Living the arts through language-learning: A report on community-based youth organizations

Heath, S. B., Soep, E., & Roach A. (1998). Living the arts through language-learning: A report on community-based youth organizations. American for the Arts Monographs, 2.

Abstract:

A team of researchers conducted fieldwork in a sample of communities to better understand the arts programs operated by community organizations and their impact on participants. The team also surveyed participating students and compared their responses to a similarly-aged national sample to understand how students who participate in community-based arts programs differ from their peers. They found that students who participate in community-based arts programs were more likely to participate in school leadership, have better attendance, better academic achievement, and were more likely to attend art events. Through their fieldwork, the researchers also found that young people in community arts programs learn about revising their artwork, translate and transform what they experience into art, and receive feedback and reflect on their work. The researchers describe the values youth obtain from working in the arts that they believe carry over into general learning, which include critical thinking skills and risk-taking. Researchers also identify characteristics of effective community-based arts program that help make them successful, such as building relationships and partnerships with other community groups and a strong commitment to community service.

Key Findings:

  • Findings revealed that students who participate in community-based arts programs were more likely to participate in school leadership, have better attendance, better academic achievement, and were more likely to attend art events.
  • Young people learn through art projects about revising their art work, translating and transforming what they experience into art, and receiving feedback and reflecting on their work.
  • The values youth obtain from working in the arts that carry over into general learning include critical thinking skills and risk-taking.
  • Building relationships and partnerships with other community groups and a strong commitment to community service are important characteristics of effective community-based arts programs.

Significance of the Findings:

Community arts programs often provide rigorous arts experiences to low-income students who may not otherwise have access to such opportunities. Findings indicate engagement in the arts is positively related to participation in school leadership, attendance, and academic achievement. Community-based arts programs can compare their programs with the characteristics associated with effective community-based arts programs identified in this study for the purposes of program improvement and advocacy.

Methodology:

Postsecondary student researchers, trained as anthropologists, conducted fieldwork in a sample of communities to better understand the arts-based programs operated by community organizations and the impact on participants. These researchers were imbedded in the programs from a range of a few months to three years. They also trained local youth to work as junior ethnographers. The researchers recorded samples of young people’s everyday language inside and outside community arts programs and analyzed audio recordings to understand the nature of the community arts setting and the role of young people and language in these settings. The researchers also analyzed daily logs and journals that youth in the programs kept, supervised by the junior ethnographers. Additionally, over 100 students participating in the programs were administered questions from the 1990 National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS), which allowed the researchers to compare the results of their sample to a national sample. Together, these methods allowed researchers to describe the differences between students in community-based arts programs and students in the national sample, as well as to understand the characteristics of the arts programs that support young people’s development. Findings about the characteristics of effective arts-based programs corroborate with those from other studies that show the importance of collaboration among organizations to leverage resources.

Limitations of the Research:

A full description of the methods used to collect the information for this study is not provided. For example, the study does not describe how many anthropologists conducted the observations, how they were trained, or how many arts organizations were observed. This may be because this study is part of a larger study on community-based youth programs and the methods are detailed more fully in other articles. The statistical analyzes comparing the students participating in the programs and students in the national sample were not provided. The demographic characteristics to the students were not described. The researchers analyzed data from students from various types of community based arts programs, but the different programs are not described.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What were the characteristics of the students participating in the programs? How did the characteristics of the students participating in the programs compare to students in the national sample? Did answers to the survey differ based on the type of program or the type of arts instructions?