highlights from key national research on arts education

Champions of Change: Studies

Artistic Talent Development for Urban Youth: The Promise and the Challenge

Barry Oreck, Susan Baum, Heather McCartney
National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented
University of Connecticut, Storrs

Born of the notion that the way to discover artistic talent and giftedness in students was to treat all students as if they were gifted and talented by offering them instruction, the Young Talent program then offers extra instruction and opportunity to those disadvantaged students who have shown, as seen in their initial experiences with arts instruction, that they are potentially talented and motivated beyond the normal level.

Researchers followed 23 children and young adults, aged 10-26, in three different stages of talent development in music and dance: elementary; intermediate; and high school, college, or professional. Over half of those studied had been labeled "at-risk" for school failure at one point or another due to poor grades, absences, behavioral, or family issues. "The effect of sustained study in an art form on these talented young people provides powerful evidence for the crucial role of arts education in helping students achieve their educational and personal potential." (p.64)

Researchers used interviews, observations, and academic data and saw that "common elements emerged across ages and stages of development." (p.64) The report offers case studies from students in each of the three developmental stages studied and quotes from other students and parents. (p.66-76)

Some of the findings from the report include:

  • Various disciplined attitudes and behaviors were observed in under-privileged students who were given instruction in an art discipline.  The effects of students' involvement with the arts were tracked over time. These effects included artistic, academic, and personal achievement, and states of mind. Common characteristics across all age groups (elementary through adult) were: resilience, self-regulation, (constructive) identity, and the ability to experience flow (total focus and absorption in a task). (p.69)
  • The opportunity to be instructed in music or dance disciplines offered a variety of compelling social benefits for students in addition to the knowledge and skill of an art. For some of the under-privileged students offered this opportunity to be treated as gifted and talented, the participation in the art form was an emotional safe haven from family turmoil. The art forms were an assimilation tool for recent immigrants and other new kids. Achievement in the art and friendships built in that process bolstered students as they entered new situations of various kinds. Performances brought the broader community together in pride. Horizons were broadened through access to classes at studios and trips to theaters outside of students' immediate neighborhoods and offered a glimpse of the broader cultural world. "Ultimately the skills and discipline students gained, the bonds they formed with peers and adults, and the rewards they received through instruction and performing fueled their talent development journey and helped most achieve success both in and outside of school." (p.77-78)

Artistic Talent Development for Urban Youth: The Promise and the Challenge is one of seven major studies compiled in Champions of Change produced by the national Arts Education Partnership, the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the GE Fund, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.