Professional / Education Essay


Role of Arts Education in Positive Youth Development

Role of Arts Education in Positive Youth Development

Arts education has played immense roles in youth development over the past two decades. Although these benefits have been glaring, members of the art community often find themselves in a position to defend the obvious.

From studies, youths who are involved in arts-based extracurricular programs record higher performance in school and have higher chances of graduation compared to their peers who do not participate in arts or its activities.

Though this sounds laudable, the nexus between Arts Education and Youth Development still require a lot of proving. The association between arts education and academic performance has come under intense scrutiny in recent years.

Many studies purport that students who participate in artistic activities are likely to succeed academically, whether or not they made participated. But nothing could be more profound than the testimonials of the prime subjects of these studies; the youth.

Most young people in school have repeatedly expressed their genuine interest in their artistic activities, stating that these activities provide them the opportunity and social backbone to navigate the challenges and vicissitudes of adolescence.

If this is true, it tells just how much the arts can contribute to youth development and by extension, national change. This work explores the various roles arts education plays in ensuring sustainable youth development. But before that, we must know our terms.

What is Arts Education?

Arts education is a system of education, a body of knowledge and sets of activities that allow its participants to find and explore their creativity through imaginative effort, cultural literacy, and collaboration.

The goal is to develop one's faculty for creativity, communication skills, and critical thinking to cultivate cultural awareness and aesthetic sensitivity. Arts education, among other things, helps young people to develop art skills, construct their knowledge in a communicable fashion and to cultivate positive attitudes and sets of values. Young people who engage in art often find pleasure and fulfillment that could spur them into pursuing a lifelong interest in the arts.

What is Youth Development?

Youth development has been defined as any and every process designed to prepare young people with the physical and psychological wherewithal to scale through the challenges of adolescence and adulthood so that they achieve their full potential.

Youth development provides platforms and experiences that help young people to develop the social, emotional, ethical, cognitive and physical competencies required for their success.

Studies by Kenneth Elpus, Professor of Music Education at the University of Maryland categorizes the roles of Arts Education in Positive development in three separate phases of youthful life;

• Adolescence

• Emerging Adulthood

• Adulthood


During adolescence, students who progressively participated in some form of arts education were 20% less likely to be suspended out of school. They showed more optimism about their likelihood of proceeding to college compared to their peers who did not participate in arts activities.

More so, adolescents who took music classes were three times less likely to consume alcohol compared to their non-arts peers. Those in Music, dance and visual arts showed 24%, 47% and 29% fewer chances of using marijuana respectively, compared to their peers who took no arts education.

Those who participated in some form of arts education were less likely to be engaged in criminal activities during adolescence. The study also found that music students had lower chances of being involved in unsafe sexual practices compared to their peers.

Aggregated together, these meant that students who are involved in arts education have higher immunity from the landmines and behavioral pitfalls of adolescence. But that is not all.

Emerging Adulthood

Emerging adults who are participated in theatre, music or the visual arts were exposed to valuable works of art that strengthened their vocabulary as emerging adults, compared to their peers who studied no arts subjects. In a society that values expressiveness in English that meant these sets of young people had greater self-confidence and the requisite levels of self-esteem to pursue opportunities, their peers would normally shrink from.


Building on their previous success from their adolescence and emerging adulthood, students who participated in arts had more optimism for proceeding with their education well into college. As Elpus’ study posits, those who participated in arts education had a 55.38% more chance to attend college than their non-arts fellows.

In terms of graduation age, former students of the arts education had 29% more chances to earn a four-year college degree by ages 24 to 32. Those who studied theater and music were observed to have more positive prospects and optimism in their career.

They were less likely to get into trouble with the law. Thus, they had cleaner justice records compared to their peers. Elpus also observed that the more involved the youth were in the arts, the less likely they were to be involved in substance abuse. When compared to young adults who took no music or art-related courses in high school, art students were found to be less susceptible to use marijuana by 26.55%.

The findings of this study and several others are enough to draw a positive relationship between arts education and youth development. Beyond academic performance, which is just one of the many aspects to consider, Elpus’ study gives a more comprehensive perspective of the relationship.

If youth development, as defined earlier, involves equipping young people with the social, emotional, ethical, cognitive and physical competencies required to scale through the challenges of adolescent life and adulthood, then arts education fulfills just that.

It's direct and indirect benefits help to prepare young people to achieve their potentials. This is because to develop competence in a given area of art, youths must be able to analyze their strengths and weaknesses, define their personal goals, and have the required level of focus, confidence, self-esteem, motivationRole of Arts Education in Positive Youth Development, and discipline to follow through with the execution. This not only leads to personal fulfillment but also the ability to offer guidance to others.

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