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Home / Blog / Youth / Social Development and the Arts: Creative Youth Across Borders

Social Development and the Arts: Creative Youth Across Borders

Greg Liakos, Communications Director

Youth performing traditional dance at México’s Veracruz Institute of Culture.We’ve seen how creative expression lifts young people beyond poverty, disability, and other societal barriers here in Massachusetts and across the nation.

Today the movement for creative youth transcends national borders. Earlier this month, our neighbors to the south shared some of their insights on the transformative power of the arts in the lives young people at a Harvard University panel discussion.

“Social Development and the Arts in Latin America” was centered around lessons learned from El Sistema, the music education program founded by renowned Venezuelan economist and humanist José Antonio Abreu in 1975. The discussion was moderated by Harvard Business School Professor Tarun Khanna, co-author of a seminal case study on El Sistema.

Eduardo Méndez, Executive Director of El Sistema, noted that it was founded “as a social program, not a cultural program.” It aims not to produce great musicians, or even professional ones, but to nurture children and adolescents in an environment that combines strong social and emotional support, intellectual rigor, and aesthetic inspiration. Programs in more than 70 countries have now
adopted El Sistema principles of “inclusion, ensemble learning, and collective, committed pursuit of musical excellence,” according to Méndez.

But the discussion moved beyond El Sistema model and classical music to highlight the power of all arts disciplines to transform the lives of youth, particularly those living in poverty. Enrique Márquez is Director General of México’s Veracruz Institute of Culture, which has harnessed the time and energy of thousands of middle-class and wealthy volunteers to work with disadvantaged children and adolescents in programs that teach theater, music, dance, and the visual arts. The connections have broken down class barriers and built trust at a time when social isolation threatens to become an international epidemic, according to Márquez.

“The arts have this wonderful ability to bring people together,” he said. “Arts, even classical music, can be very inclusive.”

The Mass Cultural Council is committed to supporting creative youth through grants, initiatives, and advocacy. Through annual investment of more than $1.5 million in national-model programs alongside grants for new and emerging organizations, we support a generation of young people whose creativity and leadership will transform Massachusetts and its communities. This year, we have expanded our grant recipient pool to 74 programs through YouthReach and SerHacer, and will continue to support Amplify, the META Fellowship, and Johnson String Project. Mass Cultural Council is also a founding member of the Creative Youth Development National Partnership.


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