What makes a youth arts program effective? There are hundreds of arts programs in the U.S. Some engage young people in ways that lead to a lifetime commitment to the arts. Others fall rather flat, failing to inspire much more than fleeting curiosity.
Is there a way to tell the former from the latter? How can parents, practitioners and policymakers distinguish a promising program from a dud?
Researchers Denise Montgomery, Peter Rogovin and Neromanie Persaud combed through literature, interviewed experts, studied exemplary arts organizations, talked to hundreds of young people and their parents and out of that have suggested 10 principles the best arts programs appear to share. According to their report, Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs from Urban Youth and Other Experts, the best youth arts programs have:
- Professional, practicing artists as teachers
- Executive directors that have a deep, public commitment to the arts
- Dedicated, inspiring and welcoming spaces in which young people can practice their arts
- A culture of high expectations for youth
- Prominent public events that showcase the art participants create
- Positive relationships among the youth and adults involved in the program
- Meaningful leadership roles for young people
- Hands-on experiences for youth with current equipment and technology
- Strong partnerships with key stakeholders in the community
- A space that is physically and emotionally safe so young people can learn, experiment and thrive
The researchers derived these principles partly by observing small, specialized programs. Would it be possible, we wondered, for a large, national organization to combine these principles with its countrywide infrastructure to provide high-quality arts education to much larger numbers of urban youth?
We have been working since 2014 with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) in our Youth Arts Initiative to find out. Six BGCA clubhouses in the Midwest have so far shown that it is in fact possible for a large, generalist organization to adopt the 10 principles, according to a report about the first phase of the initiative. In the next phase, six additional clubhouses will introduce similar programs, but will share resources to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
We’ll be studying their efforts through 2020 and reporting back frequently here. Stay tuned to see how they fare.