We’ve seen how creative expression lifts young people beyond poverty, disability, and other societal barriers here in Massachusetts and across the nation.
Today the movement for creative youth transcends national borders. Earlier this month, our neighbors to the south shared some of their insights on the transformative power of the arts in the lives young people at a Harvard University panel discussion.
“Social Development and the Arts in Latin America” was centered around lessons learned from El Sistema, the music education program founded by renowned Venezuelan economist and humanist José Antonio Abreu in 1975. The discussion was moderated by Harvard Business School Professor Tarun Khanna, co-author of a seminal case study on El Sistema.
Eduardo Méndez, Executive Director of El Sistema, noted that it was founded “as a social program, not a cultural program.” It aims not to produce great musicians, or even professional ones, but to nurture children and adolescents in an environment that combines strong social and emotional support, intellectual rigor, and aesthetic inspiration. Programs in more than 70 countries have now
adopted El Sistema principles of “inclusion, ensemble learning, and collective, committed pursuit of musical excellence,” according to Méndez.
But the discussion moved beyond El Sistema model and classical music to highlight the power of all arts disciplines to transform the lives of youth, particularly those living in poverty. Enrique Márquez is Director General of México’s Veracruz Institute of Culture, which has harnessed the time and energy of thousands of middle-class and wealthy volunteers to work with disadvantaged children and adolescents in programs that teach theater, music, dance, and the visual arts. The connections have broken down class barriers and built trust at a time when social isolation threatens to become an international epidemic, according to Márquez.
“The arts have this wonderful ability to bring people together,” he said. “Arts, even classical music, can be very inclusive.”
The Mass Cultural Council is committed to supporting creative youth through grants, initiatives, and advocacy. Through annual investment of more than $1.5 million in national-model programs alongside grants for new and emerging organizations, we support a generation of young people whose creativity and leadership will transform Massachusetts and its communities. This year, we have expanded our grant recipient pool to 74 programs through YouthReach and SerHacer, and will continue to support Amplify, the META Fellowship, and Johnson String Project. Mass Cultural Council is also a founding member of the Creative Youth Development National Partnership.
This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.
ON A RECENT AUGUST DAY, students gathered around a piano on a stage at Lawrence High School. They were rehearsing the forthcoming production of “West Side Story,” written by a composer born just a few blocks away almost exactly a century ago.
What would Leonard Bernstein make of these students singing and dancing their way through his mid-20th Century masterpiece? Do they understand the questions he asked about cultural identity and racial conflict in urban America, and do those questions have meaning for them in 21st Century Lawrence?
Would Lenny have seen in these young people a realization of his vision for music as a unique force for creative transcendence, personal transformation, and social justice?
We think he would be delighted. And we believe he would embrace new models of music education taking hold in Lawrence and other communities across Massachusetts and the nation—models that not only transmit a lifelong love of the arts, but foster vital skills and capacities in children, especially those facing poverty, trauma, and other obstacles. The educational process is led by skilled, caring educators who see creative youth not as problems to be fixed, but as lights to be illuminated. The model calls for young people themselves to play an active role in creating art and shaping their future not only through music, but across the arts, humanities, and sciences.
More than traditional arts and music education, this work is called creative youth development. It’s an intentional, holistic practice that fosters active creative expression alongside core social, emotional, and life skills. In supportive spaces, with guidance from skilled and compassionate teachers, children and adolescents immerse themselves in creative work: composing and performing music, producing and directing films, writing and staging new dramas, making and interpreting visual art. Youth learn and create in public, private, and charter schools; cultural institutions; YMCAs; Boys & Girls Clubs; and many other settings. They achieve high levels of artistic skill and a deeper knowledge of themselves and their cultural heritage. In turn, they become empowered to make meaningful changes in their communities.
Creative youth development has proven to be a particularly powerful force in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities, former industrial centers that have struggled to create new economic models in the 21st Century.
Lawrence was already an established gateway for immigrants when Bernstein was born there in August 1918 to Jewish-Ukrainian parents. They chased opportunity across the state, bringing their son to Boston Latin School and Harvard, laying the foundation for one of the great careers in American cultural history.
When Bernstein became music director of the New York Philharmonic, one of the most respected and coveted positions in classical music, his educational mission was to widen access to the arts to as many young people as possible via the mass medium of television. Many of today’s concert audience members will say that they got their start in loving orchestral music from watching Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on TV as children. To this day, his Young People’s Concerts are celebrated as one of the genre’s defining moments, their vibrancy and undiluted approach resonating with those who understand the potential of young people to learn and create, when given motivation, skills, and support.
Today Lawrence stands at the vanguard of our nation’s rapidly changing demographics. Nine of every 10 students in its public schools are Hispanic. More than seven in 10 speak Spanish as their primary language, and nearly as many live in economically disadvantaged homes.
Despite those challenges, Lawrence students are learning the universal language of music in new and exciting ways. In 2014, the Lawrence schools launched their first string orchestra program based on the El Sistema model, which employs music to empower generations of youth across the globe. The schools later hired the first district-wide orchestra director.
El Sistema Lawrence was intentionally woven into the school day to leverage parental support and school resources. The program actively recruits students as they enter high school. Students perform in winter and spring school concerts, along with pop-up performances in cafeterias, hallways, and other informal settings. El Sistema Lawrence is now developing pathways for peer mentors and student leaders who will shape the social and cultural goals of their ensembles.
