High Quality Arts in Boys & Girls Clubs: Research into Practice

Today’s guest post is from Valerie Heron-Duranti, Director of Innovation & Creativity at BGCA. 

In 2012, The Wallace Foundation, a national philanthropy group whose mission is to improve learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children and the vitality of the arts for everyone, commissioned a study to understand how to support urban youth’s participation in the arts. Through this research, Wallace identified 10 principles that characterize high quality arts programs. These principles came from interviews with key opinion leaders including academics and practitioners; focus group research with arts-interested youth and their parents; and in-depth case studies on some of the nation’s leading out-of-school time arts organizations.

  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 that convey the programs’ high ambition, and affirm the value of art and artists.
  4. A culture of high expectations for participants’ engagement and efforts, and respect for creative expression is established and maintained. Youth participants are affirmed as artists.
  5. Programs culminate with high-profile, well-designed, public events with real deadlines and audiences.
  6. The development of positive relationships with adult mentors and peers that foster a sense of belonging and acceptance is encouraged and supported.
  7. Programs are shaped with active, real-time influence and input, regarding content and approach, from youth participants. Youth are engaged in meaningful leadership roles.
  8. Programs are built around hands-on skill building that uses current equipment and technology.
  9. Programs strategically engage key stakeholders- including parents/caregivers, site staff, and community- to create a network of support and sustainability.
  10. Programs provide a safe place for youth- both physically and emotionally safe.

These principles for success were partially based on the experiences of successful art-focused organizations, not multidisciplinary organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs, which are typically less accustomed to delivering high quality art skill-development programming. While both types of organizations want youth to thrive socially, emotionally and cognitively, they also differ in significant ways.

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So, starting in 2013, BGCA and The Wallace Foundation launched the Youth Arts Initiative, an in-depth research project that examined whether the 10 success principles model for high quality arts programming is exportable and adaptable to non-arts organizations.  Three Club organizations were selected as pilots for the initial phase of the initiative. The goal of this initial phase was to determine if it is possible to implement high quality arts programming in an after-school multidisciplinary youth serving organization.

The initiative was studied by an independent research organization and findings are available in Raising the Barre and Stretching the Canvas: Implementing High Quality Arts Programming in a National Youth Serving Organization. This research from the three-year project confirmed that that BGCA and its pilot Clubs did successfully implement high quality art skill-development programs as defined by the 10 success principles.


The pilot Club organizations hired professional teaching artists, developed near studio-quality spaces, taught classes using near professional-quality equipment, and held public art performances, events, and shows. Findings indicate that youth were engaged participants in the Youth Arts Initiative, showed skill development in their chosen arts discipline and had increased Club participation.


So what does this mean for your Club? Do what you can today to begin implementing the 10 success principles in your arts programs. Use the linked reports to support grant applications and requests for funding increases. Reach out to your local arts community to create partnerships and recruit volunteers and staff. Create space for youth to provide input on the types of programs you offer, and the chance to showcase their work through shows and displays.

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Find more information on BGCA’s arts initiatives using your BGCA.net login here.


This month marks Valerie’s 5 year anniversary at BGCA. In her free time, she is a painter.

How has your Club given members opportunities to pursue the arts? Let us know in the comments or email us at ClubXBlog@bgca.org and YOU could be featured on the Club Experience Blog!



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