Art-at-Work

Program Description

In September 1996, the Fulton County Arts Council entered into a collaborative partnership with the Fulton County Juvenile Court to implement Art-at-Work in Atlanta, GA. This program was designed to provide art instruction, job training, and literacy education to a small group of first-time status offenders, ages 14 to 16, whose most serious juvenile offense was truancy. Program participants were referred by probation officers of youth who were first-time truants on probation for 2 years, a period consistent with the length of the Art-at-Work program. The program was limited to 15 youth to allow for intensive one-on-one interaction between the artists and the youth. Art-at-Work was designed to provide participants with:

  • Improved art and employment skills (e.g., goal setting, communication, sales/marketing).

  • Opportunities to use their new skills to produce, exhibit, and sell their own art.

  • Opportunities to display artwork and receive public recognition for their work.

  • Exposure to career opportunities in the arts.

  • Opportunities to develop positive relationships with adult role models and peers.

  • Improved or increased self-esteem, pride, discipline, commitment, responsibility, and attitudes about school and the future.

  • Increased prosocial behavior and reduced alienation from others.

In addition, youth were expected to show increased academic, vocational, and social success and decreased truancy and other delinquent behaviors.

During the planning stages, the Arts Council worked closely with the Fulton County Juvenile Court. The newly hired project manager attended juvenile hearings, met with judges and probation officers, and shadowed probation officers to learn more about the juvenile justice system. The chief judge assigned the director of intake to serve as the key liaison to the Art-at-Work program. Over time, court officials, including the chief judge, supported the program by publicizing its achievements, visiting classes, and attending exhibits of participants' work at the end of each program session. In addition, juvenile court probation officers who referred youth to the program periodically conferred with the lead artist to ensure that youth were participating in the program and to help the artists address behavioral problems.

Art-at-Work staff positions included a project manager, a program coordinator, artist instructors, and a local data collector. Although Art-at-Work planned to hire a social worker to assist with the program, the position was never filled. The director of the Fulton County Arts Council served as the executive director of the program. Four full-time and three part-time artists were carefully selected by the project manager and program coordinator from a pool of qualified artists who had experience working with at-risk populations.

A week before the program started, program staff conducted an artist training session. The curriculum included topics such as child development, conflict resolution, problem solving, and classroom management.

In the fall of 1996, probation officers referred 15 youth to the program, only 10 of whom were still participating regularly by December. Youth were not required to attend the program, and overall attendance was lower and more sporadic than expected by program staff. Reasons for sporadic attendance included problems for teen mothers in finding affordable childcare, schedule conflicts with other afterschool activities, and problems with transportation. During the evaluation, analysis of the backgrounds of youth who regularly attended the program revealed that several were not first-time status offenders but rather had committed more serious offenses before program participation.

The Arts Council allocated space within its West End Performing Arts Center—a location easily accessible by public transportation and within walking distance of many participants' homes—for program activities. The Art-at-Work program activities included arts instruction in various art disciplines, a literacy component, and job skills training. A 12-week art session was provided during the fall-winter school term, followed by a 12-week spring session, with a break between sessions that corresponded with winter vacation for students. Each of the 12-week sessions operated for 2 hours after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 4 hours on Saturdays. During the summer, an intensive 8-week session met for 5 hours per day, Monday through Friday. Although not part of the original program design, an additional 8-week session, operating on the same schedule as the 12-week sessions, was added to the program in May to keep youth involved during the transition from the end of the school year until the start of the summer session. On alternate Saturdays throughout the program, visiting artists provided additional arts instruction or field trip opportunities for the participants. The field trips included visits to the Atlanta College of Art, the Nexus Press, Seven Stages and other local theaters, and art exhibits. The youth participants, who were called apprentice artists, were paid $5 per hour during the school year and $100 per week during the summer for participating in the classes and producing marketable art.

Creating a clay sculpture in the Art-at-Work program in Atlanta, GA Throughout the program year, the youth were divided between two studios, each of which focused on a particular art discipline. Half of the participants were assigned to each studio, and halfway through the session, the two groups switched studios. Separating the participants into two studios decreased the apprentice-instructor ratios, and switching between studios provided youth with an opportunity to work with new media and different instructors. The art disciplines covered during the year were graphic design, drawing, painting, mosaics, sculpture, artist chairs, murals, photography, and drama. In the studios, each of the apprentices developed multiple pieces of art to display for sale at an exhibition at the end of the cycle and at least one piece that he or she could take home. Proceeds from the sale of the art helped cover the program's operating costs, including stipends. This process of producing and selling art was designed to teach the participants practical business concepts, including production goals, inventory, and marketing.

Evaluation Activities and Findings

The outcome evaluation in Atlanta was almost immediately hampered by difficulties in identifying an appropriate control group. A control group could not be formed from the 15 youth initially identified as program candidates because they all accepted the invitation to participate. Probation officers were then asked to identify another group of youth who were similar to the program participants with respect to age, sex, race, and court involvement to serve as the control group. These youth were offered a modest stipend to participate. Because only three youth accepted, evaluators decided not to include them in the evaluation. Probation officers were asked to identify another group of youth for whom academic and court data could be collected from existing school and court records; they identified 12 youth for the control group. Of the 10 core program participants, complete evaluation data were collected for 7. Thus, the participant and control groups for whom evaluation data were available included 7 and 12 youth, respectively. Moreover, only archival data were collected for the control group youth; they did not complete the YOC survey. Participant survey and archival data were augmented with interview data from the art staff about the program participants and from the participants themselves.

