Have you heard the latest about the arts and latchkey kids? They can have a profound direct connection. That's the word from the White House, where awards were given last week to programs around America that are helping to keep "at-risk" young people off the streets and out of gangs by engaging them in the visual and performing arts.
Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the "Coming Up Taller Awards" recognized the 10 best programs out of 615 nominations from 48 states and D.C. Such programs as YARD (Youth at Risk Dancing) at Cleveland's School of the Arts, which provides dance training for young men; Seattle's Experimental Gallery at the Children's Museum, which exhibits work of juvenile offenders enrolled in creative-writing and drama classes; and Appalachian Media Institute in Whitesburg, Ky., where training in radio and video production is turning around the dropout rate, which has been 2 out of every 5 high school students.
Arts programs like these can give young people hope, dignity, and a sense of their own potential. Participants often go on to win academic honors and contribute to their communities.
Sure, awards presenter Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke eloquently about these innovative programs, as have various administrators, but some of the most powerful words came from participants like Cesar Vaquera, a former Seattle inmate whose artwork produced in prison was displayed at the Experimental Gallery: "I don't know where I'd be if I didn't have art," he said recently. "Maybe a junkie, maybe almost dead."
Bravo to the NEA and the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities for thrusting these groups into the national spotlight. Perhaps the check for $10,000, such high-level recognition, and especially the opportunity to benefit young people, their families, and their communities will inspire even more arts groups to take to the streets.
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Note to readers: Starting next week, "Editor's Notebook" will be written by Gregory M. Lamb, the new editor of the Arts & Leisure section. Jennifer Wolcott will be writing for the Homefront section as well as contributing occasional arts stories.