Cultural Arts and Delinquency Reduction Programming

Jerry Miller & William Rowe. 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: J Mitchell Miller. 2009. Sage Publications.

The first conference that looked at the use of arts in the criminal justice system was held in 2007. This is indicative of a young but growing movement that attempts to create positive intervention strategies using nontraditional methods. Foremost among these efforts is the utilization of visual, tactile, and performing arts as a means to reach and teach people who have either been arrested or incarcerated. These efforts have ample anecdotal evidence behind them but limited quantitative research to support their efficacy. This chapter describes the growth and development of the use of arts as an intervention strategy, what the research does and does not tell us, and where the next steps may be.

The chapter authors represent the research, training, and academic components of a program called Prodigy, which is funded by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. Prodigy serves as a diversion program for arrested youth. Instead of going to trial, the first-time offenders may opt for this arts program. Prodigy also serves as a prevention program in that it is open to all youth in the community. No distinction is made by the program or the instructors as to the reason for attending—the diversion and prevention participants are in the same classroom. In fact, the instructors may not know who the court-referred participants are. There were over 3,000 enrolled youth covering six counties in west central Florida in the most recent year ending in 2008.

One of the keys to the program is its placement in highcrime neighborhoods. On-site programming is managed through contracts with 15 neighborhood-based agencies. This helps ensure that the program as implemented in the neighborhood has close ties with institutions—or assets, as they may more theoretically be called—that are connected (at least geographically) with the residents of that area. These partners include churches and community development corporations, as well as more traditional groups such as YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs.

The most critical measures from the program, from the funder’s perspective, are the outcomes of completion and recidivism. Empirically, those who complete the program are significantly more likely not to recidivate. Prodigy currently operates with a nearly 85% completion rate and over a 90% 6-month nonrecidivism rate for the completers. Both of these outcomes far exceed the contracted goals of the program. Data are now being collected on individuallevel outcomes such as mental and emotional health, academic efficacy, academic behaviors, and other variables that provide measures of the program’s impacts.

History of Arts Programming

Purposeful arts programming, which also has links to the currently named community arts movement, has its modern roots in the Settlement House movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to Grady Hillman, one of the leading practitioners of the use of art as an intervention strategy. Settlement houses originated to serve immigrants with educational programming, social services, and the arts as part of the effort to acculturate residents and create upward mobility for them. Settlement houses are, not coincidentally, important also to the development of social work. It was a strategy to create and provide services to the general population with identified needs. Variations of this model of community intervention exist today in a range of environments, from neighborhood-based community organizations to a large federal Housing and Urban Development program called Creative Communities.

In the 1960s, the Arts in Education program greatly expanded the utilization of artists, with many schools around the United States hosting this program. This brought artists into the schools to work directly with youth and connected youth with art, culture, and the practitioners.

Later in that decade, the work and employment program Comprehensive Employment and Training Act was created, and many artists began working for that program. Hillman (in press) quoted a figure of $200 million that was invested in hiring artists through that program. This work program was also used by schools to bring arts into the building.

Through the Arts in Education program and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, the expertise and the knowledge base for the use of arts as a model that can positively impact the life of youth began to develop. Interest in ways to expand this programming into other institutions was generated. The next step occurred when this programming began to be used in other institutions, in particular juvenile detention facilities and adult prisons. Again referring to Hillman’s perspective, this drift toward those settings occurred intuitively, that is, without it being developed as a result of research or hard data. There was an underlying assumption that the process of viewing or creating art was inherently therapeutic or personally helpful. Identification of this assumption and how it impacted the prognosis of an individual in a positive manner was intuitively described and not clearly defined, at least from a research perspective. It was during this time that art intervention programs began receiving national (U.S.) recognition. One program, StreetSmART, was named a national model.

Up until this point, most of the reported positive aspects of arts programming were anecdotal. There had been little systematic evaluation or research of which these authors were aware. In general, the evaluations that had been conducted had methodological problems and were not very robust. There were many unaccounted-for variables that could skew the results. The studies, however, did tend to support the notion that there were indeed positive outcomes. This naturally led to an interest in developing more systematic evaluations of arts intervention programming.

