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Creative Youth Development Organizations Carrying Community Through COVID

Erik Holmgren, Program Manager

8 youth artists stand next to large sculptural pieces they created
Youth artists with Express Yourself stand by their creations.

Art has the potential to change the world. Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, to inspire, and that is what Artists for Humanity allowed me to do.” – Teen participant in Artist for Humanity’s Creative Youth Development program

Mass Cultural Council’s YouthReach is the longest continually running support program for Creative Youth Development (CYD) work in the United States. Started in 1994, this program has invested more than $15 million into more than 100 organizations in its 27-year history.

In FY22, YouthReach is proudly providing $1,584,000 to 72 Creative Youth Development programs that focus on infusing youth development with creative experiences in the arts, humanities, and interpretive sciences.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, CYD organizations throughout Massachusetts pivoted their operations rapidly to maintain and deepen connections with young people. Meeting youth’s basic physical and mental health needs had to accompany and/or precede art-making. The human services side of these organizations became a visible and essential part of community life as they stepped up to provide support for youth and families struggling with food and housing insecurity, mental and physical health needs, and other challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Mass Cultural Council has published a report, Carrying Community through COVID, describing the intense challenges that CYD organizations faced between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. In addition to reflecting on the changes the COVID-19 pandemic brought to CYD organizations, the report also details how these organizations expanded their missions with creativity, resourcefulness, and flexibility. The data in the report was provided by the 72 CYD programs funded through YouthReach and represents a range of disciplines, rural and urban environments, and youth participants of various ages.

Key findings from Carrying Community through COVID:

  • The number of youth enrolled in CYD programs dropped by nearly 20% during the pandemic due to mental health challenges, the digital divide, and a lack of opportunity for recruiting.
  • In FY20, CYD organizations made a significant pivot to providing human service support for youth and families. In the second year of the pandemic, they deepened partnerships and formalized support for this work with particular emphasis in the areas of:
    • Mental health
    • Racial justice
    • Food insecurity
  • Looking ahead, a majority of CYD programs developed new programmatic strategies that will continue in their post-pandemic work, including:
    • Inclusion of hybrid virtual programming and access to technology
    • Diversifying curriculum – amplifying youth and BIPOC narratives
    • Providing increased support for individuals and families
    • Engaging new artists

Download Carrying Community through COVID report

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