Arts Education Program for Youth
Every year, Seattle’s Arts Corps puts on a showcase for students who participate in the organization’s Arts Education Program for Youth. But it’s more than a display of skills young people have acquired in performance, visual arts, and media classes held at sites around the city. As a shy young rapper overcomes his fear and delivers his poem in front of the audience, as members of a vocal group sing with deep conviction and heart, as a middle-school boy executes a breathtaking break-dancing move, it is also a showcase of lives that—in ways large and small—are being transformed through the arts.
Arts Corps was founded 12 years ago in response to declining arts education opportunities in the public schools in Seattle and King County, Washington—declines that have disproportionately affected young people living in lower-income neighborhoods.
To address that inequity, the organization offers free arts programs at 35 partnering schools, community centers, and affordable housing facilities, mainly in low-income communities of color. (Through a separate program, Arts Corps also places resident teaching artists in classrooms during the school day.) Arts Corps’ instructors are experts not only in their disciplines, but also in “building community and meeting young people where they’re really at,” skills that are essential to elicit trust and bring forth creative abilities that are often untapped by the standard school curriculum, says Program Director Lara Davis. Last year, approximately 2,000 young people participated in Arts Corps’ out-of-school programs, which last a minimum of eight weeks. Many participants continue with the program for years.
As young people try on theatrical characters, experiment with dance moves, or explore the power of the spoken word, they learn to to imagine new possibilities, think critically, take healthy risks, reflect, and persist—skills that leading educators believe form the foundation for academic and professional success in the 21st century. And, as Arts Corps unlocks young people’s abilities to imagine and reach for more vibrant futures, the benefits are felt by the whole community. “It contributes to making a shift in the world in a real way,” Davis asserts.
Years ago, I heard a phrase that I thought at first must be an overstatement: ‘Art saves lives.’ It’s not an overstatement. Without Arts Corps, too many children will have lost the opportunity to develop the confidence and talent to compete in our increasingly complex world.Jim Kelly Executive Director, 4Culture, Seattle, WA