Attention to the role of creativity in positive youth development is growing, as evidenced by new opportunities for networking, emerging research, and a recent resolution by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. However, few opportunities exist for youth to participate meaningfully participate in national and regional forums where adults are designing programs and making policy decisions that affect young people. As the primary national convener for community arts education leaders, the National Guild’s Conference for Community Arts Education has a unique opportunity to amplify and support youth voice and leadership within the sector and deepen connections and learning between young people. In addition to a dedicated track of Creative Youth Development sessions and network meetings, this year’s conference (November 15-18 in San Francisco/Oakland) piloted an Emerging Young Artist Residency, which brought together youth, ages 16-24, and teaching artists from Destiny Arts Center (Oakland, CA), Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, and RAW Art Works (Lynn, MA) to collaboratively create an original performance piece that explored critical social issues connected to conference themes.
These young artists participated as delegates, attending conference sessions and roundtables, and then rehearsed offsite at Destiny in the afternoons. The residency culminated in a powerful performance at the Annual Awards Breakfast on Nov. 18. The impact of this experience for the youth involved—as well as for the attendees—was remarkable.
As Jai’Len Smith, a student of Mosaic Youth Theatre, put it: “This experience was truly unforgettable. I think youth are going to be vital in advancing the arts, their communities, and social change more broadly . . . When they’re put in positions and on platforms where they’re able to voice their concerns as well as their desires and be something like a spokesperson for their communities and their generation as a whole, I believe they will be more impactful than any of us can imagine.”