Two projects in the 1990s attempted to address this issue and are particularly noteworthy. Neither can be said to provide definitive evidence supporting the value of the programming, but they represent important historical steps in furthering the research and practice of arts intervention programming. Both are still widely referenced in current work.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the U.S. Department of Justice funded, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, a pilot diversion project (for first-time offenders) and incarcerated youth. The YouthARTS project, evaluated by Clawson and Coolbaugh (2001), was a three-site program established as a demonstration project. This program was meant to serve as a formal evaluative process of what had been emerging independently and in piecemeal fashion throughout the country. It was designed to shed light on the question as to whether arts programming worked as intended.

At each of these sites, a cohort of youth was followed for a period of months, and assessments were conducted to evaluate the impact of the programming on the youth. Because of a number of problems, the evaluations were promising but inconclusive, a situation that frequently occurs when evaluating juvenile justice programs. The premise was that engaging youth in arts programming would result in their learning better ways to manage themselves and their lives. The youth generally lived in atrisk neighborhoods, which in these days current models describe as communities with limited social capital or community assets.

Many issues disrupted the quality of the data and the efficacy of the research. These included participant retention (high loss of participants), fidelity of implementation, quality of data collection, and similar issues. However, a pattern emerged that did indicate there was some promise to these programs. This was in line with previous evaluations that showed arts intervention as a promising practice.

The second noteworthy research project was a set of studies conducted by the RAND Corporation. These studies attempted to identify and codify characteristics and best practices of programs across the country and, more locally, in Los Angeles. These studies helped create the foundation for future research. They were systematic in their data collection and analysis and had a large enough sample size to have greater assurance in their findings, and they represented the most robust research concerning arts programming.

One of the RAND studies differentiated programs identified as developing “prosocial” behaviors from those that did not have that outcome. From this the researchers developed a set of best practices—or, more accurately, common practices—used by the programs associated with the positive prosocial outcomes. Some of these are described later in this chapter.

One of the most robust, long-term study of arts programs is commonly called the McGill study, because it was conducted by faculty from McGill University. Robin Wright and colleagues (Wright, Lindsay, Allaggia, & Sheel, 2006) conducted a 3-year quasi-experimental study across five sites in Canada to ascertain the impact on the psychosocial functioning of the participating youth. Comparison with a matched sample from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children andYouth showed significant positive changes in some mental health measures, such as depression. Significant improvements were reported in social skills, communication, cooperation, teamwork, and conflict resolution. The data were inconclusive in regard to behavioral changes.

The RAND studies and Clawson and Coolbaugh’s (2001) study foretold the interest in the impact of arts programming on juveniles and on criminal offenders. The McGill study was the one of the stronger examinations of the impact of the arts. Studies on the use of arts as an intervention, though still not conclusive, are now less inconclusive, and they show promising outcomes. These results are described later in this chapter, after some background about the philosophy and theoretical foundation of arts programming as an intervention program is discussed.


Conceptual Theory

The term theory has not been clearly defined when discussing arts as intervention. Excluding art therapy, in which trained counselors work clinically with the patients or clients, research on this programming is limited to mostly program or outcome evaluations and has not focused on developing a theoretical model for arts intervention.

Wright and her colleagues (2006) were an exception with their conceptual model related to learning skills that impact affective experience and behavioral aspects of youth. That model attempted to show the relationships to the program components and the outcomes.

