradition, and the organizers started realizing they could do more for the kids if they had more funding. They organized themselves as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the aim of getting support from foundations. A lawyer offered to donate time to offer legal assistance, and Murrieta put herself through certificate programs to learn nonprofit management.

“We really just relied, I think, on the community to help direct us to resources,” she said.

Today, Main IDEA runs multiple programs year-round, offering arts activities free of charge. It serves more than 300 kids ages 6 to 17 each year. Murrieta became executive director in 2018 and is the only full-time employee. The organization hires teaching artists on contracts and depends on volunteers, including student artists from nearby Clark University and other city colleges.

Main IDEA is now looking at hiring more staff, but Murrieta is not interested in growth for the sake of growth, or in fitting into some preconceived idea of what an arts education program should be. For example, the group doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar headquarters. Instead, it works with local schools and other organizations to meet children where they are. That means Main IDEA doesn’t have to put resources into a building or a van for transportation, and kids get to take part in programming in spaces where they’re already at home.

Despite having serving kids all over the city, Main IDEA remains particularly committed to Main South, an area with low-income families.

“Some neighborhoods have more resources than others,” Murrieta said. “We want to allocate resources to families that need it.”

Murrieta sees Main IDEA’s role not just as offering a service to youth but helping them develop their own ideas in partnership with supportive adults. It’s also committed to respecting the cultures of the students, many of whom – like Murrieta herself – are from Hispanic or Latino backgrounds.

“She is a really authentic, really inclusive leader,” said Valerie Zolezzi-Wyndham, founder and CEO of Promoting Good in Upton, who ran diversity training for Main IDEA. Murrieta “really centers youth leadership and youth voice. She approached the diversity learning for her volunteers really thinking about what the youth in her program need and therefore what skills adults need to honor their identities.”

One thing that surprises people about Main IDEA’s work is the quality of the work the kids, particularly teenagers, produce, said Murrieta. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization organized youth concerts and open-mic performances. And it partnered with local organizations to create murals on the sides of buildings, leavinh observers marveling, “teenagers painted that.”

“A lot of folks would assume that a youth-painted mural means kind of shoddy workmanship because they’re not professional artists, per se,” she said. “It’s a credit to lead artists who facilitate well and allow their talent to shine.”

Ultimately, that’s Main IDEA’s mission: helping young people’s creativity and ideas come through.

“They have their own voice and their own agency, and we want to elevate that as much as possible,” she said. “Because they do have something to say.”

2022 WBJ Business Leaders of the Year

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