Laurel Sarah Butler, Ed.D., is a 2023 graduate of the Ed.D. program in Educational and Professional Practice at Antioch University.

Dr Laurel S. Butler

Dissertation Committee:

  • Richard Kahn, Ph.D., Chairperson
  • Dr. Heather Curl, Ed.D.
  • Dr. Susie Lundy, Ph.D.


Qualitative Research, Narrative Inquiry, Arts-Based Research, Critical Phenomenology, Youth, Youth Arts, Youth Arts Programs, Social Justice, Healing Centered Engagement, Abolition, Creative Youth Development, Social Justice Youth Arts

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This is a critical-phenomenological interview-based study in which young people who participated in Social Justice Youth Arts (SJYA) programs during their teenage years engaged in a series of semi-structured interviews focused on recollecting their lived experiences in those programs and the years since. These interviews investigate the ways in which the principles of Healing-Centered Engagement (Ginwright, 2018) were present within these young people’s experiences of those programs, as well as the extent to which those experiences may have encouraged or cultivated a lived praxis of the principles of the contemporary abolitionist movement (Kaba, 2021; Kaepernick, 2021). This study describes how these young people’s engagement with SJYA programming encouraged their process of identity formation as artists and activists, and how the durability and evolution of those self-identifications manifested in their broader social and behavioral context over time. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA ( and OhioLINK ETD Center (


Laurel Butler

ORCID No.: 0009-0000-5173-1776


Laurel (she/her) is an educator, facilitator, organizer and artist based on Tongva land, known in settler-colonial terms as Los Angeles, CA. As an independent consultant, she works with nonprofits, museums, schools, universities and organizations integrating social justice principles into arts education program design and implementation. Her clients have included the California Institute of the Arts Community Arts Partnership, the Getty Museum, ArtWorx LA, Inner City Arts, the Helen B. Landgarten Art Therapy Clinic, the Los Angeles County Department of Arts & Culture, Arts 4 LA, the New Mexico Arts & Justice Network, the UT Austin Department of Theater, the Temple University Creative Scholars Program, the LMU First to Go Program, GROUND SERIES Dance Company, iLEAD Charter Schools, and numerous schools and school districts throughout the country.

Laurel received her B.A. from Hampshire College in 2006 and her M.A. in Theater Education and Community Outreach from the University of New Mexico in 2010. Since moving to California in 2011, she has served as Associate Director of UCLA’s Visual & Performing Arts Education program, Arts Education and Social Emotional Learning Specialist for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Youth Development and Leadership Specialist for the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network, Program Manager of the Young Artivists Lab at Inner-City Arts, Faculty Lecturer in the UCLA World Arts & Cultures/Dance Department and the Loyola Marymount University College of Communication & Fine Arts, Faculty Advisor for the UCLA Prison Education Program, Director of Youth Programming for Everyday Arts, Program Development Specialist for 4CLab, Youth Arts Manager and Education/Engagement Specialist at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Adjunct Professor in the Performing Arts & Social Justice Department at the University of San Francisco, Dance Teacher at St. James Episcopal School, and Social Justice and Service Learning Instructor at Windward School. She is a founding member of the Royal Frog Ballet performance collective and directs its educational outreach and programming wing, the Royal Frog Academy.

Laurel is a recipient of the 21st Century Fox Social Impact award, a Creative Capacity Fund Next Gen Award, an Arts for LA ACTIVATE Fellowship, and multiple grants from the California Arts Council. She has presented her work at the AMPS Teaching Beyond the Curriculum Conference, the Allied Media Conference, the Create Justice Conference, the Arts in Corrections Conference, Beyond the Bars LA, and the National Convening for Teens in the Arts. Her award-winning work as a performing artist has been presented across the country and internationally, and her writing appears in numerous publications. When she is not at work, Laurel is likely having some kind of fun creative adventure with her husband, writer-director Ewen Wright, and her toddler, Leo. More can be found at


Butler, L. (2012). "Everything seemed new”: Clown as embodied critical pedagogy. Theatre Topics 22(1), 63–72

Butler, L. (2014). Something larger than ourselves: Redefining the Young Artists at Work program as an art-as-activism residency for teens. Journal of Museum Education, 39(3), 262–275

Butler, L. (2023, March). The transformative tower of youth arts programs. Common Thread: Antioch Voices.

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