Chairman's Corner: July 16, 2020

Jo Reed: I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.

This week, we're talking about the arts and healing, with a focus on young people. The latest issue of Child Art has just been released. That's the quarterly magazine of the International Child Art Foundation, and Mary Anne, you wrote the lead article for this issue. And we should say the issue explores the science behind some of the research conducted around the arts and the brain. So Mary Anne, why don't you just tell us about some of the points you wanted to raise?

Mary Anne Carter:  Well, first, Jo, I was honored to contribute the lead article for that issue. Talking about some of the research that the Arts Endowment is involved with. For example, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, we are participating in a study called ABCD, in which data is gathered about thousands of children as they grow from teenagers into young adults, tracking their developing brains along with their social and cognitive development. And the health and educational patterns. And another research lab that we're involved with is taking place at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and it's studying the effects of art therapy in pediatric cancer care settings. And on a different note, but an especially timely one during the pandemic with so many children and parents home together, the National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab at Vanderbilt University Medical Center recently developed a home music toolkit. It's a research-based music curriculum that includes a video playlist of song activities and suggested strategies for parents and children to interact with music at home.

Jo Reed:  Oh, that is appreciated!

Mary Anne Carter:   Yes! And you know, there's just so many fascinating developments, and I encourage listeners to go to,, and check out the latest issue of Child Art.

Jo Reed:  Well, you know, the Arts Endowment has long been involved with initiatives that work with young people, the arts and healing. And I'm thinking specifically about some of the projects we fund through Shakespeare in American Communities.

Mary Anne Carter:  Yes, Arts Midwest is our partner in this, and at the end of June, we announced the latest round of grants through Shakespeare in American Communities, including for the second year in a row now, projects taking place at juvenile justice facilities.

Jo Reed:  Can you explain what those projects are? What do they entail, and what are the goals?

Mary Anne Carter:  Ten theater companies from across the country received a total of 170,000 to work with young people in juvenile justice facilities for activities such as acting workshops, theater games and performances by the young people in those facilities. And you know, Jo, theater lends itself to rehabilitation, because actors have to understand the characters they portray. They have to live in someone else's shoes. And that helps them understand how other people think and feel, but equally important, allows them to reflect on how they, themselves, think and feel, and to find the language to express that.

Jo Reed:  Yeah, I think art demands empathy, whether you're participating or watching, and I think that does begin to open up the healing process.

Mary Anne Carter:  It does. It does. Just like we talked about last week with creative forces.

Jo Reed:  Right.

Mary Anne Carter:  I want to quote from an article in a past issue of our agency's magazine, American Artscape, formerly called NEA Arts, and one of our Shakespeare in American Communities grantees, his name is Curt Tofteland, and he is the founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars, he described so well how the arts/theater helps young people who are really struggling. And he says, quote, "The reason that I use art, theater, the works of William Shakespeare and original writing is that trauma can't heal until the human being who's experienced it finds language for it. Shakespeare gives them language, and eventually, they begin to find their own language for their trauma, and that's when healing can happen." end quote.

Jo Reed:  Yeah, I mean, these programs not only encourage self-reflection and self-expression and creativity, I know we've also found they're associated with lower rates of recidivism.

Mary Anne Carter:  Yes, indeed! For example, again with Shakespeare Behind Bars, it boasts a recidivism rate of six percent. Contrast that with the national recidivism rate that is over 76 percent, and you can see the significant power of these programs to make a difference in a young person's life! And looking at the other component of our Shakespeare program that takes place in public schools, the same healing process is at play, too-- that pun was intended, Jo <laughter>-- the theater companies that work in the schools not only perform for the students, but through educational activities, they get them on their feet, working with their voices, working with their bodies. You know, I wish every student in America could participate in these kind of programs, whether they are working through trauma that led them to a juvenile justice facility, or they're living in other difficult situations. As I said at the end of my article in Child Art, "Throughout time of crisis, or in circumstances that are more favorable, the arts offer relief, joy, and purpose to children everywhere. Science is just beginning to reveal how, why, and to what extent this is so."

Jo Reed:  Mary Anne, I think that's a great place to leave it. Thank you! I'll talk to you next week!

Mary Anne Carter:  Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed: That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about the work of the arts endowment, go to  Or follow us on twitter @NEAarts.  I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.

The chairman discusses the impact of the arts on young people’s health and healing.