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Arts and Performances for Prevention?
Through music, drama, dance, and visual arts, youth can draw attention to
problems in their communities, educate others on the benefits of crime
prevention, and suggest ways to prevent crime. Arts and performances for
prevention may take many forms, from 10-minute skits to full-length plays, from
rap to opera, from posters to sculptures, from murals to musical compositions.
Youth across the Nation have produced videos and photo essays, designed
T-shirts and ceramics, played saxophones and violins, and danced ballet and
modern jazz—all to promote the prevention of crime and violence.
In Holyoke, MA, for example, a group of youth called New Visions/Nueva
Visiones writes and performs plays that explore issues facing Latino youth in
the community. Developing and performing these plays educates young theater
members, their peers, and the community at large about poverty, violence, teen
pregnancy, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and family issues. The program taps into
and teaches such varied skills as acting, writing, carpentry, costume design,
Ten cities and twenty National Guard sites in 23 States participate in the
Do the Write Thing Challenge Program. Each student in the program, which is
sponsored by the National Campaign to Stop Violence and funded in part by the
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), makes a written
commitment to resist and combat violence in the community. Do the Write Thing
goes far beyond writing. Participating students may form powerful con-nections
with national, community, and business leaders. These leaders, in turn, sponsor
Community Peace Partnerships that provide students with opportunities such as
job-training internships. To learn more about Do the Write Thing and its
exciting activities, contact the program directly. (Contact information for
specific programs and organizations discussed in this Bulletin appears in the
section at the end of the publication.)
How Do Arts
and Performances Prevent or Reduce Crime?
Because they reach a wide audience, arts and performances are effective ways
to prevent or reduce crime. By reaching new audiences with each performance or
display, arts and performances increase awareness and refresh anticrime
messages for those who may have heard but forgotten them. They also communicate
messages in multiple ways to emphasize key ideas, allowing youth to use their
artistic, musical, dramatic, and other talents to deliver vital information to
By allowing youth to use their creative talents, arts and performances help
youth develop a sense of identity, independence, discipline, and self-worth.
They also help prevent or reduce crime and violence among the young artists and
performers involved. According to research, students who participate in band,
orchestra, chorus, or drama are significantly less likely than nonparticipants
to drop out of school, be arrested, use drugs, or engage in binge drinking. For
examples of dance-, music-, and drama-focused programs that successfully
combine strategies for crime prevention and crime reduction, check out the
programs described the box, "Examples
of Programs That Work."
What Does It
Take To Start?
At the heart of any art or performance activity is the talent of the young
people involved. Your group's talents should support the goal of the
performance, product, or show. Depending on the type of performance planned,
your group may need musicians, dancers, set builders, sculptors, actors,
stagehands, watercolorists, costume designers, makeup artists, or poets. Your
group members should also agree on a central message—for example, that they
want to fight drug abuse, reduce hate crimes, or discourage violence. An adult
may suggest an idea, but it is the young group members' commitment and talent
that will communicate the message to the community.
As with any crime prevention project, the best way to ensure your group's
success is by planning well. The three steps listed below can help you get
Step 1: Identify Your Audience and Message
Your group needs to decide whom it will reach and what it will say. Is the
target audience young people? Adults? Or maybe a group of mixed ages?
Identifying the age group of the audience will help you decide how to present
your message. A modern dance performance presented to young children, for
example, may need to be narrated and have more frequent intermissions than one
performed for adults.
At the same time, consider what subject or message your group wants to
emphasize. Do you want to present one general idea such as "Stop the
Violence"? Or do you want to relay specific information to the audience,
such as how to prevent date rape? If you want to present only one theme, you
could sponsor an exhibit of different paintings on that theme at your school or
community center. Focusing on art dealing with one subject may make a stronger
statement than including dozens of paintings on dozens of different crime
prevention themes. If you decide to concentrate on a more complex issue such as
date rape or substance abuse, consider doing a play or skit.
Step 2: Identify Your Needs and Available Resources
After you decide on the audience and message, you'll have to determine what
you'll need for your activity. Will you need costumes, performance or exhibit
space, rehearsal space, materials for props, music, a performance program, a
way to publicize the event?
Some of these items may be donated by schools, churches, universities, or
businesses. Use your school's public address system or school newspaper to ask
for donations. You may also be able to obtain discounts or sponsorship from
local businesses. Let them know that donations may result in excellent
publicity. A local printing shop may be willing to give you a discount on
printing if you agree to provide free advertising in your program.
