¡CityArts! Community AfterSchool Program
A factory building on the south side of Providence, Rhode Island, that once housed a jewelry-manufacturing operation is abuzz these days with a different kind of industry. On any given day, dozens of elementary and middle school children spend their free time painting, sculpting, writing plays, choreographing dances, and creating videos in this rehabilitated historic structure, now home to Providence ¡CityArts! for Youth. At this location, as well as at Providence public schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other sites around the community, the organization provides free after-school and summer classes to 500 students a year, from some of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
What’s apparent to anyone walking through the Broad Street building’s large, light-filled studios is the students’ “engagement in the process of creating art,” notes Executive Director Barbara Wong. It’s a striking choice of words because many who participate in ¡CityArts! also attend under-resourced schools that have some of the highest rates of absenteeism and “disengagement” in the state, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education.
¡CityArts! offers young people a chance to use out-of-school time to “reset the day,” allowing them to build new friendships and alter perceptions of who they are and what they’re capable of, Wong explains.
With a wide range of classes to choose from, young people can find art forms that are the best fit. The classes are small, and skilled teaching artists guide participants through the creative process, while teaching them how to learn. What ¡CityArts! can do for kids, Wong asserts, “is give them those habits of inquiry so that when they’re in the classroom, they know how to ask questions, how to participate in discussions, and how to take a leadership role within their class settings.”
Many students attend ¡CityArts! classes four or five days a week. They’re drawn to the sense of belonging, as well as to the opportunity to find their voice and identify their strengths through the arts. As one 10-year-old put it, “[¡CityArts!] helped me discover all of the hidden things inside me that I didn’t know.”
These are arts classes with a difference—“arts and…” instruction. Whether it is music, art, or theater, the class is a chance to learn how to learn: how to listen, discuss, take notes, observe, collaborate, and, chiefly, become someone who has the power to generate new ideas and understandings.Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf Arts Education Researcher and Policy Analyst, excerpt from an analysis of the ¡CityArts! Program