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What do city tweens need in after school arts?

November 12, 2013
Wallace Foundation
A new study looks at the expectations of urban, low-income tweens about after school arts programs, and offers insights directly from tweens, teens, their families, teachers and leaders in arts and youth development.

Professional artists, hands-on learning, and public performances top the list of elements tweens want in after school arts programs, according to a national market-research-based study released today. This rare look into the expectations of urban, low-income tweens offers insights directly from tweens, teens and their families; teachers and leaders in the arts and youth development; best practice examples; and 10 principles for attracting and retaining an audience often thought "hard to engage"-low-income, urban tweens.

The report, "Something to Say: Success Principles for after school Arts Programs from Urban Youth and Other Experts," treats youth as consumers of after school arts activities and asks them directly what they want out of such programs and about obstacles that prevent their participation.

"This report examines both the supply and demand for after school arts programs and interestingly finds that youth and experts agree on what constitutes a great arts programs," said Daniel Windham, director of arts at The Wallace Foundation. "We hope after school organizations will use these findings to engage low-income kids."

To conduct the research, Wallace commissioned Next Level Strategic Marketing Group, a New York marketing strategy consultancy that typically helps companies market themselves to consumers. The researchers found tweens, teens and parents through notices in grocery stores, churches and community centers in low-income neighborhoods in seven cities nationwide and interviewed more than 200 tweens and teens and eight groups of parents. Tweens kept photo journals for a week, documenting how they made choices about free time and allowing a glimpse into their worlds. Researchers also interviewed leading arts and youth development experts and visited eight highly effective programs from California to Rhode Island, producing video profiles of six of them.

The resulting project is an unusual public glimpse into such decisions as how tweens decide what to try, what to stick with, and how their friends and family influence their decisions- the kind of consumer research on which businesses spend millions of dollars but rarely release.

"We're not suggesting what's needed in the arts is Madison Avenue magic," said Peter Rogovin, Next Level SMG's managing director. "We're offering an opportunity to reframe the problem, and thus identify potential solutions, by understanding the primary consumers and their needs, desires, attitudes and options. In recent years, nothing has influenced this shift to consumer-centric research more than technology and choice, which has shifted power from producers to consumers."

This is especially true of tweens, youth ages 10 to 13 and a key demographic to engage in arts before they turn 13 and become notoriously harder to engage. Researchers said tweens exert a lot of control over their time after school as decision-making shifts from parents to children, but they are stil open to trying new things that seem fun and are accepted by their peers as "cool." Tweens face competing choices for their free time, such as sports, playing video games, and hanging out with friends, which often involves watching TV, texting, social media sites, and watching videos. They also want novel experiences and opportunities to make new friends. Above all, tweens want to have fun.

Tweens and teens were clear about what they want in after school arts programs, and interestingly, researchers say, their preferences align with what experts said make for great arts programs. Based on interviews with youth development and arts practitioners, researchers, and administrators and observations of outstanding arts programs, the researchers also developed 10 principles for effective, high-quality arts programs:

1. Instructors are professional, practicing artists, and are valued with compensation for their expertise and investment in their professional development.

2. Executive directors have a public commitment to high-quality arts programs that is supported by sustained action.

3. Arts programs take place in dedicated, inspiring, welcoming spaces and affirm the value of art and artists.

4. There is a culture of high expectations, respect for creative expression and an affirmation of youth participants as artists.

5. Programs culminate in high-quality public events with real audiences.

6. Positive relationships with adult mentors and peers foster a sense of belonging and acceptance.

7. Youth participants actively shape programs and assume meaningful leadership roles.

8. Programs focus on hands-on skill building using current equipment and technology.

9. Programs strategically engage key stakeholders to create a network of support for both youth participants and the programs.

10. Programs provide a physically and emotionally safe place for youth.

"Organizations need to interest a young person in a type of experience," said report co-author Denise Montgomery. "They need to let tweens know they won't be lectured to and won't be in an arts and crafts class. Programs must convey that this will be a high-level experience allowing for discovery, social opportunities and some autonomy for older youth."

The report provides detailed examples of the success principles, specific suggestions for overcoming barriers to participation, and quotes from youth, their parents and opinion leaders. Beneath each success principle is a set of specific arts-related practices or norms shared by top-notch programs. The project also includes an overview video and video profiles of six outstanding arts organizations.

"This groundbreaking study offers valuable insight into not only what tweens want but also what may prevent them from participating in arts programs after school," said Jonathan Herman, executive director of the National Guild for Community Arts Education, whose 460-member organizations offer arts instruction to 1.2 million students annually. "This is a must-read for any arts nonprofit or after school program that wants to engage and develop young people."

The report can be accessed at:

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Wallace Foundation. "What do city tweens need in after school arts?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 November 2013. <>.
Wallace Foundation. (2013, November 12). What do city tweens need in after school arts?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from
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