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The value of art in youth programming

By Allison Hansen

4-H'ers and program staff working on painting art projects
When you think of "art," what comes to mind?

Maybe it's the timeless beauty of classical paintings and sculptures, or the profound messages conveyed through art installations like the statue, Dignity: of Earth and Sky. Or perhaps you envision the playful creativity showcased in youth exhibitions. The reality is, art encompasses all these aspects—beauty, power, playfulness—and much more.

Art includes drawing, painting, sculpture, creative writing, dance, music, theater, fashion, makeup, interior design, and numerous other disciplines. The National Core Arts Standards assert that engaging with the arts doesn't just develop artistic skills; it fosters collaboration, critical thinking, social competence, brain development, creative problem-solving, innovation, emotional regulation, creativity, and curiosity—qualities often categorized as "21st century skills," "social emotional skills," or "soft skills." Ultimately, arts involvement equips youth with meaningful and transferable skills, regardless of whether they pursue a career in the arts.

Intentionally designed art experiences offer an exciting opportunity to explore diverse perspectives and immerse oneself in different cultures. It's like stepping through a door into a world of understanding and appreciation for what makes each of us unique. As we engage with these varied viewpoints, we also gain deeper insight into our own beliefs and values.

Quick and easy ways to incorporate the arts into your programming:

The arts provide a platform for youth to navigate complex topics, discussing and deciphering conflicting ideas to form their own opinions. A study in Texas in 2023 showed that increased arts education correlated with a significant rise in empathy levels among students. Moreover, studies by the College Board reveal that across subjects and grade levels, involvement in the arts helps individuals make sense of the world, forge connections between differing concepts, and comprehend their place in society.

But there's more to it than personal growth...

Art serves as a powerful tool for addressing pressing issues such as climate change, social justice, and violence. It allows us to express ourselves, share stories, and envision a brighter future. In essence, art becomes a catalyst for community empowerment, enabling collective storytelling and advocating for positive change.

So, when we consider the arts, it's not merely about staging performances or creating a painting—it's about fostering empathy, expanding our worldview, and igniting a passion for social impact.

How have you, or will you, use art to amplify your programming?

-- Allison Hansen, Extension educator

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