Wright’s approach, and in general most approaches to arts interventions programming, have either consciously or intuitively been shaped by the perspective of what is termed positive youth development (PYD). That model looks at the assets in the youth’s life rather than looking at shortcomings, handicaps, and those things that are missing or destructive in the child’s life. In such an approach the goal is to build and strengthen the assets in the youth’s life. It is believed that doing so will increase the resilience of an individual who may be faced with dramatically difficult life events. For example, possessing certain social skills is believed to be associated with good social outcomes. If a person knows how to problem-solve, manage anger, or communicate effectively, than he or she is considered to have the skill sets to effectively resist the poor choices that may be available in his or her social environment and make constructive positive decisions. It logically follows that teaching youth these skills will build personal resources to manage a variety of situations. This also has an impact on youth’s affective experience of self; they are postulated to show an increase in self-regard.

In contrast to PYD, a deficit-based approach attempts to find out what is wrong with the youth and then tries to fix it. However, there are limits to this approach. As Jeffrey Butts, Susan Mayer, and Gretchen Ruth (2005) discussed in their issue brief, keeping youth away from risky behaviors does not mean they will have a good future. Other elements—for example, assets,—need to be in place. Absence of the bad elements is not necessarily predictive of a productive future, but a youth who has many of the aforementioned important assets has a higher probability of having a productive life.

Program Theory

The PYD model operates in an arts intervention program as a contextual basis for a program theory. This is defined as a conceptual causal framework that explains what outcomes and results are expected in a program and the relationship of activities to those outcomes. Some people refer to program theory as a model of change; others state that program theory is an explanation of an underlying social model. This model may comprise other theories or models; youth development, attachment, or self-regulation theory are examples.

Although specific protocols are available for developing a program theory, for this chapter it is operationalized in the following way: There is a problem and an intervention, and activities are designed to solve the problem (based on the assumptions identified in the problem statement), outcomes are expected from these activities, and measures are defined that indicate success. The next section explicates these parts.

The Problem

Problem definition is a way of explicating the assumptions being made when the intervention program is being designed. In this sense, in order to understand the rationale in utilizing arts as an intervention strategy, it is important to define the problem one is trying to solve.

The history of dealing with “juvenile delinquents” is far too complex to discuss in any detail here; however, several generalizations will be made in an effort to develop a problem definition. Approaches to dealing with juvenile delinquent behaviors have changed over time and involve assumptions about environment and individual choice when looking at the perpetrator and about tolerance for behavior, or desire for retribution, when seen from the vantage of the victim or society. There appears to be one of two assumptions operating when punishment is offered as the solution to the problem behaviors: Either (1) the youth is consciously choosing to be involved in criminal activity or, in a behaviorist framework, (2) there is sufficient reward for being involved in criminal activity and the behavior is reinforced. Either way, the punishment of locking up a youth is viewed as a method to interrupt those processes. When this view coincides with a low community tolerance for youth criminal activity, the approach can loosely be called a “lock ’em up” or “teach ’em a lesson” approach.

A second approach is evident in the rehabilitative movement or the utilization of a medical model. The youth have issues that need fixing in a manner analogous to having a chronic infection. However, these issues may be internal (developmental, mental or emotional capacity) or external. The latter refers to an environment that shapes and rewards negative behavior, which may include dysfunctional relationships with family, peers, and authority figures. In this model, youth are treated through therapeutic intervention. This is typically in the form of talk therapy. When viewed from the deficit model, this approach requires a focus on problems in the youth’s life and then actively determining ways to manage those problems.

Art as an intervention strategy is more aligned with the rehabilitative approach than with the punishment method of addressing youth crime. As such, it shares the assumption that the individual can be treated. However, it diverges from typical therapeutic intervention in two respects. First, the focus is not on the problems but on building the youth’s ability to make good choices. This is a way of building the individual’s assets. The assumption from this approach is the following: Given the skill sets needed to be able to evaluate situations and make good choices, people will generally do so. This eliminates the need for any in-depth diagnostic process to determine what is wrong with the youth. The focus is not on what is wrong but on the skills, knowledge, and experiences people need to manage life more effectively. In medical terms, it is a wellness approach instead of a disease-based approach to health. Arts may offer therapeutic value similar to that of counseling, but without the counseling—and at a lower cost. The art environment, if managed effectively, has characteristics of traditional therapy in that self-exploration is a part of the process. Coupled with the building of the social skills, youth will have the capacity to make good decisions, which includes resisting criminal activity, in vivo, or in the present, rather than in reflection.

