Opinion: Children build confidence, resilience through the arts
After 25 years helping youth thrive, the Paso Robles Youth Arts Center is just beginning
– What started as an artist’s dream in 1998 – to introduce the joy of art to local youth – is now a flourishing reality at Paso Robles Youth Arts Center. As founder/artist Donna Berg imagined, the youth arts center has succeeded in opening young eyes to the kaleidoscope of opportunity provided by arts education. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the center has lifted the lives of more than 10,000 youth aged 5-18 with its free after-school visual and performing arts classes. For many children, this is their first exposure to the arts.
There were few studies in 1998 to reinforce Berg’s belief that children’s development is positively linked to participation in the arts. Yet in the safe, creative environment of the youth arts center over two decades we observed our students learning to find their voices, build confidence, and strive for a hopeful future that doesn’t include gangs or other negative influences.
Today there is plentiful research confirming our observations. New studies – often backed by brain imaging technology – can now link the arts to crucial cognitive skills. For example, the effect of music on early brain development is now widely accepted thanks to studies at the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, among others.
In a 2019 study, the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) followed 10,000 youth as they participated in arts programs. It concluded that students performed better on state writing tests, were better behaved, had more compassion for fellow students, and were more engaged in school.
Fieldwork across Chicago Public Schools concluded that arts play a vital role in kids’ development by enhancing skills and knowledge that positively affect social and emotional learning and artistic ability and creativity – all valuable in today’s economy. Proving the point, the American Institute for Research cites positive effects on mathematics achievement by prekindergarten and kindergarten students after
artists helped their teachers integrate performing arts in their classrooms.
On the flip side, HERC also shows that the narrowing of educational offerings and objectives to align with test-based accountability reforms has had adverse effects on the arts in K-12 education, thus depriving many youngsters of critical developmental benefits.
Bridging the gap, the youth arts center provides a creative outlet and a positive way for young people to deal with modern pressures in after-school classes. Confidence, teamwork, empathy, imagination, assertiveness, connections with others, and self-discipline: Through artistic expression, these are the life skills that help students thrive in an ever-changing world.
Where the world will take our children is unknowable. But we do know how to prepare them. This is what fuels the youth arts center continuing commitment to sustain and expand programming and facilities far into the future. Best-in-class teachers put their hearts and souls into creating life-changing experiences for their students – with imaginative ideas for so much more in the next 25 years – and are limited only by the resources required to bring it all to fruition.
As a local nonprofit, the youth arts center could only achieve this milestone thanks to extraordinary partners and passionate donors. We have come a long way together since 1998. Now we must push even harder to go from good to great, able to serve the expanded needs of a growing county.
Consider a donation to the youth arts center to help ensure that classes remain free of charge, inclusive of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and led by paid teaching and arts professionals committed to helping our children flourish.
With community support and a team that brings knowledge, experience, passion, dedication and, yes, joy to our precious youth, there is little to stop our dreams from becoming reality. Donna Berg showed us the way.
-Submitted by Paso Robles Youth Arts Center