Job Training in the Arts
Although middle school youth aren’t old enough to enter the job market, they’re not too young to begin learning job-related skills and behaviors. That’s part of the reason Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA), a community arts and creative youth-development organization in Aurora, Colorado, instituted its Job Training in the Arts program, aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds.
The program provides a safe, structured environment for youth living in this community, east of Denver, that’s challenged by poverty and crime. Students accepted into the program treat it as a “real job,” agreeing to arrive on time, collaborate on a series of projects in computer arts or studio arts, meet deadlines, and present their work at shows in DAVA’s gallery. In return, they receive a stipend for their participation.
Each year, DAVA sets an overarching theme—such as Cultural Connections or Building the Future—that provides a framework for the trainees’ projects. Using a process that mimics the project-development cycle in the professional world, students discuss the theme, research information, generate project ideas, produce artistic products, and mount an exhibition. For example, students involved in Building the Future used computer software to reimagine some of the community’s existing buildings and landscapes and then designed new structures that they thought the community needed, such as a center for new immigrants. Working artists serve as mentors throughout the process, but allow students plenty of latitude to explore possibilities.
On average, students stay with the program for two years. In addition to providing participants with a taste of the working world, the program’s fun, exploratory learning process helps students approach school differently. “A lot of times, the students who come to us have been told that they’re ‘not proficient,’ and they struggle with school. But here, with us, they feel a level of success that they can then take back into the classroom,” explains Executive Director Susan Jenson. In a program evaluation, 86 percent of the participants said they learned in new ways; 89 percent said they felt prepared to work in a job; and 86 percent said they felt better about the future. Plus, participants have shown a “significant” increase in their GPAs, notes Jenson.
At Downtown Aurora Visual Arts, I found the artist inside me, and I learned how to express myself. Now, I also know how to work together as part of a team and to be more open to new people and ideas.Jenifer age 14, participant, Downtown Aurora Visual Arts