With that background, the problem statement could be phrased the following way:

In given environments, many youth engage in criminal activity for reasons that include the lack of skill sets needed to make good choices. With the right skills, youth can learn how to make good choices and will likely make them given the (structured) opportunity to explore their own place in the world and their sense of self. Therefore, the question becomes the following: how can we teach the skills in a framework that provides youth with productive self exploration in a manner that produces positive and constructive behaviors for the youth?

This is a very different problem definition than one that asks, “What is wrong with these kids? Or their families? Or their communities?” It also differs from a statement that asks “How can we make the streets safer?” The former is a typical rehabilitative approach, and the latter is associated with a desire for punishment.

Comparing Arts and Sport as Responses

As stated earlier, art is not the only possible response to the problem. Sport is a commonly expressed and funded answer. It is important to determine, therefore, the rationale for arts in contrast to sports or other programming. Without that rationale we are creating a solution that does not have a problem.

Because athletics is a primary approach to engaging youth in a positive manner, this section compares and contrasts arts intervention with sports as a way to explicate the rationale for utilization of arts programming. This is not meant to imply that there are not other ways to engage youth (e.g., scouting and recreational programs). The activities in those programs are somewhat more heterogeneous, making it more difficult to clearly distinguish between sports and arts.

Important areas of differentiation do exist between sports and the arts. One of the more prosaic differences is that not everybody likes sports. Alternatives and variety of choices are useful. This alone may be considered a valid argument for creating alternatives to sports programming. Why should people be forced into playing sports when they have no interest or limited ability? That generally can lead to frustration on the part of the participant or, worse, being the recipient of scorn and humiliation.

A more in-depth analysis, beyond choice, identifies several other core differences between sports participation and art. In general, youth do better in sports if they are bigger, faster, stronger, or taller. Sports comprise a competitive situation in which physical attributes and the coordination of the senses play a strong role in performance. It is a team model with a hierarchical group structure in which the contributions of all the team members are not valued equally—there are bench-warmers, for instance. For the youth who do well in that kind of setting, sports may very well be an effective means to learn important skill sets related to social learning. For youth who do not do well, there may be a variety of responses, many of which are not necessarily positive for that child. This may be especially true if the youth is there involuntarily as an alternative to jail or being adjudicated.

Sports programs tend to value conformity to a high standard that is generally established by a coach or is intrinsic to the sport. Whereas at earlier ages youth are praised for their effort, as youth age performance becomes more central. Those who are perceived not to voluntarily conform may be labeled a “slacker,” “troublemaker,” or worse. Those who do not perform well based on the athletic criteria (hitting, running, blocking) may be called “dead weight” or “bench-warmers.” Those who are perceived to voluntarily perform are “team members,” and the ones who exhibit good athletic performance may be labeled “stars.”

Because sports is a goal-directed activity with a specific desired outcome (winning), these roles and expectations align very concretely and appropriately. Although process is important in sports—that is, being a good teammate is valued—outcome frequently overrides the process. Sports has many examples of players who were kept on the team for their ability to help achieve victory despite the fact that that individual could be blamed for an unhappy team environment.

The arts model takes an entirely different perspective to participation and performance. First, the arts values diversity or individuality, while conformity is eschewed. If instructions were given to participating youth to draw a picture of the self in school, there would be general surprise and disappointment if the entire class drew the same schoolhouse with the same teacher in the same colors with no variety in their expression. A variety of representations are expected. The expression of individuality is encouraged. Unlike sports, there are no external performance criteria that measure performance. In baseball, hits are hits. In an arts program, the criteria relate to learning how to express thoughts and emotions; there is no unitary standard.

