First Lady Michelle Obama recognized and celebrated twelve young people from across the country on behalf of the award-winning creative youth development programs in which they participate. The children and teens represented the twelve after-school and out-of-school-time programs that received the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program (NAHYP) Award. The award recognizes the country’s best creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment.
For the last eight years, the President Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) and First Lady Michelle Obama have showcased and invested in the talents of young people with programs like NAHYP and she opened her remarks at this ceremony by thanking the PCAH and reiterated her vision that “this White House be open to young people from every corner of the nation.”
She continued by saying, “We believe that every single child has boundless promise, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money their parents have. And it is important to our continued greatness to see these kids as ours – not as ‘them,’ not as ‘other, but as ours. And that's really the power of programs like these. That's the message that they send to our young people every single day.”
Echoing those remarks, 15-year-old student Jayden Lim spoke from the podium about her participation in Tribal Youth Ambassadors, a program of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, and how it taught her the importance of being an advocate for her community. She said, “The idea that when you’re kicked down, you don’t stay there — you get back up and you fight. No one should be defined by another’s ignorance, and if you want change in your community, you have to go out and make that change. You can’t wait for someone to go out and change it for you.”
Tribal Youth Ambassadors is typical of the other eleven creative youth development programs, which were chosen from a pool of 251 nominations and 50 finalists and recognized by Mrs. Obama for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.
Among the creative youth development programs receiving the 2016 award were the following:
One six-week performing arts program helps 11- to 14-year-olds develop their self-awareness and respect for themselves and others through disciplined training in modern, jazz, ballet, and West African dance (AileyCamp Miami, Miami, Fla.).
Three programs build skills and confidence in youth by engaging students from lower-income communities in: documentary film production (Baranov Museum Youth History & Film Summer Intensive, Kodiak, Alaska); screen printing (Screen It!, Austin, Texas); and video production, audio engineering, and game coding and design (Next Gen, San Francisco, Calif.).
One program takes literacy “on the road” to reach children and their families in 14 lower-income communities, by providing access to books, story time, and hands-on craft activities. A holistic program, it also supplements family nutrition and offers informational resources to parents (The Reading Road Show – Gus Bus, Harrisonburg, Va.).
A N.Y. museum offers individualized lesson plans for 7- to 11-year-olds with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as part of a strength-based program that builds on their passion for trains to develop social and communication skills with their peers (Subway Sleuths, Brooklyn, N.Y.).
Two programs from Boston, Mass. were recognized, including the longest-running LGBTQ youth theater program in the country, which provides intensive training, artistic and professional skill building, and leadership development to youth from underserved areas (True Colors: Out Youth Theater). The other awardee is a humanities program that prepares youth ages 13 to 19 for college through rigorous workshops centered on culture, social justice, and civic engagement (IBA’s Youth Development Program).
An after-school program for urban teens—incorporating an eight-week summer paid-employment experience—offers practical application of the design thinking process in audio and video production, photography, fashion design, and ceramics, among other activities [Teen Arts + Tech Program, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), Grand Rapids, Mich.].
An innovative apprenticeship program weaves together workforce development and life skills training in various art disciplines, including media arts, photography, theater, and visual arts (St. Louis ArtWorks, St. Louis, Mo.).
In addition to the domestic creative youth development programs, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba School, representing the field of Creative Youth Development in Cuba, received the International Spotlight Award. This was the first time that an award was presented to an organization from Cuba, and it was one of the outcomes of the President’s Committee’s cultural delegation to Cuba with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Smithsonian Institution last April. As part of the cultural mission, NAHYP Director Traci Slater-Rigaud visited a variety of Cuban creative youth development programs, resulting in this year’s special recognition of the Cuban efforts.
First presented in 1998, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the signature program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The awards are presented annually in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
“These amazing programs prove how effective creative youth development can be in changing lives and communities,” said Megan Beyer, executive director of the PCAH. “They’re improving academic achievement and contributing to high school graduation rates, and they’re providing the opportunity for young people to build the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in school and in life.”