Impact of Arts Programs
Arts programs—music, theater, dance, and visual art—make a positive difference for many children across socio-economic lines, but the arts play a special role in sparking new growth and healing for those kids living in communities plagued by poverty and violence. Arts programs help divert at-risk young people from gangs, drugs, and the juvenile justice system while reducing truancy, improving academic performance, and building self-discipline, communication, and job skills. Equally as important, artistic expression can help at-risk children and teens see they have something positive and valuable to contribute to their community.
Preventing Gangs, Drug Use, and Violence
Adult supervision is often lacking in the lives of at-risk youths during non-school hours when they are most vulnerable to community violence and gang recruitment. Their participation in creative activities outside of school, directed by responsible adults, provides young people with a safe, constructive environment in which to spend their free time. Arts programs are successful at attracting, engaging, and retaining even the toughest kids because they give young people the chance to express themselves, perhaps for the first time, in a creative, positive way.Their creativity elicits much-needed positive feedback, along with the sense of accomplishment and success that comes with learning a new skill.
Improving Academic Performance
The growth and motivation that young people experience when they are involved in the arts extend to their academic experience by giving them a self-directed reason to go to and stay in school. The arts help many students with their academic skills by forging new patterns of thought and behavior. This is especially true for high-risk students, who often excel academically for the first time in an arts program. Cognitive and developmental benefits have been linked to involvement in the arts, including higher grades and scores on standardized tests, increased community service activity, lower drop-out rates, and higher rates of college enrollment.
Improving Communication Skills, Attitudes, and Behaviors
Kids involved in youth arts programs are better able to express anger appropriately, communicate more effectively with adults and their peers, and cooperate with others. They also tend to work better on tasks from start to finish, which is vital for both academic and professional success. Learning the steps to a dance, performing in a musical group, or completing a mural requires long hours of practice, focus, and perseverance. These components of self-discipline are critical for at-risk youth.
The stress children endure living in high-poverty, urban environments finds an outlet, and relief, through the arts. The symptoms they experience from their exposure to violence are alarmingly similar to post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by children living in actual war zones. Creative outlets like playing an instrument have been successful in helping these young people deal with the challenges of their lives.
One of the most challenging aspects of any youth program is the time and attention needed to make a lasting impact in the lives of young people. A key to growing a successful arts program is sparking and maintaining the interest of young people to draw in others through positive word-of-mouth. But this process happens gradually as young people experience the power of self-expression and positive validation. The Claretians are well-established and well-trusted in the at-risk, urban communities where they live and work as neighbors, enabling them to devote patience, time, and ongoing dedication to integrate their arts programs into the lives of young people. The credibility and trust the Claretians bring to their work are essential components of the growth and proven impact of their numerous arts programs.
Read more about tCI's impact through arts programs on our Impact Blog.