Arts & Belonging in the Middle Years


(Liz Forsberg) #1

During the middle years (ages 6-12) a child’s concept of who they are begins to develop dramatically. They begin to discover their identities, culture, and what matters to them. They begin to have a sense of who they are in relation to the world. It’s an important time and, until recently, there hasn’t been much policy focus on this age. In the past year the Ontario government has shone the light on the Middle Years through the development of research-based resources and tools that help families, policy makers, service providers, educators and community organizations better understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities faced by this group of young people. The arts can play an instrumental role in helping children and youth feel a sense of belonging, discover who they are and their place in their families and communities.

A report released last year by Community Foundations Canada and the Canadian Arts Presenting Association explores the benefits of the arts as a catalyst for belonging for audiences, artists and communities. Longitudinal studies show students with arts-rich experiences have greater participation in extra-curricular activities and higher engagement in their communities. In many communities the arts is an important part of cultural identity. 85.7% of First Nations youth feel that traditional cultural events are very important or somewhat important in their lives. Language is also an important part of arts and culture. Children who speak an Indigenous language are four times more likely to be involved in culturally related activities than children with no Indigenous language knowledge. 93% of people from official language minority communities feel it’s important to their own identity to access a dynamic arts and culture community in their own language and to pass that on to the next generation.

We know the arts plays a critical role in connecting people of any age to communities. 77% of Canadians agree or strongly agree that arts experiences help them feel part of their local community. Regular arts attendees are three times more likely to feel this way. This is also true of children and youth.

The study also shines a light on some of the barriers and opportunities for people living in rural & remote communities and for newcomers & new citizens. Those living in rural in remote communities often have less access to arts opportunities and facilities have a greater reliance on volunteers. Some evidence suggests the arts have a bigger impact in those smaller places. 34% of people living in smaller communities feel the community benefits more from the presence of arts than the individuals who attend. While Canada is more diverse than ever and the demand for multilingual culture products and services is increasing, programming in performing arts centres remains largely based on European traditions. The study points out that increasing multi-cultural programming; reflecting diversity on the stage, screen and airwaves; and better integration of foreign-trained artists could help people of all backgrounds feel more connected to the arts and build bridges between communities.

If your interest is piqued, you can read the report for yourself here.

Are you an artist or arts organization working with kids in the middle years? How have you seen the arts helping kids feel a sense of belonging and a sense of self in the world? Aware of any interesting research in this vein? We’d love to hear from you!