Toolkit Review: YouthARTS Toolkit

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A free, online resource on how to design, implement, evaluate and train workers for arts-focused prevention/intervention programs, particularly for at-risk youth.

Target Audience

Organizations serving 11- to 17-year-olds, including after-school programs, arts agencies, juvenile justice systems, residential facilities, social service agencies, schools and PTAs.

Produced By

The toolkit was produced by the YouthARTS Development Project, a demonstration study that examined the efficacy of arts programs for at-risk youth. The project was a partnership among Americans for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Justice. It was launched in response to an Americans for the Arts survey of more than 600 youth arts programs in 1995 that found little scientific evidence of positive outcomes for at-risk youth, although respondents reported anecdotal positive outcomes. The project sought to rigorously examine and statistically document processes and outcomes at youth arts sites in Portland, Ore.; Atlanta; and San Antonio.

“We knew that in addition to doing research, we needed to come up with tools to help people develop new or strengthen existing programs – which is where the toolkit came in,” said Randy Cohen, vice president of policy and research for Americans for the Arts.

The demonstration was sponsored by the Regional Arts & Culture Council in Portland, the Fulton County Arts Council in Atlanta and the San Antonio Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs.


Although initially developed as a prevention/intervention program for at-risk youth, Cohen said, “any kid with a school locker is pretty much in that category for us” – referring to the YouthARTS target segment of middle to high school-aged students.

The toolkit provides comprehensive instruction, examples, guidelines, tips and resources for helping to plan, fund, staff, operate and evaluate a development-based visual, creative writing or performance art program.


The site divides material into five tabbed sections: About YouthARTS; Program Planning; Team Training; Evaluation; and Costs, Resources and Advocacy.

About YouthARTS includes background information on the original demonstration project and descriptions of the programs at the three sites: Art-at-Work (Fulton County, Ga.), Urban smARTS (San Antonio), and Youth Arts Public Art (Portland). It also provides links to other key sections of the site, including Best Practices, Appendices and the Glossary.

Program Planning helps users assess their program’s capacity to provide arts programming. It offers planning models, design and collaboration guidelines, tips on selecting participants, and information about youth risk and protective factors that need to be considered in program and curriculum planning.

Team Training provides guidelines on artist training and selection; tools to manage and strengthen collaborations among artists, caseworkers and academic professionals; instructions on age-appropriate curriculum development; and information on conflict resolution among parties involved in the program.

Evaluation discusses the rewards, challenges and basic concepts of evaluation; provides specific steps, tools and methods to measure art knowledge and other outcomes; highlights key YouthARTS survey findings; and lists other evaluation resources.

Costs, Resources and Advocacy presents several “building-block” approaches to seeking funding and budgeting for a youth arts program, realistically discusses the costs of running such programs, and lists several possible sources of funding.

In addition to the main sections:

• A Best Practices guide lists 30 core lessons gleaned from interviews and focus groups with representatives from arts programs, as well as a comprehensive literature review on arts and juvenile justice programs.

• The Appendices section offers 30 downloadable sample documents, such as the collaborative agreement between the San Antonio School District and its arts department, a list of possible field trips, training manuals for artists, questions to use during artist interviews, and sample curricula.

• Each section includes links to documents provided in the Appendices, or to chapters in the Toolkit Handbook that provide further information on a presented concept.

Most Valuable Tool

Two 20-minute Companion Videos embedded in the site (look for the link on the homepage) are the equivalent to having frank, one-on-one conversations with people who have “been there, done that.”

In the instructional video, various leaders from the three original sites – school administrators, judges, arts council staff members, artists and teachers – discuss how they pulled their collaborations together, how they resolved conflicts, how they dealt with difficult youth, which activities inspired and which flopped, and what they learned from their trials and errors.

The inspirational video features youths talking about how the programs changed their attitudes and beliefs, how arts skills provided crucial expressive and emotional outlets, and how the programs kept them out of trouble. Parents talk about the impact on their children’s approach to school and their artistic talents.

Evidence Base

The toolkit components are based on the results of the project’s two-year evaluation of the effects of the program on youth behavior, delinquency and protective factors at the three pilot sites. That study found that youth in YouthARTS programs, compared with an equal number of demographically similar nonparticipating youth, had positive outcomes that include:

Skills: As self-reported, a greater ability to express their anger more appropriately, to communicate more effectively with adults and peers and to work cooperatively, as well as an increased ability to work on task until completion – all skills vital to academic and employment success.

Attitudes and Behavior: A 16 percent reduction in self-reported delinquent behavior during the period of their participation, and more positive feelings about school, themselves and their ability to effect change.

Court Involvement: During their participation period, half the number of new referrals to court for youth overall, and, in cases of new court referrals, a reduction in the severity of the offense, according to court reports.


More than 2,000 of the original printed, boxed sets were sold to organizations after their release in 1998, according to Cohen of Americans for the Arts. The National Association of Counties purchased 250 of the kits for distribution to counties to encourage the use of the YouthARTS model for delinquency prevention. The tool kit has been available free online since May 2003, supported by funding from the MetLife Foundation. Between 8,000 and 14,000 people visit each month, although the organization does not have statistics on the number of toolkit components downloaded.

Cohen sees an increased interest in the toolkit and a turning away from serving only at-risk youth with the model. “We’re seeing an increase in calls from community and arts organizations looking to develop arts programs for youth in their community,” he said. “It might be that with the change in the economy, folks are looking for more cost-effective ways to deal with youth issues.”

Contact: Randy Cohen, (202) 371-2830. For more on the YouthARTS Development Project Evaluation, go to