Guided by the question of how can we foster creative capacity in our children?, the Sam Francis Foundation recently hosted a roundtable discussion at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to surface new perspectives on nurturing creativity in learning.
Although some familiar themes emerged in our conversation—the importance of material resources, access to mentorship, and the necessity of safe spaces in which to create—one aspect brought to light was especially compelling: participatory creativity.
The group wrestled with the ways in which popular notions of creativity (ie. the “lone genius”) create unintended barriers for participation for many young people. In response to this dilemma, Project Zero researcher and creativity scholar Edward Clapp argued that we should move away from an individually-based understanding of creativity toward a participatory understanding of creativity:
Maintaining an individual orientation towards creativity is harmful to young people in a few different ways. First, it suggests that some people are more or less creative than others, or that some people are creative whereas other people aren’t. This misconception puts students on false career tracks that don’t take advantage of their potential… in contemporary workplaces, we don’t bring lone geniuses together to solve complex problems, we bring teams of people together to solve problems. If we think of creativity in terms of ideas rather than individuals, we open up the possibility for multiple people with many abilities and perspectives to participate in the creative process.
Reframing our understanding of creativity as a social and distributed process, Clapp argues, is a necessary first step in ensuring that a greater number of students can access creative learning experiences and develop their creativity.
Given MCC’s commitment to ensuring that a greater number of our young people have access to creative youth development opportunities, we’re excited by this line of thinking and how participatory approaches to creativity may increase equity throughout the field of creative youth development.
Does this idea of a Participatory Understanding of Creativity resonate with you/your work?
Last week, a crowd of nearly three hundred joined us at Artist for Humanity’s EpiCenter as we announced the launch of SerHacer, MCC’s newest grant program supporting creative youth development. SerHacer (To Make, To Be) will provide pilot grants, instruments, and technical support to the following youth music programs across Massachusetts:
- Berkshire Children and Families, a social service agency based in Pittsfield. Its Kids 4 Harmony program meets after school each day at Morningside Community School.
- El Sistema at Conservatory Lab, a Dorchester charter school that provides extended day learning that includes 15 hours of music each week.
- Bridge Boston Charter School, founded just three years ago and growing one grade per year at which every student makes music every day.
- Worcester Chamber Music Society, operates an afterschool program known as Neighborhood Strings in Worcester.
- Josiah Quincy School Orchestra Program, a Boston Public School, which offers an hour and a half of music, before and during the school day.
- MusiConnects in Mattapan, home of the Boston Public Quartet, which works afterschool with students who would not otherwise have access to music education.
- El Sistema Somerville, an afterschool program at the East Somerville Community School that is also supported by city government.
- Also three organizations will receive planning grants to explore new programming: Cape Conservatory in Hyannis; Boston Conservatory, which is working to develop a choral program for young people on the autistic spectrum; and Berkshire Children and Families, which will expand its work to North Adams next year.
State Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg congratulated our grantees, and called SerHacer “another innovation for Massachusetts that will help our young people lead more active civic lives and discover their own potential.” Picking up on this thread, Robert Lynch, CEO at Americans for the Arts underscored the value of the arts, saying that, “kids today need the arts. They need the arts for better living, better academics and test scores, and for better coping with all of life’s challenges.”
To better understand the connections between musical studies and essential learning skills, SerHacer will also fund new research led by Ellen Winner and Sara Cordes at Boston College. Building upon a base of similar studies that have enhanced our understanding of the role of arts in youth development, this study will examine the strengthening of skills such as focus, planning, and problem-solving—skills that are crucial to success in and out of school.
See the Full Press Release.
The growing, national collective action around the emerging field of creative youth development continued last week at the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s conference.
Local and national partners reflected on the ways in which we can each support youth-centered programs in the arts, sciences, and humanities while also building capacity as a field—an imperative from the National Summit on Creative Youth Development hosted by MCC earlier this year.
As we tackled questions such as How might we capitalize on the strengths of individual leaders and programs, and How might joint efforts better serve youth?, the Guild’s Executive Director Jonathan Herman reminded us of the many creative youth development accomplishments that have unfolded this year:
- Subsequent Conference Presentations/ Professional Development
And, First Lady Michelle Obama has adopted the term creative youth development when speaking about this work.
