For more than 10 years, OJJDP has partnered with NEA to support arts programs that help steer at-risk youth away from delinquency and reintegrate juvenile offenders back into the community. One such program, Will Power to Youth, hires young people to produce, adapt, and perform a Shakespeare play during the summer. The 7-week session brings local youth together with professional artists who, in addition to their roles as teachers and drama directors, often serve as mentors. Students explore thematic issues in Shakespeare's plays and learn about the artistic and mechanical aspects of staging a play.
In Richmond, VAone of the sites participating in OJJDP's Gang Reduction Program—teenagers studied Romeo and Juliet during the summer of 2007 and performed an adaptation of the play set in Richmond's Jackson Ward neighborhood during the 1930s. The youth designed the period costumes and the stage sets. In the process of planning the production, they gained professional skills in the arts and increased their knowledge about the history of their community. Created by Shakespeare Festival/LA, Will Power to Youth is widely recognized for its effectiveness in combating truancy, dropping out of school, violence, and unemployment.
OJJDP funding through the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has also made possible the recent expansion of NEA's Shakespeare for a New Generation program to support performances and educational activities targeted to youth involved with the juvenile justice system in six locations around the country.
Following are descriptions of how several theater companies have been reaching out to youth with innovative activities and programming:
Acting OJJDP Administrator
Mural Arts Program Transforms Lives, Enriches Communities
Since 2008, OJJDP has funded the City of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program (MAP), the largest public arts program in the country. MAP pairs artists with underserved, at-risk, and adjudicated youth to create murals that transform public spaces in a way that reflects the community's culture and history.
OJJDP funding supports MAP's Restorative Justice project, which provides art instruction, mural making, and community service to youth in the juvenile justice system. With professional artists serving as teachers and mentors; inmates, ex-offenders, and juvenile delinquents are offered the opportunity to develop not only vocational skills, but also life skills such as teamwork, problem solving, conflict-resolution, and community engagement. A major goal of this effort is to build a foundation for youth's successful reentry into their communities.
OJJDP is assisting MAP in expanding its restorative justice program to delinquent youth from Saint Gabriels Hall (Audubon, PA), Glen Mills School (Glen Mills, PA), and VisionQuest (Philadelphia). Thus far, the youth have completed two murals: "Sacred Spaces" and "Love? Speak for Me," which explores the theme of preventing dating violence. MAP plans to partner with Temple University’s Criminal Justice Department to provide youth reentering their communities with mentors who can expose them to the possibilities of education, including college. The success of MAP in these three locations will be measured by tracking rates of reoffending and rearrest, program attendance, community service hours, and youth enrollment in other MAP programs.
Since 1984, MAP has created more than 3,000 murals and works of public art. The program engages more than 100 communities each year in the transformation of neighborhoods through the mural-making process.