Oct 26

Creating high-quality arts programs in national youth-serving organizations

While research has shown that participation in the arts promotes positive youth outcomes, providing quality arts programming can seem like an unobtainable goal to many programs, especially those that mix various art disciplines into daily programming but do not have an arts focus. But a new report commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, Raising the Barre & Stretching the Canvas, shows that high-quality arts programming for multidisciplinary out-of-school time programs is obtainable — and how.

How do you provide quality arts programming?

With the goal of helping to improve and expand high-quality arts programming, The Wallace Foundation partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to create and pilot the Youth Arts Initiative (YAI) in Milwaukee (Wis.), Green Bay (Wis.), and St. Cloud (Minn.). The YAI drew from ten key principles of high-quality arts programming outlined in the 2013 study, Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs from Urban Youth and Other Experts: professional practicing artists, executive commitment, dedicated spaces, high expectations, culminating events, positive relationships, youth input, hands-on skill building, community engagement, and physical and emotional safety. With these principles in mind, the YAI programs:

  1. Hired practicing artists as staff.
  2. Created dedicated studio spaces for the arts.
  3. Supplied the tools and materials needed for the program’s art discipline.
  4. Engaged students in decision-making throughout the creation and execution of the program.
  5. Emphasized positive youth development principles.

Looking at each club, the report found that all programs were able to successfully implement the ten principles and provide students with high-quality arts programming. However, some elements of implementation proved easier than others. Generally, principles that called for supporting youth development — such as high expectations, positive relationships, and youth input — met with approval, and once staff members were able to see the principles in action and their results, the principles spread throughout other elements of the Boys & Girls Clubs’ programming.

Changing tactics to meet challenges

Despite the success of the YAI programming overall, there were challenges along the way, including obstacles related to staffing, available resources, and program structure. For instance, some principles required a change in club culture, where the drop-in structure did not work for the implementation of high-quality arts programming and club staff and students initially faced difficulty with these changes.

The report found that increased communication between YAI staff, club staff, and administration was key to diminishing implementation challenges. Conversations surrounding the role of the teaching artists, club culture, and the goals of the program helped engage staff. Time was another vital piece of the equation, giving staff and students the chance to see the program’s positive outcomes.

Providing quality arts programming has been shown to lead to positive youth development outcomes, and with arts spaces disappearing in schools, out-of-school time programs can play a critical role to provide arts programming to youth. Arts programs can provide students with space to express themselves, build student confidence, and offer opportunities for collaboration and creativity. As shown in this report, with funding, time, and effort, existing multidisciplinary programs can successfully implement high-quality arts programming, increasing access to the arts for youth nationwide.

Read the full report, Raising the Barre & Stretching the Canvas: Implementing High-Quality Arts Programming in a National Youth Serving Organization, for more.