The findings reported here stem from a research project which ran between 1987 and 1998. The study centered on the question of what happens in nonschool youth organizations judged by local youth living in low-income neighborhoods as highly desirable places to spend their time. In sites across the United States, long waiting lists and oversubscribed programs attest to the fact that certain kinds of activities draw young people into these particular learning environments.
Drama programs of Boys and Girls clubs, video arts projects of museums, civic-sponsored choirs and grassroots visual arts studios find themselves unable to include everyone who wants to take part in the long hours of practice, tough travel and study schedules and heavy demand for technical knowledge that such groups require. Youth who want to join these groups come from multiple ethnic, linguistic, religious and national backgrounds. Participants range in age from 8 to early 20s; those on the older side of the spectrum grow into leadership roles at their organizations, in some cases taking on paid positions.
When schools in poor communities report high dropout rates, low attendance and student apathy, how can nonschool programs that generally operate with minimal resources and a tenuous grip on funding from year to year attract and sustain involvement by many of these same students?
Furthermore, what kind of quality in artistic pursuits can such programs possibly achieve when the young people who participate have had little or no training and few opportunities to attend world-class symphonic and choral concerts, dance and theatre performances, museum and gallery exhibitions or film festivals? Moreover, how can programs in disenfranchised neighborhoods attract professional artists to work with the young, particularly when such programs make no attempt to hide their social commitment to local communities?
The research project reported here was designed to address these questions by placing young, highly-trained anthropologists within selected communities to trace the evolution of organizations and the development of young people. Data collected give in-depth pictures at intervals over time of ways that use language as they plan, practice, perform and critique their arts.
Beyond the immediate work of their art, young people perform as workers in their organizations, playing roles from receptionist and archivist to travel coordinator, choreographer's assistant, group manager or stagehand. In addition to practicing their particular art form, young people spend time reading and writing numerous genres, from shot lists to organizational histories to dramatic scripts to gallery catalogues.
They perform mathematical tasks such as calculating travel costs and tracking time-codes for video editing. They engage in inquiries that include oral history interviewing or digging in city photographic archives. Project researchers kept track of the extent and range of all such activities as well as ways the youth spend their leisure time, find employment and manage their lives as students.
In order to locate these young people who participate in nonschool arts organizations within a national data base of students of a similar age, the research team asked over 100 of them to complete a section of questions used in a longitudinal national survey of secondary school students sponsored by the United States Department of Education. Comparison of participants within the nonschool arts organizations with students of the national sample provide answers to the questions: How do young people in these community organizations relate to the general American secondary school population? How do they match up along a range of risk factors and how do they compare in terms of academic achievement, leisure-time choices and self-judgements of their worth as planners, problem solvers and community members? (p. 2-3)
Living the Arts through Language + Learning: A Report on Community-Based Youth Organizations.
What Do Young People Learn in the Arts?
What Values from Work in the Arts Carry Over into General Learning?
What Features Do Effective Youth-Based Arts Organizations Share?
What Happens to Language in Arts Learning?
How Much Does It Cost to Enable Young People to Learn in the Arts?
About Americans for the Arts.