ArtWorks News

ArtWorks at 25: The Reverberating Impact of Drums for Peace

2021 marks ArtWorks’ 25 years of transformational impact. To celebrate, we will be sharing stories from ArtWorks alumni, who are part of an incredible legacy of transforming people and places through investments in creativity.

1997 was the first year of Drums for Peace at ArtWorks. From the ArtWorks archives.


“Can’t” isn’t a word Kathryne Gardette likes to hear.

In fact, as the Lead Teaching Artist of the pivotal ArtWorks’ performance program, Drums for Peace, she always had a “can’t jar” out. Every time the word was used, a dollar would be added to the jar.

“Can’t is such a harsh sounding word,” Gardette, a long-time Walnut Hills resident, says. “At the start of the summer, a Teaching Artist would point out use of the word. But two weeks in, it was the Apprentices that were pointing it out,” she says. “Towards the end, you may only get one or two dollars added to the jar. Language is so important.”

At the end of the summer, those can’ts would turn into something more fun—an ice cream party.

While ArtWorks may be best known today for its monumental mural program, the organization has a rich history of programs that develop the skills and talents of creative young people, ages 14-21, beyond the visual arts—while all providing them a paycheck.

As a singer, Gardette was performing around the world with the professional Drums for Peace ensemble since 1991, when she had a conversation with ArtWorks founding director Tamara Harkavy and Cincinnati Youth Collaborative’s Dr. John Bryant about bringing performance opportunities to the ArtWorks Youth Apprentices. That conversation turned into 10 rhythmic summers.

Starting in 1997, 20 to 25 Apprentices were selected each summer from an audition process for the various roles necessary for the large production: musicians, dancers/singers and those creating the sets and props.

The team would craft all aspects of the performance for six weeks and then perform for two weeks, oftentimes performing multiple times a day at daycare and senior centers, recreation centers and even the Aronoff Center. Gardette estimates more than 200 Apprentices went through the Drums for Peace program.

Kathryne Gardette

“We believed we were going to make someone’s life happier that day because they were got to hear us and experience us,” Gardette says. “We would do drum and dance songs from different parts of the world. We were being as inclusive and diverse as we could.”

In addition to Gardette, several musicians from the Drums for Peace ensemble acted as Teaching Artist mentors, including Steven Hayes, Johnny Ruzsa, Charles Ali Schweitzer, Gardette’s husband Baba Charles Miller, and many others.

The ensemble saw this partnership as a way to use percussion as a teaching opportunity.

“Arts integration is a way to make an impact in the educational setting,” Gardette says. “Having educators as part of Drums for Peace, it was very easy for us to look at math and science curricula and see how percussion, drum and song fit into that—how you truly could teach fractions by teaching music. It was inspiring to know we all learn in many ways and how this art form that we all loved had this opportunity for learning.”

For Gardette, having Youth Apprentices join Drums for Peace, work with professional musicians and get paid for their time is a critical lesson to show young people.

“(Being a Youth Apprentice) might be your job for the summer but being creative and doing art could be your job for your life, so you can express the passion that you have,” she says. “It is important to see people do what you may have a spark to do.”

The legacy of Drums for Peace still resonates around the region and beyond. One alum was part of the touring production of STOMP! Another learned to make shaker eggs that she continued to make and sell, which helped her pay her college expenses.

The Drums for Peace ensemble continues to perform, as it has been doing for 30 years, making lives happier throughout Greater Cincinnati—still turning “can’ts” into “can dos.”

Are you a Youth Apprentice alum that participated in Drums for Peace? We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us at 513.333.0388 or at

About ArtWorks

ArtWorks is an award-winning Greater Cincinnati nonprofit that transforms people and places through investments in creativity. The organization collaborates with community organizations and residents, businesses, governments, foundations and nonprofits to build creative works of art that bolster the region’s global reputation as an arts destination. ArtWorks employs professional artists who inspire and mentor diverse teams of youth, ages 14-21, helping them build 21st century career-readiness skills. These teams have completed more than 12,500 public and private art projects in its 25 years, including more than 200 permanent outdoor murals.