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Creative Youth Development Serves Our Most Vulnerable

Theater Offensive performance. Photo by Aram Boghosian.
Theater Offensive performance. Photo by Aram Boghosian.

Creative Youth Development (CYD) programs serve some of the most vulnerable youth in Massachusetts. Often these are young people for whom home and school have not been places of support but, instead, the source of trauma in their lives. During the current pandemic, however, many of these youth are sheltered, or trapped, in place in these homes. Early on, when CYD organizations were striving to stay connected to young people, it became very clear that they many were not engaging with arts, humanities, or interpretive science programs that had been such a vibrant part of their lives. They were receding into themselves as a self-preservation mechanism while we as a field were trying to draw them out. This was a simple reminder of something we all know: Young people, all people, need to have their basic needs met – food security, housing, and health – before they can engage fully and creatively.

In response to their community’s dire needs, many CYD organizations – in addition to providing high-quality cultural experiences – became a connector to vital resources in the community including shelters, food pantries, and community health offerings. In East Boston, Zumix received nearly 50 requests for basic resources in the first weeks of the crisis, with the majority in search of food and rent money. Further still, CYD organizations took an active role in providing these necessities. The New Bedford Whaling Museum actively sought out and supported housing for CYD alumni and families when colleges closed and families lost housing. In Worcester, the Neighborhood Strings program is working with several immigrant families who have lost employment, or have parents in the medical field, to find adequate food and child care to cope with their current situations.

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed more fully what Creative Youth Development organizations are – vital components of the health and healing of people and communities. In places disproportionately affected by this disease and by systemic inequity, these organizations are trusted sources of balance. They are vital to the health and wellness of young people, families, and communities throughout the Massachusetts. They also work with some of the finest artists in the Commonwealth, many of whom just happened to be under 20 years of age.

We recognize these challenges facing our communities along with the contributions that these young people make to the cultural landscape of Massachusetts.

On April 29, our Council voted to allocate $475K in federal funding received from the NEA through the Federal CARES Act to support the 74 CYD programs currently funded through YouthReach and SerHacer. In addition to that funding, Mass Cultural Council staff have been convening weekly conversations online with youth, teaching artists, and the national CYD community to identify the promising practices that are being discovered in local communities around the country. By surfacing and sharing these practices widely, we aim to ensure that all of the CYD programs in the Commonwealth are in the best position possible to continue to positively impact youth, elevate their voices, and sustain their commitment through the current crisis and beyond.