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Youth Arts Impact Network – Keys to Connection and Impact

Käthe Swaback, Program Officer

photo of two works by two different workshop participants - one has an image of a key horizontal over a post it note with the text from the moment they step through the door they are seen and valued. Always. No exception. It's a practice that sends a powerful message: You belong here. The other piece is of a vertical key with bands of color behind it. Each band contains a different word, support, understand, and listen.
Pieces created during artmaking session at Keys to Belonging, and Systems Change at the Creative Youth Development and arts education convening at the ICA Seaport Studio.

From the moment they step through the door, they are seen and valued. Always – no exception. It’s a practice that sends a powerful message: You Belong Here.

– Creative Youth Development practitioner, YAIN convening, October 2023.

The Youth Arts Impact Network (YAIN), facilitated in partnership with EdVestors, has spent the past ten years supporting Creative Youth Development (CYD) organizations to maximize their effectiveness in creating spaces, messages, and support for and with young people. Centered in the intersecting values of creativity, youth leadership, and social justice, YAIN is about systems change for the youth arts sector in Massachusetts. YAIN has the specific goals of strengthening the Massachusetts youth arts community, building capacity of the larger CYD field, and supporting youth arts organizations in better serving young people and maximizing their impact. We celebrate the work of YAIN in the CYD sector, the ways it has attended to the needs and strengths of our field, and its potential areas of focus in FY25.

History and Now

In 2014, after the conclusion of the Boston Youth Arts Evaluation Project (BYAEP), YAIN was created to meet the growing needs of the CYD community in Greater Boston. EdVestors, with support from the Barr Foundation, established YAIN as a cohort of over 100 youth arts organizations with the goal to strengthen the local youth arts community and build capacity of the larger CYD field. In 2021, the Youth Arts Impact Network was further supported when Mass Cultural Council and EdVestors formed a statewide public-private partnership to tell the story of youth arts in a way that can bring new resources into the field.

In alignment with YAIN’s priorities, we strive to more explicitly focus on shifting the conditions of systems change in order to advance equity. Particularly we will be focusing on relationships and connections, helping organizations with a flow of resources, and by working to launch innovative practices.


  • Strengthen Relationships and Connections: Statewide convenings
  • Provide Resources: Comprehensive website and pro bono office hours.
  • Improve Practices: Support for improved data gathering systems and resources – 3C Data Alliance and YAIN Indicators

Relationships and Connections


photo of a dozen people of various backgrounds and ages sitting on both sides of a table that extends up the center of the image making collage art.
Artmaking at Keys to Belonging and Systems Change the Creative Youth Development and arts education convening at the ICA Seaport Studio.

The YAIN partnership has created value for the sector through the co-facilitation of multiple convenings to address key themes and issues in CYD and creative education. An important part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic was the virtual convenings YAIN offered, co-led by EdVestors, the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, and Mass Cultural Council. In 2023, convenings were widened to include national partners such as the Clare Rose Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. YAIN continues to build the field of CYD by holding convenings to address ongoing sector wide challenges and to celebrate the successes of the CYD field both in Massachusetts and in the nation.

Funders, practitioners, teaching artists, and organizations convene in the same space, creating trust and breaking down power dynamics while increasing connections. We consistently hear from participants that the convenings have helped them find ways to recruit, hire, and support their staff, which then leads to higher quality and more impactful programs for youth. By sharing best practices, investigating challenges, and resourcing tools and systems, the YAIN convenings enable staff from arts education and CYD organizations to connect with one another, learn together, and build a community, while maximizing effectiveness, responsiveness, and efficacy.

2023-2024, convenings have included:

  • July and August – “Coffee Chats” at the EdVestors’ office. Shared best practices and tips for working effectively with schools around communicating and data gathering. Julia Gittleman, Rehearsal for Life, Open Door Arts, and Boston Public Schools.
  • October – “In-Person Creative Youth Development and Arts Education Convening” at the ICA Seaport Studio with the goal of bringing the YouthReach, CYD, and arts education sector together in person. Participants also immersed themselves through dialogue and artmaking, in the discussion about the role of CYD organizations in mental health and how they help to create keys to belonging with young people.
  • December – Virtual convening, “Uplifting and celebrating the work of CYD” with guest speakers from Arts in Recovery for Youth, Humano Cultural Project, and I Learn America.
  • February – In person convening offered a captivating night of poetry and art at the Roxbury Innovation Center with New York Times bestselling author and educator, Renée Watson, along with acclaimed artist and illustrator, Ekua Holmes. There we celebrated the release of their new book of poetry and art, Black Girl You Are Atlas (along with their beautiful educators guide).
  • March – Virtual convening centered on the topic of “Mental Health Support” led by a social work graduate student intern from Boston University.

group photo with Renée Watson and Ekua Holmes (seated) and members of the Youth Arts Impact Network stand behind them.
Acclaimed author, Renée Watson, with reknowned artist, Ekua Holmes (seating in the front), celebrating the release of poetry and art, Black Girl You Are Atlas, with the Creative Youth Development and arts education sector.



