This study by Research for Action and McClanahan Associates finds that a large, national, multidisciplinary, youth-serving organization can set up high-quality arts programs, the likes of which one would normally find in smaller, more specialized organizations.
The study explores the efforts of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), a federation of more than 4,000 clubhouses around the country, in the first three years of Wallace’s Youth Arts Initiative. The initiative is based on Something to Say, a 2013 study of successful arts-focused organizations that identified 10 principles their programs appear to share. BGCA, the main grantee in the initiative, is working to determine whether a much larger, generalist organization can use Something to Say’s principles to establish high-quality arts programs of its own.
BGCA introduced arts programs in clubhouses in three Midwestern cities: Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis., and nearby St. Cloud, Minn. These clubhouses worked to implement each of the Something to Say principles, hiring professional teaching artists, establishing dedicated studios and planning for high-profile culminating events, among other activities. Three years later, researchers found that each of the new programs met all the Something to Say principles. Among their achievements:
- Ninety-six to 100 percent of participants agreed that the professional teaching artists were very good at the art forms they taught.
- Ninety-five to 100 percent agreed that the teaching artist expected them to do their best.
- Eighty-six to 98 percent reported that studios made them excited about the art.
- Eighty-nine to 97 percent felt safe in class.
- Every class had held a culminating event, many of them public, by spring 2016.
These successes required significant support from the national BGCA office, the study finds. They also required clubhouses to overcome a number of hurdles along the way. For example:
- Teaching artists often lacked experience in youth development and required significant training and support.
- Dedicated art studios challenged clubs’ usual practice of sharing spaces among several different types of programs.
- New programs required more attention from club leaders than typical BGCA programs.
- The infusion of restricted Wallace funds created some tensions between the new, well-funded arts programs and existing programs that operate on shoestring budgets.
BGCA managed to meet these challenges, the report finds. The organization is now using lessons learned from the experience to expand the effort to more clubhouses and bring the arts to larger numbers of young people.