Getting Organized

Posted by Jonathan Herman, Sep 15, 2014 0 comments

Jonathan_headshot Jonathan Herman

Young people have immense energy and a unique capacity to imagine, experiment, and take positive risks. But opportunities for them to develop their creativity and exercise these valuable qualities are in many cases limited.

Without opportunities to realize their own creative capacities, and thereby engage in the social and civic processes that directly affect their lives, young people are “at risk” of not realizing their own potential. And as a result our communities forgo the benefit of young people’s creativity, commitment, and leadership.

In an age of rapidly changing economic, social, technological, and environmental challenges (just to name a few), we need the talents of young people to help us innovate, renew, and build a brighter future.

And our nation’s young people need us. Not only are many youth disconnected from their communities, they are also struggling to make successful transitions to adulthood, according a recent report from the White House Council on Community Solutions.

Creative youth development (CYD) programs can play an important role in ensuring that young people thrive. Under the guidance of adult artist-mentors, youth in CYD programs gain the skills to create art—to give form to their imagination.  They also develop the skills needed to participate fully in their own personal, social, and cultural growth. And they come to understand that their creations can give voice to their ideas, express their identities, and help shape their environment.

Creativity is a community resource. Community activist and former Executive Director of Intermedia Arts, Tom Borrup, wrote that the first step to sparking an expansive cultural dialogue—from which to build empowered, civically engaged communities— is to develop and empower the creative and cultural capacities of each person in your community. Creative youth development programs are lighting sparks in an all-to-often underserved and under-heard segment of our communities. They are helping to unleash young people’s creative potential and to deploy their energy and commitment toward civic priorities.

A National Priority

The National Guild for Community Arts Education, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and Massachusetts Cultural Council have helped bring national attention to the CYD field. If you haven’t already, read the Guild’s recent publication, “Engaging Adolescents: Building Youth Participation in the Arts,” learn more about the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, and become inspired by participants in MCC’s YouthReach program.

We believe that expanding the reach and impact of creative youth development programs should a national priority.

Recognizing the powerful work of hundreds of CYD programs across the country and sensing a need to celebrate and strengthen this field, our organizations collaborated to produce the first-ever National Summit on Creative Youth Development last spring.

In bring together 200+ practitioners, researchers, funders, policy makers working in the field of creative youth development across the country for a two-day summit we sought to:

  1. Celebrate the field’s progress to date
  2. Document the scope and impact of the work on young people and communities; and
  3. Chart a policy and advocacy agenda to implement over the next decade at the local, state and federal levels

In short, we did it! But not without laying some essential groundwork.

The Groundwork

Two days is not a lot of time to build a strategic agenda. So we commissioned Dr. Lauren Stevenson from Junction Box Consulting to give us a running start. Lauren conducted a review of relevant literature (including many of these key resources) and a national research study that included in-depth interviews with a range of practitioners and policymakers in related fields, focus groups with youth, and a national survey of practitioners and young people from more than 150 CYD programs. Through the survey, we were able to field-test the key principles of quality for effective out-of-school time youth arts programs that were defined in the Wallace Foundation’s report, “Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs from Urban Youth and Other Experts”—which happened to be released while we were doing our research.

Results from our research were analyzed to identify critical issues facing the field and the final report, “Setting the Agenda,” helped us to organize the Summit into five key imperatives*: (1)Building Collective Impact to Improve Youth Outcomes, (2) Contributing to Community Development, (3) Facilitating Social Change and Social Justice, (4) Documenting and Communicating Program Impact, and (5) Funding and Sustainability. At the Summit, delegates worked in caucuses based on these priorities and were charged with refining them.

You can download the final agenda here.

“Setting the Agenda” helped us to better understand the CYD field and to identify key priorities for action.

In short, it helped us get organized.  We’re beginning to see the creative sparks in CYD programs across the country build into a coordinated and powerful national movement.

* The five imperatives around which the Summit was organized were narrowed down from a larger list of nine. The other four imperatives that surfaced from the research were: Engaging and Supporting Program Alumni, Evaluation and Research, Responding and Staying Relevant in Changing Times, and Building Structures and Networks for Connecting and Collaborating as a Creative Youth Development Field. Through the national survey, CYD leaders—youth and adults—ranked their five top imperatives. While these four didn’t make it into the current agenda, it’s important that we not lose sight of their importance. 

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