The Magic Recipe for High-Quality Arts Programs

BGCA has a bunch of new talent on the Youth Development team! Today we are excited to welcome Director Youth Development Programs and Innovation Ashley Payton with this interview featuring a ClubX Blog returning guest, Craig Knitt from the Boys & Girls Club of Green Bay.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother loved to bake cakes. I loved being there when she baked because that meant I could enjoy eating the leftover cake batter out of the bowl and on the mixing beaters. 

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She’d pull out her personal book of recipes; we’d go shopping for the ingredients, she’d prep the space and materials, and gather all the ingredients: baking powder, milk, room temperature eggs, vanilla extract, salt, flour, sugar, room temperature butter, and cream cheese. Step by step, she’d carefully follow her hand-written recipe. The liquid batter went into the oven, and a fluffy golden cake came out of the oven. She’d always say the magic is in a good recipe. I think you get where I’m going with this. 

The magic is in our recipe, too! Developing high-quality arts programming requires key elements and sound strategies for long-term success. The recipe for success can be revealed by answering four questions: 1) Who is involved? 2) What is needed? 3) Where does this take place? 4) How can this be accomplished? 

I interviewed Craig Knitt, Creative Arts Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Green Bay, to discuss their Club’s insights and achievements utilizing the recipe for quality arts programming. BGC of Greater Green Bay was one of the Youth Arts Initiative (YAI) grant recipients funded by our partners at The Wallace Foundation. YAI supported Clubs in delivering high-quality arts programming for youth that results in high engagement and positive youth development outcomes based on the 10 Principles of High-Quality Arts Programming

Figure 2: A list of Ten Principles for Effective, High-Quality Afterschool Arts Programs

Ingredient #1 WHO 

Creating a high-quality arts program is a collaborative effort. Club leaders, staff, and members collaborate on their shared vision while community stakeholders and professional artists support and share their expertise. 

WHO is involved in creating a high-quality arts program? 

Craig Knitt: We have been involved with the Youth Arts Initiative and the Wallace Foundation, so that was our big starting point, but you can’t just depend on that, you have to kind of hire people that have connections within the community. Not only are you trying to make connections with arts organizations in your area, but you’re also trying to connect with possibilities that you might not even be aware of. 

We have been lucky enough to have our COO Johanna Wicklund very, very much invested. If you don’t have that support at the high end, and if that support doesn’t see the potential that exists there, you’re not going to have a strong program. 

Ingredient #2 WHAT 

There are various arts programs such as Fine Arts, Digital Arts, Applied Arts, and Performing Arts. Different programs need different materials; for example, access to equipment such as current technologies and art supplies. However, all high-quality arts programs foster positive youth-to-adult relationships and provide opportunities for collaboration and leadership. 

WHAT is needed to create a high-quality arts program? 

Craig: These things depend on what you want your kids to learn. You can still have high quality without spending high amounts of money. If I’m teaching an improv workshop, I can do that in a closet with nothing. I mean, there are a lot of possibilities as to what can be done to spend your budget wisely.  

You could find a sponsor to do these things too. 

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Ingredient #3 WHERE 

The environment must be conducive for learning and creativity to take place. Those environments must be dedicated spaces that promote physical and emotional safety and inspire and spark the imagination. 

WHERE do high-quality arts programs take place? 

Craig: Well, I think it’s a variety of different places. We have dedicated spaces, and our dedicated spaces are pretty darn cool. The kids have a lot of say on what their spaces look like too. 

You really want to make it stimulating for your youth. You want it to feel like a creative space, and sometimes that means that it’s overwhelming to some degree, or sometimes it’s calming. Our dance studio is a set of mirrors. Our music studio was modest but had nice posters on the side. I had a lot of art that the kids were working on hanging on the walls so that we could see where our progress was with the projects that we were doing, and I still have that to this day.  

We’ve used local art studios too. I know that my colleague Alex would often take the kids to this natural waterfall. Just sit there and talk, which kind of became this meditation place for his class—so being able to utilize spots like that and not think within the box. 

Ingredients #4 HOW 

Establishing cultures of high expectations, promoting self-expression, and creating opportunities for youth to demonstrate their art skills are all critical to developing high-quality arts programs. 

HOW can Clubs accomplish this work? 

Craig: You have to really sometimes think about the reward system for this, like yeah, you’re going to be part of a pretty big thing but, you’re going to have to work pretty hard on it, and I’m openly honest with my kids about the fact that not all art is a joy to create. Sometimes work is a struggle, sometimes it’s surgery, and sometimes it really takes some work to do it, but the joy is in looking at what you’ve created when you’re done. All of a sudden, you’ve got something really cool that’s never existed before, and that is of value.  

I’ve been working on a collaborative project with some of the kids. We have been commissioned to do a comic book promotion for a company. The kids are really getting a chance to practice the skills they’ve learned in class in a real-life setting and then make some real-life cash on it. We emphasize the importance of entrepreneurism.  

What other ways do you incorporate youth voice and choice? 

Craig: Well, we are always surveying them to see what direction the kids want to go in. We also turn it into a pizza party day. Listening to youth voice that’s what we’re all about. 

Every project that we’ve started or worked on has stemmed from a kid’s idea – starting as a concept, but you also have to be kind of someone who can see the big picture. A kid might want to make a puzzle today. It’s like, okay, well, let’s see if we could put that puzzle in a coloring book that other kids were talking about, and now all of a sudden, we’ve got a bigger project that can be something even cooler. We are always looking at ways of building on two different ideas.  

I would love doing campfires with my kids where *we didn’t have a real fire*, we had an artificial stuffed log, and we put it in the middle of the room and we’d sit around the room, and we talk about ideas and seeing where we could go. I’d take notes on everything that we were talking about. We’d also take over the conference room and have a legit conference meeting planning out our next chain of attack. I would listen to what they were saying, write it all down, and build off it, teaching them about brainstorming and problem solving.  

Key Takeaways 

High-quality arts programming stimulates learning, inspires creativity, and helps members explore 21st-century career opportunities. The magic is in the recipe. The recipe is collaborative, strategic, and evidence based. Research shows that participation in arts experiences develops youth’s cognitive and social-emotional skills for success in all aspects of life, including self-awareness, curiosity, cultural awareness, communication, and collaboration. Engagement in the arts promotes positive outcomes, including increased academic performance, college-going rates, and employment retention. For these reasons and much more, BGCA is committed to ensuring that all youth access innovative, high-quality arts programming.  

Support your Club or community by following the recipe for quality arts programming.   

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Here are some more Arts resources:

What are your favorite Arts programming ideas? How do you program “outside of the box”? Let us know! Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email

About Ashley Payton

Ashley is a Director of Youth Programs and Innovation. Before coming to BGCA, she worked in Educational Broadcasting for a PBS affiliate station as an Early Learning Specialist. She enjoys creative writing and consuming, producing, and directing short films and digital content in her free time. 

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