Imagine a 5-year-old child painting at home with her mother, a teenager acting in his school play, or a middle-school girl taking dance lessons at a community center. These experiences help young people develop the creative and critical-thinking skills necessary to succeed in our rapidly changing world. At Americans for the Arts, we want everyone to have the opportunity to experience the arts because we believe the arts have the power to transform lives.

Providing hope

We recently witnessed such a powerful transformation when an artist named Inocente attended our Annual Convention with a story that is nothing short of incredible. As a teenager, Inocente was homeless, the victim of abuse and the daughter of undocumented immigrants. Her life had hit rock bottom until she walked into an arts center in National City, Calif. called A Reason to Survive. She began painting, and indeed, it gave her the reason she had been searching for. She graduated from high school and was able to sell her art to avoid living on the streets. Her powerful story of perseverance was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary, “Inocente.”

"Not every young person will go on to be an artist. But they will all be better students, employees, and citizens if they indeed have opportunities to embrace their creativity."

It takes an entire community of concerned teachers, parents, business leaders and elected officials to ensure that young people like Inocente are not only surviving, but thriving. And when arts teachers, general classroom teachers, artists and community organizations partner together, the results are powerful. Just look at models like Arts for All in Los Angeles, Big Thought in Dallas, or the Arts Expansion Initiative in Boston, and you’ll see how activating all of the partners in a student’s field of influence can provide extraordinary experiences for students.

Encouraging the next generation 

So, what can you do to encourage the next generation to embrace their creativity and reach their full potential? Talk to your mayor about using arts programs to decrease youth violence and encourage positive youth development. If you’re a parent, make note of your school district’s arts education strengths and weaknesses and start a conversation with a school leader. Or, if you’re up for playing host, arrange a creative conversation about the arts in your community—invite friends and neighbors, elected officials and students who can perform.

There is a wide array of resources available exploring the importance of art in young people’s lives. These tools equip parents, students and advocates with the knowledge, statistics and case-making techniques needed to effectively communicate the value of the arts to education leaders. For instance, did you know that only 3 percent of elementary schools nationwide offer dance? Or that students who take more arts classes have a higher graduation rate than those who don’t? To make a difference in your community, volunteer, speak to elected officials, and work with others to increase the visibility of the issue.

Not every young person will go on to be an artist like Inocente. But they will all be better students, employees, and citizens if they indeed have opportunities to embrace their creativity.