The Essential Role of Youth Leadership in Arts Education Advocacy
This post is part of our “Broadening and Diversifying the Leadership Pipeline” blog salon for National Arts in Education Week 2018.
In Fall 2017, the Baltimore City Public School district, in partnership with local nonprofit Arts Every Day, launched the Baltimore Arts Education Initiative to address more than a decade of decline in arts education.
Advocates knew the realities—a student might begin studying General Music in Elementary School and never have a music class again. Another student might take Visual Art 100 in high school but have no option for advanced courses to prepare them for college or career. Thanks to the ambitious leadership of the Baltimore City Public School district and the collaboration of over 100 arts partners, educators, and district and city leaders, the Baltimore Arts Education Initiative resulted in the 2017 Arts Education Strategic Plan.
As organizers, we knew barriers to access would be identified, recommendations debated, data charts created; but what did inconsistent arts access feel like to students? To understand the issue from every angle, Arts Every Day worked with Robert W. Deutsch Social Design Fellow Denise Brown to create a community listening session to be facilitated by Baltimore City high school students.
In partnership with the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA) Youth Arts Council, student leaders facilitated six listening sessions across the city. Comprised of junior and senior high school students, the Youth Arts Council members received an honorarium in recognition of their leadership as they developed expertise in explaining arts data, policy, and the budgeting process. Listening session participants oftentimes included a tricky mix of long-time arts advocates, parents, community members, and student peers. As facilitators, Youth Arts Council members became adept at making the message relevant to the audience.
Youth Arts Council members also played an active role as committee members working alongside adult members of the Initiative, debating plan language and making recommendations. From radio interviews and events to meetings big and small, the Council members brought passion, expertise, and inspiration. In each setting Council members brought unique lived perspectives on the implications of decisions made at the federal, state, and city levels.
Here is what Youth Arts Council Member and recent Baltimore City College graduate Alexandra Grayson had to say about her experience: “The student population is a very large one—and our voices, in numbers, have the ability to lead to swift progress. Historically, student voice has been integral in effecting change. Students just need to be empowered and given the platform to do so. This is exactly why programs such as the Youth Arts Council and partnerships like the one between the Council and the Baltimore Arts Education Initiative are essential.
“During the listening sessions, I was able to hear about the meaningful experiences that others have had in their arts classes, spanning from first graders to senior citizens. My personal experience working with leaders in arts education in Baltimore forced me to reflect on the deep impact my arts education has had on my life and the lives of my classmates. It taught me that there is both power and leadership in sharing one’s story.
“My experience as a member of the Youth Arts Council showed me the importance of youth having a direct seat at the table making decisions, especially when it comes to issues directly impacting us as youth. We are more than capable of serving as leaders, and—as the people who are experiencing the education system at present—our leadership is absolutely essential.”
About Arts Every Day and the Baltimore Arts Education Initiative
The Baltimore Arts Education Initiative was supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and the generous support of the T. Rowe Price Foundation. Serving as the backbone organization for the Baltimore Arts Education Initiative, Arts Every Day (AED) is proud to be a driving force in building a Baltimore City that values public education through art, creativity and culture. AED was founded in 2005 as part of Ford Foundation's Arts Integration and Education Reform Initiative to support student access to arts in Baltimore City.