With First Lady Michelle Obama and 200 people in attendance in the East Room of the White House, 14-year-old Andre Massey spoke eloquently about his struggles to be good student in a Savannah public school. The turning point in his life came when he started writing poetry in workshop at the Deep Center, which helped him discover his unique story, place, and purpose in the world. Andre’s journey demonstrates the power of the arts and humanities to transform lives and communities. He was just one of twelve such stories sharing the spotlight with First Lady Michelle Obama, who bestowed the nation's highest honor—the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award—to a diverse group of organizations’ after-school programs with an arts and humanities focus.
The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards recognize the country’s best creative youth development programs for increasing academic achievement, graduation rates and college enrollment by engaging children and youth in the arts and humanities.
“As I’ve said many times before, arts education is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” said Mrs. Obama at the ceremony. “It’s really the air many of these kids breathe. It’s how we get kids excited about getting up and going to school in the morning. It’s how we get them to take ownership of their future.”
“And that’s why these programs are so important,” continued Mrs. Obama. “We have to keep shining a light on them. We have to keep encouraging these kids because they are the next generation of fabulous.”
Chosen from more than 285 nominations and 50 finalists from 50 states—the after-school and out-of-school-time programs were also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.
“These young people are the living proof of what research tells us; kids engaged in the arts and humanities are more likely to stay in school, to get better grades, to graduate from high school and to go to college,” said Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “And they’re also building the 21st century skills that will help them to be productive members of the workforce and active participants in their communities.”
Participating students from a broad range of programs received the award from Mrs. Obama on behalf their organization. Among these creative youth development programs were the following:
- A youth orchestra program that engages 1,000 students each year, teaching them life skills through the pursuit of artistic excellence (Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra Community Partnership Programs, Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, Inc., Milwaukee, WI).
- A program that promotes 21st century skills in teens living in at-risk communities through visual and media arts education, experiences and mentorship (Art High, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA).
- A media arts and education program that mentors young people in digital arts to help them find their voice, tell their stories and be empowered to affect positive change in their lives, their communities and the world (Spy Hop Productions, Salt Lake City, UT).
- A program that teaches vocational skills to high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities through making, marketing and selling artwork (Urban Artisans, ArtMix, Inc., Indianapolis, IN).
- A mentoring program that sees 90 percent of its participants successfully graduate from high school by providing students as early as 6th grade with a seven-year commitment that translates to hundreds of hours of arts mentoring throughout the school year and attendance at an annual summer arts and nature camp (Youth Mentoring Program, Caldera, Portland, OR).
- A training and outreach program that helps youth develop leadership and critical thinking skills, as well as empowering them to share their talents, by training them to serve as docents at the local museum (Summer Teen Docent Program, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Inc., New Orleans, LA).
- An outreach program designed to provide successful visual arts and science experiences—and a safe forum for self-expression and imagination—for youth in at-risk communities (Action Arts and Science Program, Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science, Sioux Falls, SD).
- A 20-year-old dance nonprofit that has reached tens of thousands of students ages 8 – 18 with free community education programs, summer camps and in-school workshops, helping them acquire skills to succeed in school and in life (CityDance DREAM Program, CityDance Inc., Washington, D.C.).
- An after-school program that uses experiential learning, research and collaborative design to help high school students explore fundamental questions about how their city works (Urban Investigations, The Center for Urban Pedagogy, Inc., Brooklyn, NY).
- A free, year-round, after-school literary arts and literacy program for teen refugee and immigrant, English-language learners (Young Writers & Leaders, The Telling Room, Portland, ME).
In addition to remarks by Massey, twelve students ages 14 – 18 of another awardee--Rosie’s Theater Kids— sang and danced to a medley of songs ranging from George and Ira Gershwin to Paul Simon and Alicia Keys for the audience.
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).