Midcasting* Toward Just Futures: Creative Youth Development’s Waymaking to Systems Change through and beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Midcasting* Toward Just Futures: Creative Youth Development’s Waymaking to Systems Change through and beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

Arielle Julia Brown on behalf of The Lewis Prize for Music Knowledge Generation Team


*Midcasting is the act of planning and imagining pathways between a present reality and a set of possible futures

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, creative youth development (CYD) organizations have been expanding their work to provide greater support to students, families, and communities impacted by the pandemic. To strengthen this response from the field, The Lewis Prize for Music offered a COVID-19 Community Response grant to 32 organizations of varying size and geographic locations. Totaling 1.25 million dollars, the fund supported organizations that were leading direct response efforts in their communities. These efforts offered mental health support, food access, housing security, civic engagement support, and academic support, among other things, alongside digital adaptation of regular program activities. Additionally, many CYD organizations supported youth engagement in various forms of movement-building, including (but not limited to) the Black Lives Matter movement and work against voter suppression.

Witnessing the stories these organizations were telling us about the impact of this expanded work in their communities, we decided to begin a larger effort to track the ways in which CYD organizations have shown up in their communities as catalysts for change, before and during the pandemic. We saw similar stories in our Accelerator Award grantmaking process. All of this confluence brought us to the realization that communities are increasingly likely to receive direct services from a music-based youth-serving organization in ways that are adjacent to how they might receive support from a government entity or NGO known for direct service work. And yet, even as there are parallels between CYD organizations and other direct service-providing entities, we learned and know from experience how deeply engaged music CYD organizations are in the full lives and communities of the young people they serve. We see this intersection of deep trust-building relational work, music-based learning and expression, and direct service as a nexus of systems change. (See The Lewis Prize for Music’s definition of systems change here).

We are now compiling a white paper with data collected from over 280 music CYD organizations and the voices of youth leaders and prominent CYD researchers. The white paper will consider not only the impact that music CYD organizations have had in their communities since the pandemic, but also how they are positioning young people to innovate, plan, and imagine new pathways toward just futures beyond and because of this moment of critical uncertainty.

Included in the white paper are essays from two youth leaders doing research to strengthen their programs at Hyde Square Task Force and Saint Louis Story Stitchers Artists Collective, and also from two CYD outside researchers, Raquel Jimenez and Denise Montgomery. The paper also looks at case studies around systems change and direct services. One such case study comes from the work of Enriching Lives through Music (ELM) in San Rafael, California. The following are notes on their work around food insecurity in their community.

From the ELM staff: “In order to address food security challenges of our ELM families, we have been providing weekly hot meals for our families, in partnership with a local caterer. This collaboration has enabled us to provide close to 800 meals per month for our families. We started this program in September and have secured funding to continue through May. Additionally, we have developed a partnership with our local farmer’s market to provide 50 ‘Bounty Boxes’ to our families weekly. These boxes contain fresh organic produce, directly from our local farmers.”

Notable statistics already emerging from our research include the following:

  • Of the programs surveyed, 80% identified with providing one or more direct services to young people and/or their families before the pandemic; 86% of programs surveyed identified with doing this work during the pandemic.
  • The number of organizations that rose to the challenge of supporting their communities with housing support, income support, and technology access doubled in the pandemic.
  • The number of organizations that rose to the challenge of supporting their communities with food security, mental health support, and material well-being and needs grew by one-third in the pandemic.
  • Of CYD organizations surveyed, 76% supported their young people in getting involved in racial justice movements in 2020.
  • Of those same organizations, 13% supported young people in getting involved in political campaigns in 2020.

We at The Lewis Prize for Music look forward to publishing the full white paper in early June, providing the CYD field with another tool to demonstrate its essential role in achieving a just society in which all youth thrive.


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