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National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards

History of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards

The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award was the nation’s highest honor for after-school and out-of-school-time arts and humanities programs—also known as Creative Youth Development programs—that celebrated the creativity of America’s young people, particularly those from underserved communities. This award recognized and supported excellence in programs that open new pathways to learning, self-discovery, and achievement, from a wide range of urban and rural settings.

The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards initiative was a signature program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities—in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services—to showcase the excellence and importance of out-of-school-time, youth development-focused, arts and humanities programs in the lives of young people.

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Creative Youth Development

Creative Youth Development programs are after-school and out-of-school programs that spark young people’s creativity and personal and social development through high-quality learning experiences in the arts and humanities. They emphasize mastery of these disciplines and the acquisition of the personal and social assets young people need to thrive, placing creativity at the center of both.

In these programs, young people create work—including animated films, 3-D printed sculptures, dance and theater productions, musical compositions, analytical essays, exhibition designs, curated book collections, and community gardens—and apply their creative skills to solve problems, shape their own lives, and imagine and build the world in which they want to live.

Creative Youth Development programs encourage the development of grit and ingenuity, plus the critical-thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills participants need to master the Common Core State Standards at school; make meaningful contributions to their communities; and be ready for college and rewarding careers. They are assets for building the country’s creative capacity and a catalyst for positive youth development and social change.

From the beginning, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities’s leadership role through the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards helped to advance the field of Creative Youth Development. In collaboration with the National Guild for Community Arts Education and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the President’s Committee commissioned a research study to gather, synthesize and begin to organize priorities and ideas for a strategic agenda. Building on interviews and focus groups with youth and adult leaders, a national survey subsequently gathered additional empirical data from practitioners and policymakers in the Creative Youth Development field on the impact and defining qualities of these programs. The resulting report, Setting the Agenda, became the framework for the first National Summit on Creative Youth Development.

Organized by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the President’s Committee and the National Guild for Community Arts Education, the Summit convened more than 200 Creative Youth Development leaders, practitioners, funders and policymakers from across the country to discuss and formulate a national policy agenda, encompassed in a report, Collective Action for Youth: An Agenda for Progress Through Creative Youth Development. In brief, the report articulated the purpose and value of Creative Youth Development; asserted its place as central to ensuring young people’s academic, professional and personal success; and identified five key imperatives for Creative Youth Development programs nationwide to amplify the effect of their programs on students, families and communities.

Given the President’s Committee’s sustained support of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, throughout 19 years and spanning three administrations, it was one of the founding leaders of the Creative Youth Development movement. By recognizing exceptional Creative Youth Development programs at the highest level, adding muscle and capacity to the field of practice, and contributing to the creation of a coalesced identity and strategic agenda for Creative Youth Development, the President’s Committee served as an anchor for this field of practice. In August 2016, the Committee solidified these efforts through a formal Creative Youth Development National Partnership with the National Guild for Community Arts Education, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Americans for the Arts, which, collectively, worked together to advance this community of practice and increase access to Creative Youth Development organizations for children and youth across the United States.

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Awardees and Finalists