Young people possess clarity and simple wisdom unencumbered by the experiences of adulthood. They see the world and its problems in plain, straightforward ways.
With this special quality of youth as the foundation, Vital New Voices puts the following principles into practice:
- Creating art helps young people develop their capacities for self-expression, problem-solving, cooperation, resilience, empathy, self-esteem, personal growth, and optimism. That is why youth like to make things, tell stories, sing, and act out the dramas of the world around them.
Young people are natural investigators and explorers. They ask honest questions about what they find.
When they hear answers, they almost always follow up with “Why?” When the explanation doesn’t make sense to them, they ask again and again.
Youngsters are sharply attuned to matters of fairness, right and wrong. They don’t naturally abide rationalizations.
Communities stand to benefit when grownups listen to those questions from youth…and then focus on the fundamental issues underlying them.
The arts connect people, experiences, and ideas. That is why the arts are especially good ways to access and express the wisdom, hopes, and heart of a person who is growing, learning, and coming to understand the world around them.
Youthful expression of hopes and aspirations for the future can be a powerful agent for change: civic engagement in its most elemental form.
How The Program Works
The core constituency for Vital New Voices are students in fourth grade through high school. The program draws on the energies of youthful creativity, artistic discipline, and community engagement. Each is worthwhile; together, they can achieve meaningful impacts that extend beyond the sum of the parts.
The program has four fundamental facets:
- Engagement of young people with the arts.
- Encouragement and support for all artistic genres and forms of expression.
- Thematic focus on issues of social change .
Every community will have its own customized approach based on a common framework of program elements.
Community-based partner organizations that can provide logistic, communication, staffing and programming support.
Volunteer artists who train students in their chosen arts genre such as visual arts, music, theater, dance/movement, poetry, or video.
Groups of young artists who take on topics related to creating a better world. They could explore matters of respect, education, diversity and inclusion, leadership, violence, empathy, bullying, or climate change...to cite just a few possibilities.
Small teams of students, community volunteers, and artists who create works of art that reflect their hopes for the future related to the chosen topics. These works can use a single art form or multiple forms.
The performance and display of the works at a public event with an engaged audience of citizens who watch, listen and learn. It’s likely to be as entertaining as it is purposeful.
Following the display/performance, facilitated discussion between the young artists and event attendees.
A public commitment by each adult participant to take positive action in their lives and community for a specific aspect of a topic or even a group of problems.
We believe that this initiative can accomplish many good things for communities. Well-conceived collaborations usually do. Here are some ways that partnerships could work to make it happen.
- Structure, coordination, and consulting
- Seed funding to launch the program
- Collaboration in seeking local sponsorships
- Joint grant applications to local and national foundations
- Connections and support from the arts community
- Compensation for artists
- Logistic platform support for peer-to-peer fundraising across the region and in the arts community
- Coordination and collaboration with schools
- Event logistics
- Communications, news media, social networks, web work, and collateral materials
- Assessment and refinement
Partner organization responsibilities
- Collaboration in developing the program
- Coordination with school system
- Relationship building with local sponsors
- Assistance with grant applications to local and national foundations
- Connections and support from the arts community
- Promotion of peer-to-peer fundraising in the local community
- Relationship management with schools
- Parent and student relations
- Community relations
- Assessment and refinement
The Working Model
In practice, every implementation of Vital New Voices will have its own special character, theme, and community relevance.
To get an idea of what these experiences would be like, consider the basic framework and envision the ways a typical community would put it into action.
First things first: local organizations form partnerships with TGIAL.
- The partners mutually develop a plan of action and clear delineation of responsibilities
- The partners identify and connect with regional sponsors and donors.
- By connecting with local art institutions, the partners recruit artists in a range of genres.
Reach agreement on finances.
- A full budget and funding commitments should be in place before launching the program.
- Funders and sponsors agree to support the initiative for at least a year.
- Wherever possible through funding, artists should receive compensation in recognition of their contributions to the community, the value they bring to society, and their dedication to honing their skills and talents. The form of compensation could include stipends, continuing support, wages, grants, or a combination. The message would be as important as the amount.
- This would have several essential impacts that are fundamental to the message of Vital New Voices and the overall mission of TGIAL:
The active and enthusiastic engagement of the arts community.
A highly visible demonstration of the value of the arts in addressing social challenges.
Practical support for a vibrant arts scene in the community.
Working with local school systems the partners recruit students and teachers from grade four through high school.
- The focus should be on schools with established curricula in the arts and civic involvement.
- Find “champions” at the grassroots – arts and civics educators who are innovators in making their curricula relevant, engaging, and fun for students. This will likely require networking at the personal, professional and social media level.
- Working with the champions and their peers, approach school principals to ensure that engagement and support emanate “from the top.”
- Approach mayor’s offices and district superintendents to get a sense of other potential school partners. The flexibility and sense of innovation offered by charter schools and magnet schools could warrant special attention.
- Emphasize a continuous process, benchmarks, deadlines, and a commitment to primary outcomes.
- Encourage school leaders to be advocates for the program with parents, families, other schools, and the community
- Use school system communications resources to keep everyone informed.
- Encourage school art teachers to take on roles of advisors, connectors, and advocates for the program.
The partners, artists, and educators develop a calendar of activities
- The partners secure a venue for public programs.
- Everyone collaborates on a coordinated schedule of activities, creation, practice, and events.
- Emphasis is a continuous process with benchmarks, deadlines, and a commitment to primary outcomes.