Creative youth development was a nascent concept when Leonard Bernstein died in 1990. But we believe he would endorse its commitment to youth agency, equity, and civic engagement. And we suspect he would be pleased to know that a child born in Lawrence in 2018 would have an even greater chance to create a life filled with music and art than he did 100 years ago.
Jamie Bernstein is an author, broadcaster, filmmaker and concert narrator who travels extensively, speaking about music as well as about her father, Leonard Bernstein. Jamie’s film documentary, “Crescendo: the Power of Music” has won numerous prizes, and is now viewable on Netflix. Her memoir, Famous Father Girl, was published by HarperCollins in June. Anita Walker is the executive director of the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency, and founding member of the Creative Youth Development National Partnership.
National Arts in Education Week is a Congressionally-designated celebration of the transformative power of the arts in education. The field of arts education annually joins together to bring visibility to the cause, unify stakeholders with a shared message, and provide the tools and resources for local leaders to advance arts education in their communities. Find many ways to celebrate the week alongside 500+ other communities by visiting www.NationalArtsInEducationWeek.org for more information. Are you in for the celebration? If so, please fill out this form.
How CYD aligns with the priorities of allied youth sectors, including education, juvenile justice, and afterschool
Recommendations for advancing CYD in three strategic priority areas VISIBILITY & IMPACT: Documenting and Communicating Outcomes and Impact FUNDING: Expanding Pathways to Funding FIELD BUILDING: Professional Development, Networking, and Technical Assistance
On May 3, Mass Cultural Council partnered with 15 organizations across the state to bring youth voice to the Massachusetts State House, and celebrate the young leaders who are recipients of this year’s Amplify grants.
Framed by Andrine Pierre-Saint’s thrilling spoken word piece and introspective chamber music performance by Neighborhood Strings, the day brought Representatives Christine Barber, Paul Donato, and Jeffrey Sánchez to celebrate culture’s capacity to empower, elevate, and connect, magnified tenfold by the young performers, activists, and leaders present.
Amongst congratulations and applause, Rep. Sánchez said, ”To see you here and to see the power of what Mass Cultural Council is doing with state resources is dramatic to me… I see what it’s doing, it’s giving all of you a voice.”
The Creative Youth Development National Partnership, in concert with more than 650 cross-sector stakeholders nationally, is calling for all young people to have equitable access to opportunities to: realize their creative potential; live richer, fuller lives; and develop the critical learning and life skills they need to become active contributors to their communities.
Mass Cultural Council invites you to join us for a reception to celebrate Amplify, a grant program that invests directly in young people whose leadership and creative expression is driving social change in communities across the Commonwealth.
The event will take place on Thursday, May 3 at 4pm at the Massachusetts State House, Room 350. We will be joined by State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, other legislators, education and cultural nonprofit leaders.
Amplify grants support work by young people in the arts, sciences, or humanities that demonstrates their capacity to use creative expression to develop safe and thriving neighborhoods and communities.
Last month, Jessica Mele, Program Officer in Performing Arts at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, wrote a piece detailing the state of the national creative youth development field:
When you invite young people to the table, be prepared for some serious truth-telling.
This is what happened when I attended the creative youth development national stakeholder meeting in Boston this summer. Shoulder to shoulder with teachers of art, the humanities and science, we gathered to craft a policy agenda for a newly-defined field — creative youth development. CYD is a recently-coined term for a longstanding community of practice that intentionally integrates the arts, sciences and humanities with youth development principles, sparking young people’s creativity and building critical learning and life skills that they can carry into adulthood.
We were joined in the meeting by five students who gave us a much-needed reality check. They told us, “We hear a lot of teachers who work with youth say, ‘How can we help them be people?’ Well, we are people. We need tools to grow.” Creative youth development programs, they believe, can provide those tools. And that makes these programs different from schools.
CYD practitioners usually work outside of traditional school settings — in places like community centers, juvenile halls, at museums, wetlands and theaters. CYD sits at the intersection of many fields — education, youth development, arts, humanities and science. As a result, new ideas are hard to share among individuals and groups that aren’t always in regular contact, and strong program models often don’t get the recognition they deserve. But they exist in every state, in every county, in every corner of this country.
Mass Cultural Council invests more than $3 million annually in a range of programs that expand access to arts education in classrooms and beyond across the Commonwealth. We are a national leader in the growing, dynamic field of creative youth development. And with MASSCreative, Arts/Learning and others, we advocate for the arts in debates on education policy and funding.
“The arts foster success in school and after graduation; help students develop discipline and grit; grow their problem-solving skills; and challenge them to deeper thinking, more effective communication, and greater civic engagement,”
– Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, Co-Chair, Joint Committee on Education.
We encourage our partners to use this week to share your stories about why arts education matters to you and the young people in your community. Please join the celebration by:
Sharing your story: This year, we want to highlight the impact of arts education in your life. Use #BecauseOfArtsEd on social media and tell us how Arts Ed impacts your life by tagging @MassCultural. You can also use #ArtsEdWeek.
Learning more: Check out this toolkit to find a series of ways to join in the national celebration.