Last week the Creative Youth Development National Partnership hosted a panel of cross-sector leaders at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, California to discuss creative youth development and cross-sector partnerships. Panelists included:
- Robert Sainz, Assistant General Manager at City of Los Angeles and head of the City’s Economic and Workforce Development Department
- Alex Johnson, Managing Director of Californians for Safety and Justice, board member of Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network, and National Advisory Committee member for the Creative Youth Development National Partnership
- Danielle Brazell, General Manager of the Department of Cultural Affairs at City of Los Angeles
Approximately 50 CYD practitioners and stakeholders from Southern California attended the session. The purpose of the panel was for the CYD field to hear from cross-sector about their areas of focus and motivations in order to better understand how CYD might partner across sectors as well as to be inspired by the CYD cross-sector work happening in the Los Angeles region.
Sainz and Johnson shared their experiences working with and on behalf of young people facing adversity. Both leaders championed creative youth development as a powerful and effective way to connect with young people and engage them in activities and programs that can alter the fundamental trajectories of their lives.
Sainz’s efforts in workforce investment includes a focus on “recovering the 1 in 6 young people in Los Angeles aged 16-24 who are not employed or in school, currently totaling 82,000”—the opportunity youth discussed in the CYD-publication Setting the Agenda and elsewhere—as well as youth development, investing in education, and reducing recidivism. Sainz has observed that the arts support the retention of young people in programs and that the arts offerings at the LA community centers his department funds are the most popular programs among teens and young adults.
Johnson’s commitment to social justice includes reducing the incarceration footprint, reducing and redirecting money spent on corrections, and putting those funds into other systems such as education, and building mainstream support for criminal justice reform. His work on behalf of young people also includes serving as Vice President of the Los Angeles County School Board.
Johnson reflected on how “the arts allow young people to engage in a way that meets them where they are…the arts allows kids to get in touch with their feelings, whatever rage might be inside, whatever socioeconomic factors they might face.”
“Broken people become broken adults…you see hope when kids are able to let it out,” he said.
He spoke specifically about the role of creative youth development in skills development, retention, whole child pathways, and development of relationships with meaning and heart and in providing a different perspective to calcified thinking about how to work with young people, particularly those who have been incarcerated or for whom school has been an alienating or otherwise negative experience. In spotlighting the talents and hard work of young people engaged in CYD programs Johnson sees an antidote to the pervasive negative portrayals of young people in the media, particularly low-income boys and men of color.
Brazell shared information about her agency’s internship programs which include efforts to place young people who have aged out of the foster care system into internships in supportive and caring environments at community arts organizations.
The panelists shared a conviction about the need to advocate for investment in young people, and they discussed opportunities around joint advocacy. With strong consensus about the value of CYD in supporting positive outcomes and promising futures for young people, the panelists shifted into discussion of challenges to partnership, including funding, bureaucracies, and work cultures. They discussed the need to understand cross-sector partners’ language and to communicate in ways that support understanding.
With forums such as this one the Partnership aims to build understanding and dialogue about cross-sector partnership and CYD. Engaging not-the-usual-suspects leaders such as Robert Sainz and Alex Johnson in the CYD movement and providing platforms for them to speak on behalf of the value of creative youth development in the lives of young people are important strategies for extending the work of CYD across sectors and for growing support for the field.