- School leaders should be the most visible advocates for the program with parents, families, other schools, and the community, using school system communications resources to keep everyone informed.
Teams of students, artists, and teachers get to work
- The young artists determine the community problem(s) they intend to address (with the help of their teachers and families).
- They then choose the artistic medium(s) for presenting their ideas – individually or in collaboration with each other. This determines the artists who will be their partners in creation or performance.
- Adult artists collaborate with their youthful partners, teachers advise them…and everyone looks forward to the events where the creations connect with their audiences.
The community gets ready
- The partners and sponsors work with the news media to build awareness and encourage the public to take part in the presentation event.
- TGIAL works with the partners to gain a community media event partner for coverage and public engagement
- Social media builds engagement and involvement across all partner and local sponsor channels
- TGIAL website, school website, and relevant community websites promote the event through news items and calendar listings.
- The partners engage parents, families, and friends to support the children and take part in the events.
- The partners arrange for a local celebrity or well-known community leader to deliver a brief keynote.
- The partners decide who will be the master of ceremonies.
Two weeks before an event.
- Young artists finish and refine their presentations…preferably in consultation with their adult collaborators and teachers.
- Email reminders go to citizens planning to attend, encouraging them to consider what their commitment of time and resources will be in response to the artistic presentations
- TGIAL and the partners take responsibility for staging and logistics.
- The partners produce programs and audience commitment forms.
- All media channels engaged in building interest and involvement.
- The young artists present and perform their creative visions.
- Audience members select a problem presented in those creations and commit to acting on it in their communities.
- News media, social media, and organizational news channels cover the creations…and the commitments to make the community a better place.
- The partners recognize the young artists for their work through tokens of appreciation, gifts from sponsors…and a reminder that the journey can be the reward…and a better community is a very worthy goal for the arts.
- The young artists talk about the experience…and how they grew as creators, activists, and citizens. The adult artists comment on their experience…and perhaps what they’ve learned from it.
- The partners connect with the citizens in the audience to offer support for the commitments.
- The entire community reflects…and assesses what the experience means for their communities.
- The partners assess the experience relative to expectations and goals.
- The media and social media take note…and convey the experience to the public.\
- Through surveys and other forms of feedback, the partners track the results: action taken, participant evaluation, critiques, and suggestions.
- All partners, with the help of the community, help document the experience, detail lessons learned, and make a joint decision on refining the program and making it annual, semi-annual, quarterly or even monthly.
- School officials and teachers offer recommendations for tuning the program for specific age groups such 4-6th grades, 7-8th grades, and 9-12th grades.
- Artists offer new ideas and recommendations for making the program even more rewarding, fun, and relevant for the kids.
- TGIAL creates a summary document for submission to funders, sponsors, parents, civic leaders, and the public.
- If approved and funded…the ten-step process starts anew.
A signature characteristic of Vital New Voices will be its boundless variety of formats, themes, participating organizations, and audiences.
The possibilities are as expansive as the arts themselves and the themes will span the issues facing individual communities, regions, countries…or the entire world. So, what would such an experience be like? Consider some hypothetical cases.
A regional conservation organization looks at climate change
To engage urban young people in the evolving challenges if climate change, a regional land conservancy could partner with TGIAL to conduct Our Children’s Voices in several cities.
Young people hear a lot about climate change, and they probably wonder what it means to them. Vital New Voices might give students a way to tackle the matter creatively…and encourage their fellow citizens to take meaningful action. The various facets of climate and conservation can be evocative subjects for artistic expression.
Working with local school systems, TGIAL and the Conservancy engage teachers, students, and local artists to center their efforts around popular parks, natural resources, and wildlands in each area. The young artists learn to appreciate the power of their creativity…and everyone gains an understanding of the role of the arts…and artistic thinking…in a making their world a better place.
A civic organization explores citizenship
What does it mean to be a citizen in a democracy like the United States or Canada? How does one be a “good citizen” when politics and conflict cloud the big issues? What does a citizen “get” by “giving” talents, time, and involvement?
Working with TGIAL. local sponsors, and schools, a civic organization could conduct ongoing programs using the Vital New Voices model to bring young people into the discussion. Through their artistic efforts, the students would learn about the creative expression of big concepts while enjoying the exploration of new ideas. The adult participants might gain some insights too…and commit to applying them in their own lives as citizens.
A Metropolitan Boys and Girls Club considers good life choices
Helping young people navigate the challenges of growing up is central to the mission of a Boys and Girls Club, especially in urban areas. Yet, it’s not just about youth; parents, families, and mentors are very much a part of the process.
In this partnership, Vital New Voices would offer the Club participants a special way to express themselves about what their community might do to help them on the path to adulthood. Neighborhoods, schools, and friends could be rich sources of material for their creative endeavors. Citizens who take note at an event could learn something important about the youth in their community…and decide how they could help. Everyone gets to see the artistic process make a difference.
The model would probably be easily replicated at other Boys and Girls Clubs.
A community foundation and a museum foster critical thinking
From nearly the first days they can talk, young people like to ask why? When they reach high-school, the questions can run deep. They might ponder why things are the way they are…and imagine some alternative ways. In its most intriguing form, this can be genuine critical thinking.
A community foundation could fund a museum program that uses the Vital New Voices structure to encourage high school students to think critically about societal issues…and express their analysis through art and performance.
This would be an elite-level application of the model that could resonate with participating citizens, civic leaders, the arts community, and educators alike.