Youth Programs: A Sea of Knowledge


In 1987, anthropologists Shirley Brice Heath and Elizabeth Soep set out on a ten year study of  community youth programs across the United States.  

Their goal - to answer this question:

What happens within a community youth program for it to be judged ‘high quality’ by both participants and outside observers?

Heath and Soep wanted to see if there was science to back up the widely-held belief that such programs provided ‘effective and desirable learning environments’ for youth in under-served communities.

The anthropologists studied 120 programs in three areas: athletic/academic, community service, and arts based. These programs were both urban and rural and all operated with minimal resources. Successful programs, they discovered, did have some common ‘elements of effectiveness.’ These included: ethos for achievement; distributed responsibility; collective demands, predictable contingency; peer critique.  But seven years into the study, Heath and Soep discovered something more, that arts-based programs were especially effective.

They continued their research focusing only community arts programs and further discovered arts-based organizations involve ‘greater-risk’.  When young people, especially males, ‘release their imaginations,’ they become vulnerable.

Arts-based organizations support ‘individual identity.’

Arts-based organizations require ‘responsibility for consequences’, usually in respect to a public show or performance, also ‘special planning’, ‘changing of plans’ and ‘the power of critique’.

 “ Arts-based programs promoted cognitive, socio-relational, linguistic and managerial capabilities…mediated through risk of imagination and interaction, rules that guide but always change and demands that create identities based in resourcefulness and accomplishment.”   SHIRLEY BRICE HEATH AND ELIZABETH SOEP



Contributing from Montreal, Quebec CN



1.      Heath, Shirley, Brice; Soep, Elizabeth. Youth Development in the Arts in Non-School Hours