An important distinction needs to be made between arts intervention programming and art classes. Art classes teach technique to the end of creating good, or at least skillful, art. Arts intervention programming, on the other hand, teaches expressiveness without concern for the quality of the product. The standards for the art product are relatively low and generally not a factor in its evaluation. The “performance standard,” or its equivalent, is the student’s interpretation of his or her artwork. Art is a vehicle to learn self-expression.

A second major difference between art and sports is the notion of teamwork. This generally is an entirely different experience in the arts than it is in sports. When the art project (e.g., a performing arts program) involves a group of people, there are generally enough tasks to include everybody in the process. Some tasks may have higher visibility, but all tasks are necessary for the successful completion of the art project. In drama, the person responsible for lighting may not be on stage, but that does not diminish the importance of the role. This again differs from sports, in which the weaker players are frequently seen as being carried by the stronger players. In the arts, everyone has their job and is expected to do it to the best of their ability.

A third area of distinction, one that has been too little researched, is the variability in age of the participants in the Prodigy program. Generally, there are two age groupings (7-12 and 13-17), a broader range than in activities that have a physical component central to it. This age mixture, if properly managed, creates an opportunity for the participants to learn more complex social skills. Dealing with youth who are at different developmental stages necessitates increased social skill sets to be an effective participant in this program. The issue of facilitating development of those skill sets is discussed later in this chapter.

Self-Exploration and Expression

Just as diversity is valued, also valued and encouraged are self-exploration of one’s own emotional responses as well as one’s standing in family, school, and community. This opportunity to self-reflect in a structured manner is also seen as one of the hallmarks of an effective youth arts program. This gives youth an opportunity to (a) explore individual emotional responses to various situations and (b) express emotions, including fear and anger, in a manner that is relatively constructive. This may be viewed as learning an alternative behavior, one that is more effective than behaviors that may lead to criminal charges.

Facilitating the expression of emotions is a common technique in therapeutic contexts. Labeling emotions seems to help with the management of them. Recent neuroimaging studies (Lieberman et al., 2006) showed a disruption in the negative emotional pathways when feelings were labeled. This type of coding of experience appears in the psychological as well as in the child development literature as being important in the emotional growth and in the regulation of negative emotions. Arts intervention programs encourage and support this type of coding.

Classroom Experience

To make all of these components work is, of course, a more complex matter. There are many side elements to creating a serviceable arts program, such as when and where to hold the program, but the focus for program effectiveness needs to be on the classroom experience for the youth—the activity that engages the youth. Programmatically, most of the skill building takes place in the classroom, although some programs, including Prodigy, also hold separate life skills workshops. What the classroom looks like and how is it structured are the key questions to ask and manage in the expansion of the program.

One of the common elements among the programming across the country, and indeed, around the world, is the use of artists as instructors. Individuals trained as teachers are not excluded from being hired; they are just not recruited. The focus is on hiring working artists, for two primary reasons.

First, working artists serve as a role model for the youth. They are seeing an adult who is making a living in (and who has a commitment to) the expression of his or her own personal views in a creative manner, complete with emotional content. This can be powerful because it provides a role model of a decent human being (assuming a good staff selection process) who is introspective, expressive of individuality, and emotionally mature. Prior research has demonstrated that many acting-out behaviors relate to emotional immaturity. Art and artists provide a model for these emotions to be explored and expressed in a constructive manner. Greater value, in this model, is placed more on honest expression than in looking good for peers or gaining attention through destructive acts.

Second, because the artists are not recruited within the teacher framework, the relationship to a school classroom is minimized. Many of these youth have experienced failure in the schools and there is little justification for recreating that sort of environment in an arts program. The artist serves more in the role of journeyman who is working with apprentices rather than a teacher who is working with students. This becomes like a workshop and not a classroom. The artist becomes a resource, who is more in the role of a mentor—someone to share knowledge—not a didactic instructor. The youth is not in the role of a school-bound student but is viewed more collegially. This is a change in relationship between instructor and student and creates opportunities for trust building and additional social skill building.

