It’s intriguing to see how intuitively Dan O’Neil dives into the 5-year evaluation by the Urban Institute to outline the confluence of circumstances that too many of our teens have come to accept as normal – poverty, danger, and insecurity. The research documents systems that are broken; communities that are in decline; social problems that remain intractable even after generations of “reform”.
But for me and for the 48 teaching artists who are the life-blood of the Arts Infusion Initiative, the data also has names and faces full of hope and promise. Our faith in and respect for these irreplaceable young people is unshakable; for some of them, that is unprecedented. The arts are not part of The System; they are not an “intervention” designed to fix something about them that is broken. The right to express themselves, to nurture the talent within, and to translate their passion into a career is as fundamental as their right to safety, to a good public education – and often just as illusive.
Access to high-end equipment, instruction, and role models in arts and digital media, is common in high-performing schools and high-income communities, but most teens at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center report that they were exposed to these opportunities for the first time while incarcerated through the Chicago Community Trust funded Arts Infusion programs. The recent evaluation documents the broad appeal and sustainable impact that these arts and media offerings have on a population that is known for voting with their feet.
In upcoming posts, we will be examining the implications of the report for both the arts and tech sectors.