Although your arts and performances program is an activity led and performed
by youth, you'll probably need assistance from one or more adults. Recruit at
least one adult to be your sponsor or adviser. Community members with
experience in the arts—drama teachers, parents, neighbors, local community
theater actors—may donate special talent or agree to act as advisers, coaches,
or directors. It's important to make a thorough list of your project's needs
right away and to keep adding to it as new needs arise.
of Programs That Work
- Bells of Love, a children's musical group in Syracuse,
NY, promotes public awareness of the problem of missing children by
performing at the U.S. Department of Justice's National Missing
Children's Day ceremony (held each year in Washington, DC). The group
also allows other performers and speakers across the Nation to use its
music, all of which deals with missing children.
- The African Heritage Dancers and Drummers teen program in Washington, DC, includes
2- to 3-hour dance and drum classes 5 days a week. In addition to
supporting African cultural research, the program provides mentors who
teach lifeskills, advise on pregnancy prevention, promote school
attendance, and support preparation for equivalency diplomas. In
exchange for performing, participating youth receive stipends and earn
community service hours needed for high school graduation.
- The Children's Aid Society Chorus, a professional, performance-based choral
group in New York, NY, is open to urban youth from all racial/ethnic and
economic backgrounds. Participants must pass an audition, maintain a B
average in school, and pay an admission fee (more than half of
participating youth receive full or partial scholarships). The group
provides musical training programs, performs 30 public concerts each
year, and offers academic tutoring, high school entrance and social work
counseling, family life classes, transportation services, and a summer
- The Administrative Office of the
in Kenton County, KY, engages youth in role-play and improvisational
theater during 10-week classes taught by professional actors. Each class
ends with a final production. After completing a 10-week class, youth
may enroll in training classes that prepare them to become junior
facilitators or technical production staff, creative writing classes
that focus on script development, or visual arts classes that focus on
- City at Peace, a program in Washington, DC, uses the
performing arts to involve young people in conflict resolution training
and help them address problems in their lives. The organization's 1998
documentary film, City at Peace, demonstrates the potential impact of
the arts by following 60 youth for 1 year as they create an original
musical based on their own lives. When the year begins, the youth
believe they have nothing in common. By working together, however, they
develop bonds based on their shared creation.
Step 3: Develop a Schedule
A third major task is developing a realistic schedule for your presentation
or display. In creating a schedule, consider such things as whether you're
presenting a published work or bringing a brand new play or song to the stage.
A new work may take longer to produce but may be worth the wait. Likewise, if
your artists don't paint well under pressure, leave plenty of time in your
schedule to allow them to work effectively.
You'll also need to:
out when space is available.
how long it will take to make costumes.
how long it will take to construct and paint sets and collect or make
Thinking about and planning for these factors will help you develop an overall
timeline and allow you to be ready for your performance or display.
What Does It
Take To Keep It Going?
Maintaining community support is perhaps the greatest challenge for keeping
arts and performances programs alive. Although most program funding comes from
local sources, identifying and generating new resources both within and outside
your community is vital. You may be able to establish partnerships with
community centers and other youth organizations. Through such partnerships, you
may be able to form advisory boards or committees that will coordinate a set
number of performances or displays each year.
Many arts and performances programs for youth operate in partnership with
high schools, universities, youth organizations, churches, businesses,
community theaters, and health agencies. Community-based arts agencies may be
excellent sources of information and support. Investigate whether any
organizations in your community would be interested in supporting a youth
program that harnesses the power of artistic communication to prevent crime.
Talk to teachers, local business owners, civic groups, local government
agencies, and practicing artists to see if they would be willing to help.
Another way to maintain an arts and performances program is
by sharing resources with other similar programs. For example, your members may
be able to learn from other groups or train at their centers. Mentorship programs
and performance exchanges help to create networks and enrich existing programs.
Fostering communication and collaboration among centers also strengthens each
Some of the Challenges?
Experience has shown that many arts and performances initiatives are unable
to survive without sustained support and new resources. To meet this challenge,
program leaders need to identify funding sources on an ongoing basis. State
funding, business support, or local foundation funding is sometimes available,
but identifying funding sources takes time and requires research. Successful
grant applicants must show a clear mission, measurable goals, and an
independent evaluation of their efforts.
In addition to financial challenges, your arts and
performances will face an ongoing need for rehearsal, performance, or display
space. If possible, work out an agreement with a local school, church, library,
or other organization to use necessary space. Recruiting artists, performers,
group members, and other volunteers is another challenge facing arts and
performances programs. As members graduate from high school, move away from the
area, or shift interests, your group will need to devote time and energy to
recruiting new and talented members.
Some of the Rewards?
Many benefits result from using arts and performances to help prevent crime.
In addition to the satisfaction of creating or performing, you'll have the
pleasure of knowing that you've communicated about a subject of vital interest
to your community. As a result of your work, young children may learn new ways
to settle arguments peacefully, adults may learn how to help establish a
crime-free community, and your peers may realize that they need help with
personal problems or recognize the importance of taking a stand against drugs.
