Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs From Urban Youth and Other Experts

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Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs From Urban Youth and Other Experts

Anyone who has attended a child's dance recital or photography exhibit knows the magic that happens when young people get the chance to embrace their creativity and show off their hard work.

For many of our country's poorest children, however, such opportunities are not a part of daily life. At The Wallace Foundation, we believe the arts belong to everyone, regardless of age, income or background. We commissioned this study to help program providers understand how to bring highquality arts experiences to more youngsters from disadvantaged urban areas.

Engagement in the arts not only allows young people to express themselves and unleash the power of their imaginations but can also build skills and confidence; foster teamwork and persistence; and inspire the formation of social bonds, empathy for others and a capacity for delight that can last a lifetime. High-quality arts programming can be particularly meaningful to "tweens," ages 10-13, who are navigating the transition from childhood to their more independent, but also demanding, teen years.

And yet, in low-income urban communities an array of barriers stands between tweens and the arts. We know that the emphasis on testing in reading and math has caused many public schools to jettison "extras" such as band and drama. For this report, we wanted to learn what tweens think about afterschool arts programs and the factors that inform their decision to participate or not.

So we engaged a marketing strategy and insights firm, Next Level SMG, to ask them. Researchers went to cities across the nation and spoke to hundreds of young people in their homes and neighborhoods. They also sought views from their families, the directors of exemplary programs and experts in youth arts instruction.

What do tweens want in an arts program? How does that stack up against what the experts say they need? What have successful programs figured out about converting skeptical first-time visitors into passionately committed student artists?

The research shed light on both the challenges involved in attracting tweens to participate in afterschool arts programming and a set of promising practices that suggest ways to address them. Among the challenges: The very term "arts" can be a turnoff, thought by tweens to refer only to the visual arts and museum visits; their parents may better understand the benefits of sports than the benefits of arts; and - perhaps little surprise to anyone who has ever supervised a 13-year-old - tweens can be fickle, opting one minute to explore the arts with enthusiasm, the next minute to leave a structured arts program. To help overcome these barriers, the report also offers practical guidance - distilled as 10 recommended principles for success - to those ready to take on the challenge.

We hope you will find these and other insights compelling and useful. We believe they demonstrate that it is both vital and possible to engage tweens in the arts.

Our young people have something to say; it's up to us to listen, learn and act.

Will Miller,
President, The Wallace Foundation

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