Art Works Blog

Postcard from the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards

Michelle Obama poses with Judith Anderson and Salvador Flores-Martinez, representatives from ArtLab, based in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Steve Purcell

Last week, I was at the White House---which is always a treat---for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. It’s a big event with the First Lady, who presides over the whole thing. This really is the creature of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, or PCAH, and they do a great job with it. Rachel Goslins, Margo Lion, George Stevens, and Mary Schmidt Campbell are the driving forces there. They have a great committee, and a very engaged committee.

All of the organizations honored this year have been doing great work, and are true success stories. In some cases the kids get actual stipends, in some cases they’re in training programs, and they’re encouraged to express themselves in different modes of art. A few of this year's honorees were 826 Seattle, which encourages budding authors with innovative writing workshops; Boston's ZUMIX, which broadcasts radio shows produced and hosted by the city's youth; and ArtLab in Denver, where underserved teens are paired with resident artists in year-round art projects.

What I think these awards highlight is the importance of art and arts education in young people’s lives as another path, and another option besides gang violence or drugs or dropping out of school. And it’s no coincidence that the PCAH’s big new initiative has been in arts education. Their recent white paper showed how essential it is as part of the educational programs across the country. They’ve been tireless advocates for that.

Arts education has also been a theme of mine here at the NEA. We can’t just be training teachers to train kids to perform in two subjects on standardized tests. The arts, for the child who has a special talent, or passion, or idiosyncrasy, or fresh perspective but maybe doesn’t test well on reading and math exams---the arts are a place for that kid. The arts are a motive of expression and ultimately a career for many of them. And if not a career, they're very often a lifelong passion. From our own research at the NEA, we know that exposure to arts as a kid is the single biggest determinant of participation in the arts as adults. What these programs do, along with the other work that the PCAH is doing, is to make sure that that early exposure happens. That’s critical, and we’re 100 percent behind that, and we want to cooperate in any way that we can be of any help. The PCAH's mission is really worthy, and they’re determined to make this work and to have another available path for kids. It was really inspiring to hear about all the great work these organizations are doing.

Add new comment