Three Fundamental Elements of High-Quality Out-of-School Time Arts Programs

Decades of research have demonstrated the importance of arts education for youth.  Academic-related outcomes, such as school engagement and higher grade point averages, are linked to arts involvement, but the benefits don’t stop at academics. Non-cognitive outcomes, such as improved self-confidence and social skills, have been empirically found to benefit arts-connected young people.  While evidence points to the value of the arts for positive youth development, less is known about the settings outside of schools that engage youth from under-resourced communities in quality arts programming.  In an effort to learn more about this, the Forum for Youth Investment and the Afterschool Alliance hosted a webinar featuring Dr. Tracey Hartmann (Research for Action) and Dr. Wendy McClanahan (McClanahan Associates, Inc.) and panelists to discuss the findings from their recent report commissioned by The Wallace Foundation: Setting the Stage: Practical Ideas for Implementing High-Quality Afterschool Arts Programs.    

Dr. Hartmann and Dr. McClanahan’s presentation discussed early lessons learned from their two-and-a-half-year study with five Boys & Girls Club-affiliated organizations that implemented a Youth Arts Initiative (YAI) developed by Boys & Girls Clubs of America. This initiative, grounded in the 10 Principles of High-Quality OST Arts Programs, aimed to create a scalable and replicable model for multipurpose out-of-school time (OST) organizations to increase access and expand high-quality arts programming for youth. From dance and digital arts to painting, the organizations included in the study spanned the artistic spectrum. 

The presenters highlighted three main principles not commonly found in OST settings that offer multiple types of programming, but as Dr. Hartmann expressed, “describe the infrastructure that is needed for artistic skill development.” Those three factors are hiring professional teaching artists, using high-quality equipment and materials, and creating dedicated art studio space.  

  1. Professional Teaching Artists. Teaching artists with content expertise were identified by organizations as an important feature of arts programming.  These teaching artists were often paid a higher salary than other frontline staff.  Dr. McClanahan noted youth “appreciated the high expectations” teaching artists had for them and their artwork. She also discussed that early in the study, program leaders had questions about the value of professional teaching artists for their art initiative. By the end of the study, however, leaders across all five organizations identified them as a key ingredient to improving arts programming.
  2. High-Quality Equipment and Materials. The presenters shared youth were more inclined to participate in digital and visual art programs when current and high-quality equipment and materials were utilized.  Youth in the study discussed their appreciation for creating art with quality tools and liked being offered choices to select from high-quality materials.  Performing arts teaching artists that did not have equipment or materials such as props, or were limited to the use of older musical instruments, expressed the belief that access to high-quality materials was a deterrent for program participation and engagement.
  3. Dedicated Art Studio Space. Resources and other constraints such as operating in schools and community centers that utilize rooms for various programs were discussed by the presenters as limitations in creating dedicated arts spaces in multipurpose OST organizations. They highlighted how four of the five organizations worked to have at least one club site with an arts studio.  Shared spaces with other programs in their research narrowed the range of projects and skills that could be taught to youth.  

Beyond these principles, this webinar offered leaders and practitioners other actionable strategies and tips for implementing high-quality arts programming in OST settings. The speakers delved into specific organizational strategies for ensuring the long-term success of arts programs, exemplified by Aimee Chico from the Boys & Girls of the Tennessee Valley, who highlighted collaborative efforts between their organization and other community arts programs to expand available programming. The panel underscored the importance of the relationships formed between young participants and teaching artists and drew parallels with the Forum’s 2021 report on Design Principles for Community-Based Settings. These insights collectively contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of effective practices in fostering exceptional arts experiences for youth in out-of-school time. 

Featured Presenters and Panelists: 

 Tracey Hartmann, Ph.D., Research for Action  

 Wendy McClanahan, Ph.D., McClanahan Associates, Inc.  

 Aimee Chico, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley  

 Tiffany Walker, Forum for Youth Investment  

 Shaun Gray, Afterschool Alliance (Moderator)