Building Community and Making Connections in Denver

Posted by Ms. Lauren S. Hess, Jun 29, 2018 0 comments

The 2018 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention was as stimulating as ever!

One of the perks of being on the Arts Education Advisory Council is the opportunity to go on site visits to places that offer interesting arts education programs before Convention begins. This year we had the chance to visit Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA) and observe students in the artmaking process. DAVA works with students from ages 3-17 on building 21st century life skills. We also had a tour of the Aurora Arts District and had the incredible treat of observing a dance rehearsal with members of the Kim Robards Dance Studio. A group of professional dancers were remounting a work they had performed to honor those that were killed or injured in the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting. The work was intense, emotional, and a true artistic achievement. It made me connect with difficult emotions.

Over the years I have attended several Americans for the Arts conferences and I am always impressed by the number and variety of attendees who gather to discuss the impact of the arts in our communities. More than 1,000 people traveled to the beautiful city of Denver to discuss the trends of equity and inclusion across all sectors, how the arts unite cities, advocacy and grantmaking, as well as the role of the arts in aging and coping with trauma. The list of topics covered seems almost endless!

Preconference sessions were held in Public Art in Times of Change, Pursuing Cultural Equity in Local Arts Agencies, and Creative Youth Development. As an arts educator, I was interested in learning about the growing field of Creative Youth Development (CYD). The highpoint for me was hearing from the young people who attended the preconference sessions.

The preconference began with a keynote from Samantha Joseph, a recent high school graduate who was passionate, articulate, and insightful about the impact the Newark Museum’s Explorers Program played in her development. It is programs like this that invest time and resources to help students discover career opportunities, learn how to tackle college applications, and develop the necessary life skills of communication and creative problem solving. Throughout the preconference, I had the opportunity to interact with other youth in attendance during smaller working sessions. I was impressed by the passion, knowledge, and vitality of the work that came out during our conversations.

Jeff Poulin, Americans for the Arts’ Arts Education Program Manager, provided some context to the CYD field by sharing data from the CYD survey that was completed by 993 organizations. Be on the lookout for the results of the field survey to be released by Americans for the Arts in July.

Some interesting data points include:

  • Many of the CYD programs are well established, with an average of 19 years in operation.
  • 57% of the organizations are urban, while 6-7% are rural.
  • Primary service recipients include 70% 7-12 year olds, 90% 13-17 years olds, and 72% are people of color.
  • Students who participate in programs more than 1 hour, but less than 4 hours, per week don’t have much longevity with a program; however, students who participate 4-6 times a week tend to stay for 6 years.

The dialogue in the CYD breakout sessions that I attended was highly charged. There was an urgent feel to the conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as program evaluation and how it ties to funders. Across the board, the biggest takeaway for me was to involve the youth you work with every step of the way. Let their voices be heard with program creation and development, as well as with marketing and social media, and even what the program evaluation might look like. As adults we think we know what’s best for our youth, but they have important ideas too. As we teach them to be creative thinkers, we need to trust them and be open to what they have to say.

For me Annual Convention is always thought provoking, challenging, fulfilling, a chance to experience art on a high level and connect with others who are passionate about their work. Next year we’ll be in Minneapolis … come join the conversation!

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