What does the research say about these rationales? Not too much, it turns out. The best we can currently say, based on the RAND studies in the 1990s, is that artists may be a necessary, but insufficient, factor in the success of the arts programming; that is, both effective and ineffective programs have used working artists as instructors—so the artist alone will not produce the desired outcomes. As part of an evaluation, Prodigy has begun assessing different elements of the classroom that impact the experience for the youth.

Classroom Climate: Learning Skills

Again, little research has examined best practices in the classroom in the context of arts intervention programming. The evaluations that do exist report some common elements, such as being supportive of youth taking (social) risks and having collaborative decision-making processes. These elements were associated with prosocial behaviors of participants.

As Prodigy began to focus on the content of the instructor training, the faculty researchers looked at the assetbased PYD model to determine the skill sets that related to positive outcomes for youth. Three skills were focused on as a result of this inquiry: (1) communication, (2) problem solving, and (3) anger management. These skills have been associated with positive youth outcomes and are teachable. The last is a critical component of any program.

In the ideal implementation, these skill sets are integrated into the class activities. If, for instance, while painting, one of the youth becomes frustrated, the instructor encourages the youth to find a way to work through the anger and find a way to resolve the issue that is creating the frustration. Integrating these social skills—in this case, both anger management and problem solving—is seen as important for two reasons: (1) It is a way to facilitate the teaching (and learning) of social skills, and (2) it helps create an environment in which social risks are encouraged.

The second point is an important one if the youth are to learn skill sets that will help them as they mature and the impact of peer pressure increases. Positive social risktaking can be defined as the ability to express individuality in a peer or other group setting.

The opportunity for positive social risk-taking is influenced by the larger concept of classroom climate. This is broadly defined as the pattern of values within the classroom, as represented by the manner in which the content is taught, rewards and recognition are earned, and the interactions between the people in the class.

Classrooms can be a stressful, rigid, and competitive environment. By design, that is not the recommended experience for youth in an arts intervention program. Prodigy strives for an environment that is supportive of the youth in ways that can be measured and observed.

The few evaluative studies of art as intervention programming suggest that certain elements in the classroom are associated with producing positive outcomes, such as prosocial behavior:

  1. Encouragement for social risk-taking. Youth are encouraged to speak their mind and present their work, questions, and critiques. Encouragement is an active, facilitated process, which is different from just allowing the risk-taking to occur.
  2. Facilitation of problem solving. If a student presents a problem, whether it is a social issue (interaction with another youth) or technical problem (about the artwork), the instructor does not necessarily provide a solution but facilitates the youth in finding a solution.
  3. Rewards and recognition. Participants need to receive recognition for their work as well as for positive risk taking.
  4. A caring instructor. This was more frequently named as a more important part of an effective program than the fact artists were instructors.
  5. Instructor mentoring of participants and instructor facilitation of peer-to-peer mentoring. These relationships seem to be important in the socialization of the participating youth. The adult-youth mentoring, as discussed previously, shifts the classroom from a traditional setting to a workshop format. The youth-toyouth mentoring creates opportunities for the participants to learn, with facilitation of the instructor as needed, targeted social skills.

These five points are not unique to an arts intervention program. In fact, other researchers, including Fixsen, Naoom, Blasé, Friedman, and Wallace (2005) in their report on implementation practices and Weissberg, Kumpfer, and Seligman (2003) in their overview of prevention programs, have found similar associations between effective programs and some of these five points.

That refers us back to the previous questions about the differences between art programming and sports programming. If quality intervention programs have those five characteristics, does it matter which program a person is in? That is, does art programming offer anything that is unique relative to other intervention programming? Is there a rationale for arts programming that goes beyond choice and support of diversity and of expression?

Again, because the empirical literature related to arts intervention programming is thin at best on this question, we need to expand our view of arts programming to include research on the impact of arts on cognitive learning. That body of research is more extensive and more robust. From that research we can, through implication, develop some hypotheses about what associations can be expected about the relationship between art and the building of social skills.

