The memphis Music Initiative, which support music engagement, is among the recent grantees of the Lewis Prize for Music. Photo: MMI

The memphis Music Initiative, which support music engagement, is among the recent grantees of the Lewis Prize for Music. Photo: MMI

Founded by Miami philanthropist Daniel Lewis, the Lewis Prize for Music focuses on leaders whose organizations are advancing positive change for historically marginalized young people through music.

The prize divides $1.5 million to three winners over two to five years—a huge amount of money for the perennially underfunded field of music education. Recipients preside over creative youth development (CYD) programs that provide young people with opportunities to create music while serving their food, transportation, mental health and academic needs.

It was a powerful idea when I spoke with Lewis back in January. Six months later, the approach looks prescient, given that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted disadvantaged communities across the U.S.

Now comes word that the Lewis Prize for Music has announced a COVID-19 crisis fund of $1.25 million for 32 youth CYD organizations that have “adapted and responded to the pressing needs of the young people they serve” amid the challenges of the pandemic. Many of the recipients have budgets of less than $100,000 per year, and two-thirds are led by people of color.

“By combining artistic training with access to mentorship, tutoring, meals, transportation, mental health services and workforce training, CYD providers meet the immediate and unique needs of these young people—needs which have become more pronounced during COVID-19,” Lewis Prize CEO Dalouge Smith told me. “As soon as we saw CYD organizations adapting and responding to this moment of crisis, we knew they needed support to evolve and sustain their efforts.”

I recently checked in with Smith about the emergency fund. We also discussed the burgeoning CYD field, the need for youth development funders to take a more holistic approach toward grantmaking, and how advocates can best make the case for the arts during and after COVID-19.

Creative Youth Development: A Primer

In 2017, the Hewlett Foundation’s Jessica Mele defined “creative youth development” as a term for “a longstanding community of practice that intentionally integrates the arts, sciences and humanities with youth development principles, sparking young people’s creativity and building critical learning and life skills that they can carry into adulthood.”

Smith calls CYD “a national movement that is locally responsive to and representative of the cultural traditions, community issues and stories of young people’s lives. CYD includes young people in all aspects of decision-making and views them as partners in creating positive change. They’re at the source of 21st-century culture and an inspiration for racial and social equity.”

One COVID-19 emergency grant recipient, the Heartbeat Music Project, is based in the Navajo Nation, which has the third-highest per capita infection rate of COVID-19 in the U.S. The project provides tuition-free music education for Diné youth in grades K-12. Another recipient, the Philadelphia-based Beyond the Bars, works to interrupt the cycles of violence and incarceration through music.

The Lewis Prize’s work comes as other funders are supporting organizations working at the intersection of art and social justice. For example, Smith noted that youth of color are incarcerated at rates much higher than their white peers and are less likely to receive mental health treatment. By working to ensure young people have experiences that bolster their creativity, heal their trauma, and provide social stability, CYD programs, Smith argues, are the “obvious choice for much greater investment.”

There is work to be done. The Creative Youth Development National Partnership (CYDNP) found that the average budget of a CYD organization in the U.S. is $348,720, and just 8.4 percent of CYD programs report budgets over $1 million in their last completed fiscal year. The field’s inadequate funding, the partnership notes, “is exacerbated by the fact that CYD programs, being holistic in nature, can fall outside of traditional funding categories… making programs ineligible to apply or uncompetitive in existing grant scoring processes.”

“A Much More Holistic Perspective”

Here’s a look at how the CYDNP’s finding can play out in a practical sense. A youth development funder focusing on nutrition, for example, typically views artistic activities as siloed experiences that fall outside its grantmaking purview. A student learns how to play piano here, while another student learns about healthy eating habits there. Rarely do the two worlds intersect.

CYD, however, “blends self-expression, social connection, mentorship, safety, employment skills, nutrition, transportation and academic support into a unified experience,” Smith said. “For young people, CYD programs are holistic and feel like family. It is tragic when funders who focus on child and youth wellbeing view CYD as ineligible for support because it is anchored in artistic activity.”

Smith’s commentary may sound familiar. Earlier this year, I spoke with Rick Luftglass, executive director of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, whose recently expanded Arts in Health Initiative uses art as a tool for healing, with an emphasis on “improving access and addressing disparities in health outcomes.”

Luftglass lamented that social and health-related organizations—for example, those working with court-involved youth—fail to connect the arts and health-related causes. Many funders think “arts in health” means “arts therapy or hospital bedside artmaking and music programs,” Luftglass said. But the power of the arts “extends to a broad range of community and societal issues, including aging, mental health, trauma after mass shootings, recovery from natural disasters, and refugees fleeing violence.”

Smith hopes that all funders will embrace CYD as a “framework that allows investment in youth development and artists from a much more holistic perspective—taking into account their unique needs and circumstances—rather than fragmenting funding into just one aspect or category of young people’s lives and artists’ creativity.”

Making the Case for the Arts

A 2018 Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) study illustrates what can happen when grantmakers fragment funding into distinct silos. GIA found that the percentage of foundation funding going to art and culture dropped from over 13 percent in the early 2000s to an estimated 8 percent in 2014.

Steven Lawrence, senior research affiliate at the New York-based TCC Group, attributes this trend to funders’ difficulty in articulating impact. “Many funders,” Lawrence writes, “especially corporate and community foundation officers, report that making the case for arts support is getting harder in the face of pressure to address mounting human service and social service needs.”

Again, the holistic nature of creative youth development programs can effectively bridge these two worlds. “CYD organizations are adept at working across sectors to serve young people, such as partnering with social service and government agencies,” Smith said. One grantee, the San Diego-based David’s Harp Foundation, contracts with the local probation department to provide programs to youth who are incarcerated and on probation. Another, Portland’s My Voice Music, started as a contractor with juvenile residential mental health facilities. 

COVID-19 has underscored how CYDs can drive meaningful impact. “CYD organizations are keeping the most vulnerable young people engaged during COVID-19 in ways that schools haven’t been able,” Smith said. “Nothing makes the case for music and arts education as effectively as getting decision-makers into the same room as youth creators. Inviting elected officials to be special guests at virtual performances and events can help them see that this work continues to be powerful and essential.”

What’s Next for the Lewis Prize

Smith told me the prize will be opening its annual Accelerator Award application on July 24 with the intention of announcing three $500,000 awards in January 2021. “We’re keeping our focus on creative youth development, but incorporating more dimensions to our funding that are explicitly focused on achieving equity through systems change,” he said.

Later in the year, the prize will share insights and lessons learned from the 41 CYD organizations nationwide that have received funding so far. “They have a lot to say, and we look forward to sharing their stories and their work,” Smith told me.

In the meantime, Smith implores arts advocates to make the case that “music and arts education are fundamental human rights. They stand alongside other human rights. Disparity in access is rooted in the same causes as disparity in food, housing, healthcare, education, employment and technology. Advocating for music education requires us to advocate for the whole child.”

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