Research confirms (1) that arts and cultural participation leads to a range of positive outcomes for children and young people, both in terms of their cognitive development and their wellbeing.

When young people are given opportunity to experiment with a range of art forms self-esteem, together with individual and societal wellbeing, can be enhanced. When such artistic and cultural activities take place in a community rather than a formal education setting there is very considerable potential to build local social networks. Social capital not only improves local relationships for the individual young people participating but also benefits the local area more widely. It is therefore critical that we do everything we can to unleash the full creative and artistic potential of our young people.

The NYCI together with its programme partners is mindful that its Youth Arts programme strategy sits within a broader policy context concerning children and young people’s participation in the arts and cultural life.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Ireland in 1992, asserts children’s right to participate in cultural life and the arts.

Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures (Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 2014) the national policy framework for children and young people promotes cross-agency collaboration for the benefit of young people. The framework recognises the arts as a significant area that contributes to young people’s wellbeing and states that the government commits to enabling greater access to arts and culture for all children and young people (1.14 Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, p. 58).

The National Youth Strategy 2015 – 2020 (Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 2015) recognises the benefit from involvement by young people in recreational and cultural opportunities with particular focus on both youth work and the arts and sets out a priority action to support and build on existing youth arts provision both nationally and locally (National Youth Strategy 2015 – 2020, p.24). The Arts Council’s ten-year strategy ‘Making Great Art Work (2016-2025)’ places specific emphasis on the need to plan and provide for children and young people.

The Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht made a joint commitment to promote and integrate the arts in education with the launch of the Arts in Education Charter (December 2012). This agreement places new responsibilities on Government Departments, agencies, cultural institutions and arts organisations to provide and promote arts education to children and young people both in formal and non-formal education.

The Creative Ireland Programme 2017 – 2022, the Government’s Legacy Programme for Ireland 2016, which places creativity at the centre of public policy – sets out five key pillars and a range of associated actions, the first of which focuses on ‘enabling the creative potential of every child.’

The Charter for Arts in Education sets out a number of clear principles and guidelines including that arts engagement;

  • Enables the young participant to explore alternative ways of communicating
  • Encourages ideas that are personal and inventive
  • Makes a vital contribution to the development of a range of intelligences
  • Is life enhancing and is invaluable in stimulating creative thinking and in promoting capability and adaptability
  • Emphasises the creative process and ensures that the work is personal and has quality
  • Ensures artistic expressions are valued, self-esteem is enhanced, spontaneity and risk-taking are encouraged, and difference is celebrated.

Communities with under-served and at-risk youth will very often have the least resources to provide quality art programmes, yet studies show that these youth are the most likely to benefit from exposure to the arts. A 2012 study, ‘The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies’(2), shows that teenagers and young adults of low socio-economic status, who are involved in youth arts activities, are more civically engaged, have better academic results, higher career goals, and better work opportunities. In an Irish context ‘Arts and Cultural Participation among Children and Young People, 2016’(3) confirms that arts and cultural participation leads to a range of positive outcomes for children, both in terms of their cognitive development and their wellbeing. This research, however, identifies a number of barriers to engagement. These include household income, language for immigrant families with young children and ready or easy access points for young people with special educational needs. The Youth Arts Programme seeks to make access to the arts a reality for every young person.

It is important therefore that the wide range of stakeholders involved are supported to develop and advance high quality youth arts practice across Ireland.


Among the greatest strengths of the youth sector is the level of participation it secures from young people. In 2015, the National Youth Strategy 2015 – 2020 reported that there are over 800,000 young people in Ireland aged between 10 and 24 years, representing 18.3% of Ireland’s total population of 4.59 million. Almost 40% of young people in Ireland are involved in a youth club or society with the vast majority of these organisations providing recreational, arts and sports activities. The youth sector in Ireland is supported by a broad range of actors, including approximately 40,000 adult volunteers and 1,400 professional youth workers. The youth sector allows young people to engage critically with issues of importance on their own terms.(4)

Youth arts delivers on the seven key competencies recognised in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs’ Value for Money and Policy Review of Youth Programmes 2014; communication skills, confidence and agency, planning and problem-solving, relationships, creativity and imagination, resilience and determination and emotional intelligence. Through youth arts, young people enhance their knowledge and creativity and are supported to see themselves as agents of change while being empowered to become active citizens in their communities.

Youth Arts can be broadly defined as young people taking part voluntarily in creative, cultural or expressive activity outside of the formal education process. It can encompass participation and appreciation, as well as engagement with arts work specifically created by, with or for young people. (5)

The NYCI defines youth arts as having a range of principles by which you can recognise it, no matter where it takes place. These include it being a planned programme of work with voluntary participation by young people, high quality throughout, authentic engagement and exploration of the art form as an objective of the project as well as a methodology through which youth work objectives may be achieved and run by organisations with a youth rather than competitive or commercial ethos. (6)

  1. Arts and Cultural Participation among Children and Young People: Insights from the Growing Up in Ireland Study. The Arts Council;Economic and Social Research Institute, 2016
  2. The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies, was published in a report by the US National Endowment for the Arts. 2012
  3. Arts and Cultural Participation among Children and Young People: Insights from the Growing Up in Ireland Study. The Arts Council, Economic and Social Research Institute, 2016
  4. Indecon Report Economic Assessment of Youth Work, 2011
  5. /6. Arts in Their Lives, NYCI Youth Arts Policy 2003-2007 10 Youth Arts Position Paper 2009 – 2012, National Youth Council of Ireland, 2009.