Coming Up Taller

This report describes how local artists and educators help turn around the lives of young people and identifies the common characteristics of effective arts and humanities programs.  Program Profiles describe more than 200 afterschool, weekend, and summer programs contained within the report.

Individual programs described in this study take place in many locations in their communities.  Children, artists, and scholars come together at cultural centers, museums, libraries, performing arts centers, and arts schools. Arts and humanities programs also are based at public radio and television stations, parks and recreation centers, churches, public housing complexes, teen centers, settlement houses, and Boys and Girls Clubs.

The President's Committee for the Arts and Humanities, with Americans for the Arts, produced this report to identify community programs in the arts and the humanities that reach at-risk children and youth and to describe the principles and practices that make these programs effective.

Summary of Findings
Coming Up Taller calls attention to the variety and vitality of promising arts and humanities programs for children and youth.  It also describes common characteristics that these programs share.

  1. Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of these programs is their ability to take full advantage of the capacity of the arts and the humanities to engage students. Beginning with this engagement, programs impart new skills and encourage new perspectives that begin to transform the lives of at-risk children and youth.
  2. Community arts and humanities programs provide crucial "building blocks" for children's healthy development. These programs:
    • Create safe places for children and youth where they can develop constructive relationships with their peers.
    • Offer small classes with opportunities for youth to develop close, interactive relationships with adults.
    • Place a premium on giving youth a chance to succeed as a way to build their sense of worth and achievement.
    • Use innovative teaching strategies such as hands-on learning, apprenticeships, and technology, often giving youth concrete job skills.
    • Emphasize excellence and expose children to quality staff and programming.
    • Build on what youth value and understand and encourage voluntary participation.
    • Establish clear expectations and reward progress.
    • Maintain sustained, regular programs upon which children can count and provide youth with opportunities to be valued community members.
  3. The programs not only provide youth with experience in the arts and the humanities, but also deliver needed support services. While establishing independent relationships with participants, they include and work with parents.
  4. These arts and humanities programs teach youth how to navigate other networks and advocate for youth with other community institutions.
  5. No two programs are alike. Each program reflects its creator's mission and its community's specific circumstances. The individuality of each program is testimony to this field's ingenuity.
  6. The arts and humanities programs in this report are located primarily in large cities. Many of them were created in the mid-1980s.  Most programs operate with diverse but limited staff and on small budgets.  Technical assistance efforts, perhaps supported by the corporate sector, community foundations, or local arts and humanities councils, are needed to strengthen their administrative and fund-raising capabilities.
  7. Most program staff are trained, primarily by more experienced program personnel. Only one-third of the programs provide ongoing training.  Initiatives should be developed to enhance training and staff opportunities.  For example, staff could learn from and train at other programs.  Travel grants, paid sabbaticals, staff mentorship programs, and performance exchanges could enrich existing programs.
  8. Partnerships provide critical support, allowing limited staff to obtain much-needed resources. Most community arts and humanities programs described in this report were initiated by arts or humanities organizations. However, they operate in partnerships with other institutions such as schools, universities, youth organizations, churches, businesses, and health, housing, and social service agencies. Strategies to improve linkages among cultural programs and other community institutions would enhance coordinated responses to interrelated problems.
  9. These arts and humanities programs provide vivid testimony on the difference they make in children's lives. These programs document their activities, assess program strengths and weaknesses, track the progress of individual participants, and compare their goals with actual practices. A few programs have documented, with some caveats, the positive correlation between program participation and cognitive development, interest in learning, motivation, organization, self-perception, and resiliency.
  10. With increased competition for fewer resources, the pressure to demonstrate results is increasing. However, assessment takes time and money: commodities in short supply in these programs. Community arts and humanities programs need financial support and guidance to develop assessment tools that measure impact and improve program practices.
  11. Ninety-five percent of the programs report that they have more than one source of funding; most programs report that their donors are local. City government supports 58 percent of the programs; local foundations provide support to 55 percent; local corporations, to 50 percent; and individuals, to 40 percent.
  12. Government agencies, city, state, and federal, are the most common source of funds, though most programs receive significant private contributions, including foundation grants. While 43 percent of the organizations have received or currently receive support from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, or Institute of Museum Services, many also receive funds from other federal departments, including the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor.
  13. These community programs face their greatest challenge as potential government funding cuts make their financial futures more tenuous. While private foundations cannot assume total responsibility, their leadership and decisions are pivotal. Strategies for building support, including sustained general support, as well as identifying and generating new resources are urgently needed.

How the Report was Done
The arts and the humanities programs examined in this study were identified by a broad range of organizations and agencies: the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the American Association of Museums, Project CO-Arts at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Recreation and Parks Association, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum Services, and approximately 90 other public and private agencies that work with youth. These agencies include arts organizations; national arts and humanities service groups; national networks of community institutions such as Boys and Girls Clubs, libraries, museums, and parks; national youth and social service agencies; foundations; and government agencies. Each of the 600 identified programs was screened to select those working primarily with at-risk children, offering sustained arts and humanities programs outside of the school curriculum. In addition, the selected programs focus on youth development through the arts and the humanities as one of their expressed goals.

Staff at the 218 programs that met these criteria were interviewed at length, providing the basis for the program profiles in Chapter Six. The interviews collected the following information:

  • Why a program was created
  • What arts and humanities activities are offered
  • What community conditions and resources exist
  • Who the program serves
  • How services are delivered
  • Whether staff, including artists and scholars, are trained
  • Who the program's partners and supporters are
  • What the impact is on participants
  • How effectiveness is measured

The conclusions about what makes programs effective are based on these interviews and on visits to nine sites:

  • The Artists Collective, Inc., Hartford, Connecticut
  • Educational Video Center, New York, New York
  • Experimental Gallery: Arts Program for Incarcerated Youth, Washington State Historical Society, Capital Museum, Olympia, Washington
  • The 52nd Street Project, New York, New York
  • Japantown Art and Media Workshop, San Francisco, California
  • Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment Program, Settlement Music School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Read With Me: Teen Parent Project, Vermont Council on the Humanities, Morrisville, Vermont
  • Teen Project, Center for Contemporary Arts of Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Working Classroom, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico

These programs have existed from 2 to 26 years and accumulated 99 years of experience. Seven of the nine have received or currently receive support from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, or the Institute of Museum Services. They operate in both urban and rural areas, serving youth as demographically diverse as the U.S. population. Some focus their programs on specific disciplines, such as graphic design or literature; others offer a variety of disciplines. The humanities represent the core of one program and are integrated into several others, especially those that focus on a specific culture in American society.

Organization of the Report
This report is structured in six chapters.

  1. A Changed Environment for Children describes the context in which these programs operate, presenting both disheartening statistics and the evidence of resiliency that children can display in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
  2. Culture Counts reviews the value of the arts and the humanities for youth. It suggests that arts and humanities programs are crucial components of any community strategy that seeks to improve the lives of children and youth.
  3. Transforming Lives provides an overview of the highly varied cultural programs surveyed for this report.
  4. A Delicate Balance summarizes the principles, policies, and practices found in promising programs.
  5. Looking Ahead recommends continued examination of these programs and discusses their need for increased technical and financial support.
  6. Two Hundred Plus contains the 218 individual profiles of arts and humanities programs for children and youth at-risk.

Read the full report