Arts Programming

V. 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 research paper.

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