We’d like to hear from you: What are some accomplishments from your creative youth development work in 2014?
Earlier this month, First Lady Michelle Obama presented Project STEP (String Training and Education Program) student Ajani Boyd and Executive Director Mary Jaffee the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program (NAHYP ) Award on behalf of the entire Project STEP community.
Project STEP received the award for its rigorous, comprehensive, year-round classical string training program for underrepresented minorities. The NAHYP Award recognizes the country’s 12 best creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. The awardees—chosen from a national pool of more than 350 nominations and 50 finalists—are also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.
First presented in 1998, the NAHYP Award is the signature program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The awards are presented annually in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
From the NAHYP web site:
Project STEP seeks to increase diversity in professional classical music by tooling students, primarily from underrepresented groups, to compete and excel in that realm. So, nearly every Saturday during the school year, Project STEP brings several dozen students, mostly Black and Latino, to Boston’s august Symphony Hall. Toting violins, violas, cellos, and double basses, these students have arrived for lessons with some of the best classical musicians in the Boston area. Throughout this extraordinary 12-year-long program, these young musicians will receive what has been called a “world-class arts learning opportunity,” one designed to change the course of these young people’s lives, while changing the classical music industry.
The middle-school aged filmmakers in Raw Art Works‘ Real to Reel program have created a fantastic, shot-for-shot, gender-reversed remake of the trailer for Ghostbusters (1984):
“They made their costumes by hand. Everything you see is 100 percent them,” said Chris Gaines, director of the Real to Reel Film School in Lynn, MA.
A full write-up about this project also appeared in Yahoo Movies.
Please join the Massachusetts Cultural Council at 3pm on Monday, December 1st at Artists for Humanity EpiCenter for an exciting event to launch our new creative youth development initiative and celebrate the ongoing work of our sector’s role in helping young people achieve their full potential.
The event will feature the launch of MCC’s new music initiative, SerHacer, and will feature the sneak preview of a powerful new documentary film about El Sistema in the United States. The film’s director, Jamie Bernstein, will join us to discuss the documentary, and how it continues the work of her father, the legendary Leonard Bernstein, to bring the power and joy of music to young people.
Building upon MCC’s nationally renowned YouthReach Initiative, SerHacer (To Be, To Make) is the first public program in the U.S. to support work inspired by El Sistema. Begun in Venezuela and now in dozens of countries worldwide, the El Sistema model supports ensemble music making to help children improve academic performance and develop valuable leadership skills that carry over to school, work, and life. Through grants, technical support, and services to schools and afterschool music programs, MCC will welcome our new grantees into an exciting national conversation around creative youth development.
We will also be joined by a group of state and national leaders in the arts and arts education: Bob Lynch, CEO, Americans for the Arts; Jonathan Herman, Executive Director, National Guild for Community Arts Education; Traci Slater-Rigaud, Director, National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Awards; Matt Wilson, Executive Director, MASSCreative; Susan Rodgerson, Executive Director, Artists for Humanity; state and local elected officials; leaders and young people from YouthReach programs & other education partners in the arts, humanities, and sciences.
Please RSVP by Friday, November 21st.
In conjunction with National Arts Education week this week, Americans for the Arts (AFTA) is hosting a weeklong blog salon dedicated to exploring important next steps for the emerging creative youth development sector. Throughout the week AFTA’s Arts Education blog will highlight issues related to research, programming, evaluation, funding, and advocacy, and will explore the insights and puzzles presented from leading voices in the field. MCC’s own Erik Holmgren kicked off the series by making the case for investing in creative youth development and articulated a number of the tangible benefits — educational, social, and economic—that derive from investing in youth through the work of this sector.
Follow the conversation throughout the week and contribute your thoughts via AFTA’s blog or on Twitter (using the hashtag #creativeyouthdevelopment). Happy National Arts Education week!
Every young person that goes through Lowell Leaders in Stewardship has the right to say, “I am a scientist.” In fact, they are encouraged to do so. From raising snapping turtles in the classroom to monitoring water quality in local rivers, young people are learning what being a scientist means. Gwen Kozlowski, Stewardship & Education Manager of the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, speaks of a participant who surprised the team while working on a tree-planting project. Gwen said, “The young man’s mouth ran a mile a minute and we had thought anything we said went in one ear and out the other. But we were blown away when he said at the end of the 10-week session that watching our tree had made him look around and watch the leaves on his dad’s tree open. He had never realized how fast they grew! This small observation study had transcended other places in his life and opened his eyes to the amazing sights of spring.”