The YAIN website enables youth arts and CYD organizations to gain immediate access to relevant and timely resources, frameworks, reports, and current opportunities, including community networking events. By having a central repository that is active and current, organizations can find useful resources when they need them. Furthermore, through this flow of resources, we share opportunities from aligned sectors to support needs in the youth arts community. This includes opportunities for funding, research, webinars, and other opportunities for connection. YAIN levels the playing field by showcasing research and connecting people to it.


YAIN has also sought to help answer the question of, “How can we boldly and efficiently capture, analyze, and communicate our impact effectively?” through its pro bono office hours. The 2021 partnership extended YAIN’s services, expertise, and resources to youth-focused organizations across the state. As part of the funding for the Youth Arts Impact Network, CYD organizations can utilize free consulting hours in program design and evaluation provided by researcher and evaluator Julia Gittleman. By accessing pro bono consulting services, CYD organizations are better prepared to address their individual program needs. Services connected to program design, data gathering, and communication lead to organizations being better able to hire, retain and support high quality staff, who themselves are then better able to provide impactful arts education and CYD programming for young people. Since 2022 over 40 organizations have participated in more than 200 office hours. One example of the pro bono consulting services comes from a board member at a small arts organization working to expand its base of supporters. After working with Julia over several sessions to get their message, budget, and proposal documents organized and refined, a board member wrote, “…staff informed me today that we have been awarded a two-year grant from a private foundation. She also told me how helpful you had been in securing this grant. Thank you for your support, advice, and encouragement. With appreciation.”

In 2023-2024 as part of a pilot partnership with Hyde Square Task Force, EdVestors is hosting a social work graduate student intern from Boston University to provide information and resources around mental health and wellness for CYD organizations. By providing opportunities for organizations to share challenges related to programming and youth mental health, this effort strives to offer space and support in connecting youth to necessary resources to enhance their mental health and wellbeing.

YAIN is responsive to the field, by helping organizations elevate their pathways, processes, and resources.



“Investigate how to better track the impact of arts and culture programs (including those led by Creative Youth Development organizations) and their ability to foster trust, cultivate relationships and strengthen social connections.” – National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Why Cross-Sector Collaboration Now: Arts + Health for Social Cohesion

Indicators: One of the key needs of our CYD field has been authentically developing thoughtful indicators for measuring outcomes with/by/for young people. In 2021, a six-person Youth Arts Impact Network Task Force was formed to develop a set of priority indicators to align with research (including the Ten Dimensions of Powerful Arts Education Practice published by the Hewlett Foundation) and with the lived experience of CYD organizations, alumni, and young people. The indicators expand the common language for our field and are designed to inspire and support communities of young people to tell their own story of agency, impact, and systems change. Organizations throughout Massachusetts and the nation have utilized these indicators and outcomes, not as a recipe, but as ingredients that they can pick from to design surveys and ultimately tell their own unique story of impact.

Data System: Nationally CYD organizations continued to voice the need for improved, equitable evaluation and data management tools, and systems for both gathering and analysis of data and to prioritize youth voice in building these systems. An exciting new effort called the 3C (Create Collaborate Catalyze) Data Alliance allows for equity and youth voice to be centered in the design of a platform where organizations of all sizes can track their own data, share their stories, document their impact, and improve their programs.

To form the 3C Data Alliance and to meet these goals, YAIN partnered further with CYD organizations across the country. With DreamYard as the project lead, this groundbreaking initiative aims at transforming how CYD organizations nationwide work with program and youth participant data. Receiving a grant of $250,000 from The Wallace Foundation has enabled a pilot of five organizations to establish training and support processes for youth and adult users in a Salesforce-based system centered on equity and youth voice. The 3C Data Alliance is engaging cross-sector funders to also unlock other resources that can aid in collective impact. A shared data system will enable participating arts education and CYD organizations to change the way they gather, organize, and utilize their program and youth participant data.

YAIN’s support of this new system will allow young people and organizations to feel seen, heard, and resourced with advocacy data for themselves and for the systems they wish to change.

Moving Forward

YAIN will continue to promote the power of arts and culture which will inform more holistic discussions, investigating ways to understand and communicate impact. With the ongoing need for accessible mechanisms for organizations to document and share qualitative and quantitative data around often complex impact measures, YAIN will continue to support the development of collective impact indicators that focus on how programs in arts, culture, and CYD particularly help to decrease loneliness, increase creativity and problem solving, and to strengthen connections.

Creative Youth Development is a vital part of the arts and culture ecosystem and actively contributes to creating thriving communities. YAIN will continue to support innovative work while building cross-sector relationships to expand access to solutions and greater systems change. Systems change demands sustained investments and partnerships to be effective. The public-private partnership between Mass Cultural Council and EdVestors continues to be a vehicle for that change at a time of unique and growing challenges in the youth arts community in Massachusetts.

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