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Youth-Serving Organizations Can Create, Sustain High-Quality Arts Programs To Develop Teens’ Arts Skills, Wallace Study Finds

Youth-Serving Organizations Can Create, Sustain High-Quality Arts Programs To Develop Teens’ Arts Skills
October 3, 2017

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The Wallace Foundation
Lucas Held

The Hatcher Group
Ann Bradley 


 Youth-Serving Organizations Can Create, Sustain High-Quality Arts Programs To Develop Teens’ Arts Skills, Wallace Study Finds

Local Boys & Girls Clubs saw increased attendance, benefits for students

New York Youth-serving organizations can create and manage high-quality afterschool arts programs reflecting practices used by exemplary programs that specialize in the arts, according to a study by Research for Action and McClanahan Associates funded by The Wallace Foundation.

The local youth-serving organizations in the study were already providing a broad range of afterschool programs. But with strong support from a national youth-serving organization, they were able to successfully apply principles for high-quality arts programming and involve low-income urban teens.

What’s more, these arts programs, marked by high expectations, produced meaningful experiences for many of the young people participating, including high levels of youth engagement, artistic skill development, and participation at an age when attendance in afterschool programs typically drops off, according to the study, Raising the Barre + Stretching the Canvas: Implementing High Quality Arts Programming in a National Youth Serving Organization.

The study, by Tracey A. Hartmann of Research for Action and Wendy McClanahan of McClanahan Associates, looked at the launch of arts instruction in Boys & Girls Clubs in the upper Midwest as part of the Boys & Girl Clubs of America’s (BGCA) Youth Arts Initiative. With the assistance of BGCA’s Atlanta national headquarters, three clubs in Minnesota and Wisconsin, acting as pilot sites in the initiative, applied a set of 10 Principles for Success for these programs that were developed by The Wallace Foundation. In 2014, the first phase of the initiative began with a $5.35 million, two-and-a-half year commitment to the Boys & Girls Club of America.

“The YAI pilot proved that it is possible to implement high-quality art skill-development programming in a YSO [youth serving organization] and that implementation can lead to high levels of youth engagement, artistic skill development, and increased tween participation,” the report found. “Our research indicates that BGCA and its pilot affiliate Clubs did, in fact, successfully implement high-quality art skill-development programs as defined by the Ten Principles for Success. The Clubs hired professional teaching artists, developed near studio-quality spaces, taught classes using near-professional quality equipment, and held public art performances, events, and shows.”

The clubs, located in St. Cloud, Minn., and in Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis., served a total of 900 low-income “tweens,” or young people between the ages of 10 and 14 during the two and a quarter years studied.

Nationally, according to the report, “children from low-income households are about half as likely to participate in arts programs as youth from more affluent families, and when they do, they are typically encouraged to make crafts rather than create unique work or develop formative artistic skills.”

In the arts programs studied, students learned dance, fashion design, digital music and mural design, among other art forms chosen for their appeal to young people.

“The results of this study are notable, because it’s rare for an evaluation to have such positive, clear-cut findings on a challenging innovation,” said Edward Pauly, the director of research for the foundation. “In addition to the clubs’ successfully applying best-practice principles, the programs themselves helped young people develop their art skills and led to an increase in attendance by the participating young teens.”

With assistance from the national Boys & Girls Club of America headquarters in Atlanta, the local clubs used principles from The Wallace Foundation’s study Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs from Urban Youth and Other Experts to transform their existing arts-and-crafts programs into opportunities for the tweens to develop their own artistic skills.

The 10 principles in Something to Say were derived from a set of eight exemplary youth-serving organizations from across the nation that focus on arts instruction, as well as 22 expert interviews and a literature review. The principles are both arts-specific—calling for the involvement of professional, practicing artists, dedicated arts spaces and culminating events for the young people to showcase their work—and incorporate best practices in youth-development, such as youth input, positive relationships, and a climate of physical and emotional safety.

Raising the Barre found that local clubs can, in fact, use these principles to create and sustain high-quality programs for urban tweens. The findings also showed that young people who participated reported higher levels of engagement, developed specific artistic skills, and increased their participation at an age when many BGCA clubs see participation drop off.

“It is our mission to provide programming that offers a creative outlet and art experiences for the youth we serve, thus helping to level the playing field for their future success,” said Jim Clark, president and CEO of BGCA. “The results of the study speak to the great impact The Wallace Foundation is having on thousands of children and teens nationwide. We are honored to be a part and we look forward to continuing the mission to help youth build great futures together.”

The findings suggest that young people can be engaged by and remain in high-quality afterschool programs, but to do so requires a transformation from “business as usual.” The clubs’ executives must support the programs, hire professional artists and create dedicated arts space, and have high expectations for the tweens who participate, the study says.

“These findings could potentially be helpful to other youth-serving organizations that are  seeking to implement high-quality programming,” said Hartmann of RFA, a lead author of the report.

Further research on the Youth Arts Initiative will explore ways to retain the quality and benefits found by the study, while lowering the costs per child served by the afterschool programs.


About The Wallace Foundation
The Wallace Foundation seeks to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of arts for everyone. The foundation has an unusual approach: funding efforts to test innovative ideas for solving important public problems, conducting research to find out what works and what doesn’t and to fill key knowledge gaps – and then communicating the results to help others. Wallace, which works nationally, has five major initiatives under way:

  • School leadership: Strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement.
  • Afterschool: Helping cities make good afterschool time programs available to many more children.
  • Building audiences for the arts: Enabling arts organizations to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people.
  • Arts education: Expanding arts learning opportunities for children and teens.
  • Social and emotional learning: Aligning and improving opportunities for social and emotional learning for children across school and out-of-school-time settings.Summer and expanded learning: Improving summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children, and enriching and expanding the school day.

Find out more at

About Boys & Girls Clubs of America
For more than 150 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of America ( has enabled young people most in need to achieve great futures as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Today, 4,300 Clubs serve 4 million young people through Club membership and community outreach. Clubs are located in cities, towns, public housing and on Native lands throughout the country, and serve military families in BGCA-affiliated Youth Centers on U.S. military installations worldwide. They provide a safe place, caring adult mentors, fun and friendship, and high-impact youth development programs on a daily basis during critical non-school hours. Club programs promote academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles. In a Harris Survey of alumni, 54 percent said the Club saved their lives. National headquarters are located in Atlanta. Learn more at on Facebook and Twitter.

About Research for Action
Research for Action (RFA) is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit education research organization. RFA seeks to use research as the basis for the improvement of educational opportunities and outcomes for traditionally underserved students. Our work is designed to strengthen public schools and postsecondary institutions; provide research-based recommendations to policymakers, practitioners and the public at the local, state and national levels; and enrich the civic and community dialogue about public education. Learn more at

About McClanahan Associates, Inc.
McClanahan Associates, Inc. (MAI) is a woman-owned firm committed to strengthening programs based on flexible, yet rigorous, evaluation practices that help nonprofits and philanthropic organizations achieve their goal of improving people's lives. Learn more at http:/​/



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