The Lowell Leaders in Stewardship programs offers a place for students to expand science learning in different ways than occur within the school day. They are presented with hands- on experiences. They are able to develop their own project ideas and then complete them. The impacts, however, go beyond science learning. They grow and learn how to become leaders and how to feel like they are making a difference in their community when participating in stewardship activities. This experience can expand their visions of what might be possible for them. Kris Scopinich, Education Director at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, shared a story of young girl in the program who was not planning on attending college. This young woman was working in the field one day with her group, studying water quality in a local river when she told a staff member that she thought that maybe she wanted to do this in college. She said she really enjoyed what she was doing. She was encouraged by the staff to pursue this dream. She learned that she is capable of being a scientist and her possibilities are endless. She changed her initial plan to going to school for environmental science.
According to Gwen, “The most rewarding aspect of the Lowell Leaders in Stewardship Program is the connection young people make to the Lowell community and other students. Friendships form and deepen through the meaningful work that is completed. Our group has often been called a ‘family’.” This is one of the key aspects to the success of creative youth development programs. This sort of feeling can be achieved using many mediums, so long as the program is safe, welcoming, inspiring, and provides a place of learning, growth, and connection. The Lowell Leaders in Stewardship program embodies all of these aspects through environmental studies and giving young people the skills and confidence to declare, “I am a scientist, and I am a valuable citizen of Lowell.”
Lowell Leaders in Stewardship is a program of the Mass. Audubon Society in partnership with Lowell Parks and Conversation Trust and the Lowell Public Schools. This post is an excerpt from a longer case study by Jenny Beers, a student at Mass. College of Liberal Arts.
Fifty organizations from across the country have just been recognized as 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalists by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and its cultural partners – the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services –for their work in providing excellent out-of-school arts and humanities learning opportunities to young people.
Congratulations to the three Massachusetts programs included in the list:
The 10 winners, selected from this list of 50, are expected to be announced at a White House ceremony some time this fall.
As the YouthReach Initiative winds up its 20th anniversary, Seen & Heard asked Donna Folan, cofounder of Access to Theatre, a program of Partners for Youth with Disabilities, to reflect on the impact of the state’s investment and her aspirations for the initiative going forward.
For 20 years, Access to Theater (ATT) has provided young people with fully accessible afterschool workshops, summer institutes, one-to-one mentor pairings, peer leadership opportunities, and countless performances for the Boston area community. ATT has also provided opportunities to work with artists with and without disabilities as mentors and collaborators. YouthReach was ATT’s first and only consistent annual funder for those 20 years. It is hard to image the program’s long success without this consistent support.
YouthReach serves as the strongest model of how to create and support youth-driven programming. The initiative has supported innumerable opportunities for young people to discover personal expression, and has challenged its grantees to maintain the highest standards of excellence in programming. At the same time, the program has been responsive to adapting to the needs of its grantees. YouthReach funding has helped to build a community of practice among a diverse set of programs across the state. As a result, organizations have been able to develop programs that are safe and nurturing environments for the people they serve. In many cases I believe YouthReach has saved lives with their support of these safe-havens for vulnerable young people.
In the 20 years to come, it is my hope that arts and cultural programs receive the true respect they deserve. I encourage the MCC to help YouthReach-funded organizations continue to develop a deeper understanding of physical and programmatic accessibility and how it can be integrated into each individual program.
YouthReach programs have produced many talented and knowledgeable emerging artists. It is important now to have places for these young artists to rehearse and collaborate as they take the lessons learned to the next level. Our communities and society will ultimately benefit from the advancement of these experienced artists, thanks to YouthReach and their partners past, present, and future.
Donna Folan is the Artistic Director of Until Tomorrow Productions. She was cofounder and Artistic Director of Access to Theatre, a program of Partners for Youth with Disabilities, which provides young people with disabilities and those without disabilities the opportunity to come together to create original theater and other forms of art that reflect their individual and collective viewpoints.