Dear AYCO Community,

The AYCO Board recently held our annual Board Retreat, this year in Louisville, Kentucky. As you may have already heard, we are pleased to welcome three new board members! Dr. Anne Miller, Dan Roberts, and Jesse Dryden have all joined in the recent months, and we are thrilled to have them on the team!

AYCO is committing itself to being a proactive organization working in pursuit of our mission: “To promote the participation of youth in circus arts, and supporting circus educators”. To that end, we have identified eight specific vision points that we are working proactively towards and asserting as our core work from 2018 moving forward.


  • AYCO/ACE provides proactive support for the development of the circus arts education sector.
  • The power of circus arts to heal trauma, build community and develop individuals is widely understood, and circus arts are extensively employed in therapeutic settings and to address social challenges.
  • Funders recognize circus arts as a tool for youth development and invest in its advancement.
  • Circus arts play a significant role in physical and arts education in schools.
  • Capable circus arts professionals are available to meet industry demands and command respect and fair compensation.
  • The culture of safety in circus arts is developed and supported.
  • Circus educators and organizations are connected, engaged, and linked to resources and institutions that can help them pursue excellence in circus education.
  • Youth circus participants are connected,
    engaged, and linked to resources and institutions that can help them pursue their chosen pathway in circus.


Over the course of our 20-year history, AYCO has defined “youth” as 21 years of age and under. In service to the growth in our sector, AYCO’s Board re-examined the age limit based on the following criteria:  1) consistency across the AYCO organization, 2) consistency with current national policies and trends, and 3) consistency with research in youth development. We have therefore determined that 26 years of age and under will define “youth” with regards to AYCO membership and outreach.

In setting a clear policy in which “youth” is defined as extending to age 26, AYCO is aligning with existing youth development research and public policy, as well as fixing inconsistencies within our own organizational practices. This refined definition will help us to design programs that support our constituents in their transition from ‘youth participants in circus arts’ to ‘adults with careers in the circus arts’. We already have such support for certain pathways, such as the Work Study program at AYCO festivals and the option to become a member of ACE for those interested in becoming circus educators. However, youth pursuing other pathways in circus (e.g., performance, rigging, directing, etc.) are not currently supported by AYCO beyond age 21. Providing continued support as youth engage in the earliest stages of career exploration is consistent with the practices of many youth circus organizations who “grow” their own staff out of their student populations and continue to support emerging professional artists to prepare them for auditions, etc. It is also consistent with the requests of current AYCO youth members, who want to stay engaged with the organization after high school graduation.

As always, we are here to support our community, and we hope that this provides some clarity into our process and motivations. We are looking forward to seeing many of you at the Educators Conference this fall! Thank you all for the many ways that you serve the circus community and our youth.

Jesse AlFord, AYCO/ACE Board President