The YouthARTS Development Project, initiated in 1995, is a collaborative effort among Federal agencies, national arts organizations, and a consortium of three local arts agencies in Atlanta, GA; Portland, OR; and San Antonio, TX, designed to identify, implement, and refine effective arts-based delinquency prevention programs. To support this purpose and, at the same time, to provide much-needed information to the broader arts community about the efficacy of such programs, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) partnered in 1995 to conduct a national evaluation of the project.

The YouthARTS Development Project was spearheaded by the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies (NALAA), now Americans for the Arts, in recognition of the expanding role of local arts agencies in using the arts to address social and community development issues. Using data from a 1995 survey of its 3,800 members, NALAA found that increasing numbers of local arts agencies were pursuing social change projects, most of which were programs for youth with the common goal of reducing problem behaviors such as school failure, drug use, delinquency, and teen pregnancy (Mulcahy, 1996).

Figure 1: YouthARTS Development Project Design Despite the growing interest and investment in these programs, however, little was known about their effectiveness in actually preventing juvenile problem behaviors. In 1996, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities found that "only a handful of studies have begun to document the positive relationship between program participation and cognitive development, motivation to learn, organization, self-perception, and resiliency" (Weitz, 1996). After a comprehensive review of existing evaluation research on the impact of arts-based programs for at-risk youth, The RAND Corporation similarly concluded that "interesting arts programs abound, [but] few provide good evaluations of their outcomes" (McArthur and Law, 1996). Although these studies found some evidence to substantiate the hypothesis that arts-based programs could foster desirable participant outcomes, both the quantity and quality of existing evaluations made it difficult to verify the programs' success. According to both the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and RAND, more controlled evaluations of arts programs for at-risk youth were needed to determine whether such programs are effective and, if so, what features of the programs are most important to their success.

The YouthARTS Development Project was launched with three overarching goals: to enhance program development and capacity-building in local arts agencies, to identify effective arts-based delinquency prevention and intervention programs, and to disseminate information about program planning, implementation, and evaluation nationally. To accomplish these goals, three local arts agencies—the Fulton County Arts Council in Atlanta, GA; the Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland, OR; and the San Antonio Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs in San Antonio, TX—with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and several foundations, each collaborated with local social service agencies beginning in the fall of 1996.1 The arts agencies implemented arts-based demonstration programs for youth who were at risk of engaging in problem and delinquent behaviors. Figure 1 depicts the overall YouthARTS program model. Although all three of the YouthARTS programs—Art-at-Work in Atlanta, GA; Youth Arts Public Art in Portland, OR; and Urban smARTS in San Antonio, TX—were based on the same risk- and protection-focused approach, they served different target populations and provided different arts-based activities.

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The YouthARTS Development Project Juvenile Justice Bulletin May 2001