Arts and Learning

The most centralized way to look at the research on arts and learning is to obtain a copy of a compendium of research on arts and learning entitled Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development. Edited by Richard Deasey (2002), this publication is a review of 62 studies that examined the impact of the arts on mostly academic outcomes, although some of the studies looked at social and behavioral outcomes. The research is not conclusive, because most of the studies were correlational; that is, they showed a relationship between the arts intervention or activity and an outcome, but did not ascertain whether there is a causal link between the activity and the outcome. Thus, it is inconclusive as to whether the arts program caused the outcome or there was some other factor that led to the outcome.

In brief, the research has found positive relationships between participation in arts and learning of spatial reasoning, verbal skills, writing, literacy, and math skills. Positive impact on the participant’s self-perception and, in some cases, positive change in beneficial risk-taking were also reported. More recent research is examining neural pathways to observe the relationship, but these studies are very early and also not conclusive.

These studies suggest that art benefits the development of intellect and cognitive abilities. This is in addition to the emotional development that programmatic use of art in an intervention program generally has as a focus.


The research on Prodigy has shown some exciting results. Program completion rates are high, over 85% on average, and recidivism is less than 10% after 6 months. Both are important outcomes to achieve. Incompletion is associated with a high recidivism rate, whereas completion is related to a low one. Although these outcome measures are the raison d’être for its existence, there are also some near-term results that may lead to a better understanding of the impact of the program.

Prodigy participants reported fewer mental health symptoms at the end of their program stay. This includes reduced measures of anger and depression. This is an important outcome, because mental health is strongly related to antisocial behavior among youth. The change was both statistically and clinically significant.

Gender differences were also reported. Females came into the program with a higher level of symptoms than did males, but at the end of the program there was no difference in symptomatology between males and females. Although females reported greater symptoms, their scores after the program showed no significant difference from the males, indicating a stronger program effect for females.

A behavior change is an observable change and so is easier to obtain views from others rather than relying solely on the youth’s self-reported perception. The research indicates that both youth (who self-reported) and parents reported there was improved behavior of the youth at the end of the program compared with the beginning. This is an especially encouraging finding, because behavior change is generally considered one of the more intractable changes.

Another measure, in particular, had encouraging results. The youth reported improvement in their belief about their academic skills and ability to do well in the classroom. This academic self-efficacy may have an impact on student attitudes and even behaviors and performance in the classroom, an assessment Prodigy is just beginning to undertake. Doing well in school, in the PYD model, is an indicator of increased resilience on the part of the students. This relates to the previously discussed research on academic performance, cognitive development, and the arts.


Arts intervention is a strategy that has over 100 years of history in the United States. It has been reported to have a positive impact and to help keep youth out of trouble. It is a cognitive-emotional intervention. Students are asked to explore and understand their thinking and the relationship to their emotional state. They are asked to express themselves. They do this in the context of an environment that is supportive of risk taking.

However, research has been limited on its use and the implications of arts programming. Prodigy is undergoing a continuous evaluation, and the McGill study has shown positive results as has the research in education.

There are some next steps to take:

  1. A full program evaluation of an arts program. This is under way at Prodigy and will provide more insight into the programmatic aspects. This has implications for all types of programming, not just arts. It is part of the effort to implement evidence-based programming.
  2. A theoretical examination and explication of the program components in an arts program that relate to the desired outcomes. This will advance the science of intervention program and continue the research into PYD models.
  3. A cost analysis. Early work indicates that arts programming can deliver effective diversion programs at a low cost per youth. This has important policy implications in terms of allocation of resources.

Over the next 5 years, the science on arts intervention programming should become reasonably robust, with more conclusive statements. Understanding this programming can lead to relatively low-cost programming that youth enjoy and that can be as effective as costlier options. The promise is that youth can improve their social skills, increase their ability to self-regulate, and learn how to express emotions in a constructive manner. They may also experience positive cognitive development benefits leading to improved school performance. If this type of programming holds up to scrutiny, it argues for a change in how we approach youth intervention from both a policy and programmatic standpoint.