People underestimate the power of art and the power of youth to express themselves. Art-at-Work gives youth a voice.
Art-at-Work Program Manager

Art gives you a way to express yourself. You can get your feelings out through your art without hurting anyone.

Art-at-Work Participant

I think we often underestimate youth. I was surprised at how kids with no art experience could not only increase their knowledge of art concepts but apply what they learned in a critique of a mural.

Art-at-Work Artist

I learned how to work with other people. The people skills I learned in the program have helped me. I am working and want to go to business school.

Art-at-Work Participant

If I wasn't in the program I probably would have gotten pregnant again and dropped out of school. Now I'm still in school and doing good.

Art-at-Work Participant

Since I started the program, I've started back to school regularly. I've started being responsible.

Art-at-Work Participant

If you expect very little from youth, that is what you will get! We expected high-quality [art] products, and that is what the youth produced. They more than met our expectations.

Art-at-Work Artist

According to the end-of-program participant skills assessment, all seven of the young artists had gained the skills necessary to produce quality art, had produced art, and had received public recognition for their work. The art staff also reported remarkable improvement in the participants' enthusiasm and appreciation for art over the course of the program. As depicted in figure 2, all seven youth showed improvement in four of the program-related skills assessed by the evaluation: art skills, cooperating with others, participating, and communicating effectively with their peers.

Figure 2: Program-Related Skills Exhibited by Art-at-Work Participants

Responses from the YOC participant survey reflect improvements in attitudes toward school, attitudes about drug use, and the frequency with which the youth engaged in delinquent behaviors. Feedback from the probation officers tends to suggest Art-at-Work had a positive impact on the attitudes and behaviors of youth. Probation officers noted that youth who participated in the program demonstrated increased self-esteem and an increased sense of accomplishment and pride and showed improved relationships with their peers and family members. They also believed the program was valuable because, in addition to being a fun, safe, and challenging afterschool activity, it enhanced future opportunities for some of the participants by providing skills that will help them academically and vocationally. Although the limited academic data collected for the two groups preclude drawing any meaningful conclusions about academic achievement, participants indicated in interviews that their participation in the program had a positive influence on their academic performance. Two participants decided to continue their education beyond high school as a result of the arts program, with one attending business school and the other enrolling in art classes at community college.

Refurbishing a chair in the Art-at-Work prgram in Atlanta, GA. Despite the disappointing quality and quantity of evaluation data from the Art-at-Work program, even cautious interpretation of the information provided by the youth participants and program staff suggests the program was beneficial. Recognizing the limitations of this evaluation but still committed to arts-based prevention, Art-at-Work is continuing to evaluate its program.

Plans for the Future

After completion of the first Art-at-Work program period, the project manager held a meeting to discuss the findings from the evaluation with partners from the community, including judges and probation officers. In addition, former program participants and program staff were invited to provide input. The focus of the meeting was to reassess the program design based on lessons learned from the evaluation. As a result, the group decided to make several changes.

Greater attention to recruitment. Although the program's original design called for provision of services to truant youth, the court data collected for the evaluation verified that, indeed, youth who participated in the Art-at-Work program were more involved with the juvenile justice system than the program originally anticipated. Under the new program design, greater attention is given to recruitment and assessment of participants with minor delinquent offenses including status offenses such as truancy. Program staff determined that the program is not equipped to address the more serious offenders who tend to have multiple problems such as substance abuse and dependency issues.

Limited duration of the program. Rather than expecting youth to commit to a 2-year period, program staff have redesigned the program to operate for 1 year. The attrition rates suggested that a 12-month period was "long enough" for youth. The demands on youth's time (e.g., afterschool activities, full-time work, family commitments) and changes in interest made a 2-year commitment unrealistic for most youth.

Continued evaluation. The project manager and others involved with the Art-at-Work program saw clearly how important evaluation results were for obtaining ongoing program support and funding and for improving the overall quality of the program. Recognizing many problems with the initial evaluation of Art-at-Work (e.g., missing data, lack of academic data, poor selection of comparison group), the project manager approached Caliber Associates to conduct a new evaluation to begin in late September 2000. This evaluation is in progress. Caliber is currently addressing the problems of the initial evaluation with the project manager, and plans are in place for conducting a rigorous evaluation using either random assignment or a true matched comparison design. Plans call for building the evaluation into the program's overall design to allow for accumulation of data on more youth participants over several years, which will permit program staff to make stronger statements about the significance of the arts program in changing youth attitudes and behaviors. This approach will not compromise the ability of the artists to continue working with small numbers of youth on a one-on-one basis.

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The YouthARTS Development Project Juvenile Justice Bulletin May 2001