Because dance, music, photography, and other arts transcend language, they
often help to bridge cultural, racial, and ethnic barriers. A photography
exhibit, play, or recital can also generate real enthusiasm for your group
members' abilities and provide much-deserved recognition from adults and your
peers. After all of your work, you'll see that you've had a good time and
probably made or strengthened friendships!
How Can Your
Project Be Evaluated?
Evaluating your project allows you to find out whether it has met its goals.
Evaluation works, however, only if you decide up front what you want to
evaluate and how you'll do so. The purpose of conducting an evaluation is
"to answer practical questions of decision-makers and program implementors
who want to know whether to continue a program, extend it to other sites,
modify it, or close it down."1 When
evaluating your group's performance or display, you will want to show that your
project does one or all of the following:
Engages the talent of local youth in promoting a key crime
Provides opportunities for youth to use and develop
Educates and raises community members' awareness of the
problems or issues that your group chose to address.
Uses creative expression to transcend language and
a Successful Project
For more information on how to plan a
successful project, see the National Youth Network's Planning a Successful
Crime Prevention Project. This 28-page workbook explains the five steps
of the Success Cycle:
Assessing Your Community's Needs.
Planning a Successful Project.
Lining Up Resources.
Acting on Your Plans.
Nurturing, Monitoring, and Evaluating.
The workbook includes six worksheets
for you to take notes on. You can get a copy of this planning workbook from
the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, listed in the "Resources"
section. Good luck!
You can evaluate your effort in two ways. First, you can assess your
audience's response. Did the audience enjoy the performance? Did it understand
the anticrime or antidrug message you intended to convey? Applause, encores,
and positive comments in guest books are good indicators of audience enjoyment.
A survey asking audience members about the theme(s) of a performance or display
also can help you check on their learning. In working with children, you may
want to ask simple questions to probe their understanding and see how well they
are able to apply your message to their own lives.
Second, you can consider your program's effect on the group's participants.
Are they more confident? Have they learned valuable information about crime and
drug abuse prevention? Survey group participants and those involved in
developing your performance or display; ask them how the program helped them
and exactly what they learned.2
In evaluating your arts and performances program, also consider whether and
how it meets the following more general crime pre-vention goals:
Reduces crime or fear of crime in your community.
Has a lasting impact.
Attracts support and resources.
Makes people feel safer and more positive about being a
member of your school or community.
Learning to evaluate the things you do is a good skill, one you can apply to
all aspects of your life. Enjoy your project and—Be creative!
Crime Prevention Council. What, me evaluate? Washington, DC:
National Crime Prevention Council, 1986.
more information on evaluating projects, refer to Does Your Youth
Program Work?, a Youth in Action Bulletin available at no charge from
the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, listed in the "Resources"
For more information, contact one of the following organizations, or visit
the U.S. Department of Justice Kids Page Web site at www.usdoj.gov/kidspage. This site
includes information for kids, youth, parents, and teachers.
Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse
P.O. Box 6000
Rockville, MD 20849-6000
National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies (NALAA)
927 15th Street NW., 12th Floor
Washington, DC 20005
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA)
1010 Vermont Avenue NW., Suite 920
Washington, DC 20001
National Crime Prevention Council
1700 K Street NW., Second Floor
Washington, DC 20006-3817
National Endowment for the Arts
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Washington, DC 20506
National Endowment for the Humanities
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Washington, DC 20506
State and Local Programs
Administrative Office of the Courts/Juvenile Services
Kenton County Building, Room 606
303 Court Street
Covington, KY 41011
African Heritage Dance Center
4018 Minnesota Avenue SE.
Washington, DC 20019
Bells of Love
210 Gifford Parkway
Syracuse, NY 13214
Children's Aid Society Chorus
219 Sullivan Street
New York, NY 10012
City at Peace, Inc.
Suzanne Tarlov, Executive Director
3305 Eighth Street NE., Studio A
Washington, DC 20017-3504
Do the Write Thing Challenge Program
National Campaign to Stop Violence
1120 G Street NW., Suite 990
Washington, DC 20005
New Visions/Nuevo Visiones
136 Suffolk Street
Holyoke, MA 01040
Bulletin was produced by the National Crime Prevention Council as part of the
National Citizens' Crime Prevention Campaign under a cooperative agreement with
the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Office of Justice Programs, U.S.
Department of Justice. The National Crime Prevention Council is a nonprofit
organization that conducts demonstration and youth-based programs, produces
publications and training materials on a variety of subjects, and manages the
day-to-day activities of the National Citizens' Crime Prevention Campaign.
of view or opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors and do
not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, BJA, or the U.S. Department of