National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards: Celebrating 20 Years of the Nation’s Best After-School and In-School Arts Programs

   Across the United States, after-school and in-school arts education programs continue to fulfill a vital need for our nation’s youth—from self-discovery and learning new forms of expression to fostering self-confidence and providing them with a safe haven to grow.

The NAHYP Awards are given annually to organizations renowned for their efforts to develop high-quality arts and humanities programs for youth. This year’s finalists have all demonstrated how these programs, which are offered outside of the regular school day, enrich the lives of young people. These programs supplement in-school curricula and offer intensive instruction on weekends, afternoons and/or during summer vacations.

Twelve awardee organizations will be announced in the fall. They’ll each receive $10,000, plaques, and the opportunity to attend the ceremony in Washington, D.C., along with their participants, families, elected officials and representatives of several federal cultural agencies. Previous awardees have included Ailey Camp Miami,Subway Sleuths,Manchester Craftsman Guild,True Colors: Out Youth Theater, Appalachian Media Institute, and Moving in the Spirit.

As a person committed to fostering the next generation of artists and arts managers, I am honored and proud to be a member of the team working behind the scenes to support the finalists in their preparation for the NAHYP Awards. I have been an up-close witness to how participating in this program has allowed arts organizations to do business in a new way; to cultivate and engage new participants, and increase funding opportunities.

When I began my work with this effort 15 years ago, the award was called Coming Up Taller.At that time,none of the U.S. government’s cultural agencies were supporting or acknowledging excellence in arts programming for youth. However, during the Bush administration,a partnership was formed with the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, under the umbrella of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The awards were renamed to bring national attention to the necessity of ensuring creative development and expression for youth.

The NAHYP Awards are headed by Traci Slater-Rigaud, through a cooperative agreement between  the National Association of States Arts Agencies (NASAA) and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Traci’s work as an arts educator with the National PTA, several major arts institutions, and community arts-based programs allows her to speak with authority when she says, “The arts give kids a voice and validates who they are as people.” I admire Traci because she has done extremely well navigating D.C.’s political climate with grace and élan through three presidential administrations.

It is a humbling experience to work with the awardees. They are deeply engaged in the trenches with youth; they work in major urban centers, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as rural areas, fishing towns, or isolated communities. I applaud each and every one of them for their efforts to help youth awaken their artistic and humanistic spirits, which often results in changing the trajectory of their lives. Over the past 15 years I have heard hundreds of these organizations share stories about their other significant accomplishments, including increased graduation rates from high school and college; helping girls develop body confidence and self-esteem, or confronting and stopping bullying in their communities.

Research has demonstrated the positive impact the arts have on youth, such as the development of critical thinking skills, an eye for detail, and empathy towards others. Now more, more than ever, it is crystal clear that we need even more programs that provide youth with opportunities for creative development and expression. The NAHYP Awards provide a national platform to further showcase the constructive value of the arts and humanities, and shine a light on our youths’ dire need for these outlets. If your organization or institution has an arts enrichment program for youth, or if you are aware of any programs that need support and recognition, I sincerely encourage you to share this blog and information about the NAHYP Awards and the Creative Youth Development Programs.

Congratulations to the 2017 NAHYP Awardees!Thank you and congratulations to Traci! And my deepest appreciation to all of the artists, arts educators and facilitators who dedicate their time to continue to create safe, creative environments for our children and youth to thrive in the arts!