Strengthening Youth through the Arts

Interactives, stories, and collections that go beyond the data
September 30, 2015

Strengthening Youth through the Arts

Evaluation of the Arts Infusion Initiative, 2010-15

Summary of the Urban Institute’s evaluation of the Arts Infusion Initiative (2010-15), commissioned by the National Guild for Community Arts Education with funding from the Chicago Community Trust. For more information, read the complete evaluation report or abbreviated brief, which includes interviews with Arts Infusion youth participants, teaching artists, and community stakeholders. Photograph by WBEZ/Bill Healy of Arts Infusion youth participant in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center’s annual  Louder Than A Bomb poetry competition (2012), reprinted with permission.

What Is the Arts Infusion Initiative?

Launched in 2010, the Arts Infusion Initiative is an ambitious five-year, $2.5 million demonstration for social change in Chicago that aimed to connect detained youth and those at risk for incarceration (“at-risk youth”) to rigorous and engaging arts instruction, infused with social and emotional learning goals. As of the 2014–15 school year, the initiative’s core components included the following:

  1. Fourteen programs from all genres of art—music, dance, literary arts, visual arts, and theatre—that served detained teens in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) and at-risk youth primarily in the Chicago communities of Lawndale/Little Village, Back of the Yards, and South Shore;
  2. Special events and performances for youth in JTDC and the surrounding communities organized by Arts Infusion stakeholders;
  3. Knowledge sharing sessions coordinated by Loyola University to foster collaboration and professional development among the Arts Infusion teaching artists and program directors; and
  4. Assessment consultations with an experienced arts assessment consultant to help programs assess youths’ social and emotional learning goals (see ”Social and Emotional Learning Goals of the Arts Infusion Initiative” below).

Overseeing these activities was the Arts Infusion Steering Committee, created to help guide the initiative’s evolution under an emergent strategy of creative youth development. Chaired by Suzanne Connor, senior program officer at the Chicago Community Trust (funder of the initiative), the steering committee included representatives from JTDC, the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School based in JTDC, the Chicago Public School Office of Education Options, the Chicago Police Department’s Alternative Policing Strategy program, Loyola University’s College of Fine and Performing Arts, an independent arts assessment consultant, and program directors and teaching artists from the 14 Arts Infusion programs. A list of these programs can be found in the complete evaluation report.

Arts Infusion Program Locations in Chicago

Arts Infusion Program Locations

Note: Large icons show the primary school and community locations of Arts Infusion programming, including the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School at JTDC where multiple programs were in operation. Small icons show additional locations at which at least some Arts Infusion youth were served.

Social and Emotional Learning Goals of the Arts Infusion Initiative

Social and Emotional Learning Goals of the Arts Infusion Initiative

How Was It Evaluated?

The Urban Institute’s evaluation of the Arts Infusion Initiative, in consultation with the National Guild for Community Arts Education, was designed to assess the degree to which the project, as an emergent model for social change, achieved its intended purposes and to generate actionable information for promoting effective Arts Infusion practices while redirecting those that have been less effective. To accomplish these objectives, the Urban Institute conducted a mixed-method evaluation from April to August 2015 using the following data sources:

  • Five years of Arts Infusion documentation (e.g., teaching unit plans for infusing social and emotional skills instruction, knowledge sharing attendance, and participant feedback);
  • Quantitative analysis of 2014–15 social and emotional youth assessment data (n=320);
  • More than six dozen (n=73) interviews and focus groups with Arts Infusion instructors, program directors, youth participants, and community stakeholders;
  • An online survey assessing stakeholders’ (n=45) perceptions of the initiative, conducted by Urban during the evaluation period; and
  • Observations of more than a dozen Arts Infusion classes, events, and performances, as well as artwork (music, poetry, dance, theatre, and visual art) produced by teen and young adult participants.

The evaluation resulted in seven key findings and several recommendations for promising practices.

Digital music lab created at the launch of the Arts Infusion Initiative (2010).

When I speak, my voice will be more powerful than a gun.

And when I am silent, my thoughts will be louder than a bomb.

 

-Arts Infusion youth participant in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center’s annual Louder Than A Bomb poetry competition (2012).

What Are the Key Findings?

Key Finding 1

Arts Infusion youth participants showed statistically significant and substantial improvements in social and emotional learning skills, as measured by conflict resolution, future orientation, critical response, and career readiness.

Pre-post assessments (n=320) of Arts Infusion youth participants in the 2014–15 school year showed statistically significant (p<.001) and substantial improvement across all measured social and emotional learning goals, including conflict resolution, future orientation, critical response, and career readiness. Most youth were initially assessed at a “developing” level when beginning Arts Infusion programming and were at near “accomplished” upon completion. Although the research design precludes causal attributions for these improvements, the differences are sizable. The percentages of improvement ranged from 27 percent for conflict resolution and career readiness to 29 percent for critical response and 36 percent for future orientation. Similar improvements were evident for male and female youth, for JTDC and community program settings, and for music, dance, literary arts, visual arts, and theatre genres.

Percentages  of Improvement in Social and Emotional Learning Goals

Percentages of Improvement in Social and Emotional Learning Goals

Note: All improvements were statistically significant at p<.001. Paired samples t-tests were run for 320 pre- and post-assessments from 11 organizations (2014-15). Average time between pre-post was 11 weeks

Key Finding 2

Arts Infusion teaching artists with strong artistic knowledge and classroom management skills were effective at engaging and inspiring youth.

Arts education is not only about the content being delivered but also about who delivers it and how. Many Arts Infusion teaching artists were highly skilled, credentialed, and accomplished in their artistic fields. Fifty-two percent had been arts educators for over 10 years, 46 percent had a graduate degree, and 36 percent had an undergraduate degree. Further, 64 percent had helped justice-involved or at-risk youth for more than five years; 36 percent had been doing so more than 10 years.

Many teaching artists expressed the importance of “art modeling,” or teaching art in a way that youth see it as a living medium, rather than a historical artifact. Because many of the teaching artists shared a similar racial/ethnic or cultural background with students, grew up in Chicago, or were embedded in Arts Infusion neighborhoods, they were able to engage in art modeling by demonstrating the existence and value of art creation by people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, locations, and socioeconomic status. Interviewed youth said they wanted to learn from teachers who "looked like [themselves],” and several teaching artists were alumni of the Arts Infusion programs or had prior experiences with justice involvement.