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Arts Corps, the youth education programme that paints a better picture
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Arts Corps, the youth education programme that paints a better picture

“Without the arts, we don’t have a way to capture what’s happening in society (positive and negative), reflect on and critique it, showcase or illuminate it…” (James Miles, Arts Corps).

When it comes to a wider education, particularly about our culture, history and society, we would be lost without any of the creative practices. The arts can help us get our minds around difficult concepts, or to convey a feeling, place or era. They can also help us learn, better than almost any textbook. It is no wonder, really, that studies done on academic performance show incorporating the arts into lessons can have a dramatic positive impact on students’ results and enjoyment.

Yet students from poorer backgrounds tend to have less access to the arts, which diminishes their academic achievement. This is not fair, acceptable or necessary, promises the innovative youth arts education organisation, Arts Corps, based in Washington State, USA. Not only does Arts Corps serve over 3,000 students in the USA with free arts programming, from aged 4 and upwards (incorporating more arts into the school day, adding in improvisations, the visual arts, dance and music into the likes of maths and science lessons) but they also do youth development work, connecting young people to careers and opportunities. Arts Corps also provides professional development for teachers and educators, for example around race and social justice, arts integration and social and emotional learning. And guess what? All of this put together doesn’t just improve performance but also increases social and emotional learning, sense of belonging, growth mindset, delay of some sort of gratification.

“Without the arts, we don’t have a way to capture what’s happening in society (positive and negative), reflect on and critique it, showcase or illuminate it,” says Executive Director of Arts Corps, James Miles. “Using the arts in the classroom allows young people to think in different ways, focussing on discussion and critical thinking and moving away from the idea that teachers or facilitators hold all the answers.”

James has a pretty inspirational story himself, one that shows what happens if you follow your heart and hold onto self-belief and passion: “I started out as an accountant but hated it and left after two months. Then I was a garbage man, which was actually lovely until I found a dead body in a reservoir and that shook me so I left.” Miles went on an audition for a commercial, for fun, and got the job! This was more than just a lucky break, but in some ways quite miraculous because Miles had a bad stutter as a young man. “The arts and theatre helped me learn how to control the words coming out of my mouth, gave me confidence and perspective on how I could see the world, and express myself,” says James, the stuttering boy who became a Broadway actor, also appearing in major television shows like ‘Law and Order’.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and the huge increase in remote learning, Arts Corps has had a greater impact than ever. Twenty years on from its founding, it has both expanded its reach, far beyond USA, and (closer to home) provided thousands of art kits to students who have no access to tech or Wifi and have been left without anything to do for the last few months. Thank you Arts Corps, for motivating us to use – and share – the beauty of the arts much more in our daily lives, and express ourselves for the betterment of ourselves, our friends and loved ones and, of course, Planet Earth.