Artistic talent development for urban youth: The promise and the challenge

Baum, S., Oreck, B., McCartney, H. (1999). Artistic talent development for urban youth: The promise and the challenge. In E. Fiske (Ed.). Champions of change: The impact of the arts on learning (pp. 64-78). Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership & The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Abstract:

The researchers studied three cohorts of students enrolled in the Young Talent Program, an arts program offering instruction in music and dance to students enrolled in New York City public schools beginning at grade three and extending outside of school into early adulthood. In addition to highlighting the obstacles that lower-income youth encounter while pursuing artistic study, the researchers also describe the effect of arts involvement over an extended period of time. Specifically, the researchers found that the “intrinsically rewarding” nature of arts engagement fostered participants’ willingness to embrace challenges and apply greater effort in pursuit of goals. As students encountered inevitable challenges, the Young Talent Program’s supportive peer and adult network encouraged developing artists to overcome setbacks. Furthermore, as students became competent in their artistic pursuits, the researchers also observed that students transferred learned behaviors towards personal and academic pursuits.

Key Findings:

The researchers found that the Young Talent arts program fostered participants’ resilience, self-regulation, self-concept, and “flow,” a term used to describe the state of heightened, prolonged engagement that the students often experienced in their artistic endeavors. Notably, all of the students in the high school/adult and intermediate cohorts are still involved in music or dance, and most reported plans to pursue higher education. The researchers hypothesized that self-regulation, the ability to demonstrate focus, discipline, and practice in pursuing goals, led students in the study towards greater success. The researchers credited the Young Talent Program as the most influential “external success factor” in promoting the positive outcomes in the sampled youth.

Significance of the Findings:

In addition to reporting several notable benefits associated with serious artistic study, the authors also highlight the barriers that many lower-income youth face to accessing the arts. Thus the authors suggest that many youth miss out on the opportunity to develop their intellectual and artistic talents simply because they lack the financial resources to do so. This implication will likely be of greatest interest to educators and school leaders and policymakers concerned with equity in education. In light of evidence that demonstrates the link between arts education and student growth, these parties may feel compelled to include increased arts education offerings as part of an overall strategy to bolster student achievement.

Methodology:

Over a two-year period, the researchers studied three cohorts of students at varying stages of artistic development in music and dance. The study included 23 students total; eleven students age 10-12 in the elementary cohort, six students age 13-16 in the intermediate cohort, and six students age 17-26 in the high school and adult cohort. Students in the elementary cohort were provided with weekly in-school arts instruction and additional instruction after-school; students in the older cohorts received less in-school instruction and mostly pursued artistic studies on a volunteer basis. Nineteen of the 23 participants were or had been eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Sixteen were black, five Latino, and two white. Twelve of the participants were female and eleven male. The researchers gathered data from interviews, site observations, standardized test scores, artistic evaluations, surveys, and student records. The researchers did not state how they analyzed these data, though they included excerpts of qualitative data in their report to support the study’s findings. The researchers used triangulation to ensure the reliability and validity of their findings.

Limitations of the Research:

The present study is limited in a few important ways. First, noted above, the authors do not discuss how the collected data were analyzed or marshaled to support the outcomes identified in the present research. Second, although the authors have identified an association between artistic talent development and positive youth development, the inclusion of a control group (a group of similarly aged, comparable youth not engaged in any arts programming) for comparison purposes would bolster the overall study design and likely yield further insights. Third, the nature of the study—a case study with a small sample size—does not allow for generalization. In other words, one cannot assume that the participation in other arts-related programming would necessarily lead to similar outcomes. Furthermore, the researchers do not delineate specific features of the Youth Talent Program and their respective effects. As such it is not possible to determine whether the program’s artistic component or supportive community context led to the positive outcomes observed.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What qualities of arts programs catalyze positive youth development outcomes such as those the researchers observe in this study, and how might including increased arts education offerings support schools’ efforts to increase student achievement?