Arts Programming

III. Theory of Arts Programming

A. 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 (Figure 1). That model attempted to show the relationships to the program components and the outcomes.

Figure 1 Conceptual Model for the Impact of Arts Programming

Arts Programming Figure-1

SOURCE: From the Tampa Arts and Youth Demonstration Project, by R. Wright, L. John, and W. Rowe (2007). Presentation given at the Society for Applied Anthropology Conference, Tampa, Florida.

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.

B. 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 research paper 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.

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