barr foundation and Klarman Family Foundation
A Study of Youth Arts Mastery in Boston
As part of their shared investment in Boston’s long-term cultural vitality, the Barr and Klarman Family Foundations commissioned WolfBrown to conduct a study of youth arts mastery (YAM) in Boston. The study was designed to:


  • Examine and update received definitions of arts mastery, with the aim of enriching how to think about youth arts mastery in a contemporary world.
  • Think about the U.S. and specifically, the city of Boston, as two contexts that shape the pursuit of arts mastery.
  • Take stock of what the Boston public schools, along youth arts providers and cultural organizations, do to support young people who are pursuing arts mastery through classes, programs, and other opportunities.
  • Conduct in-depth interviews with young people pursuing arts mastery to learn about their pathways, notably what supported their progress, what barriers they encountered, and what they would ask of the schools, cultural organizations, and the city.
  • Conduct a parallel set of interviews with program directors, teachers, and mentors who work closely with young people.
  • Develop a set of portraits designed to capture the supports and barriers that young people experience as aspiring members of formal and informal artistic communities throughout the city.
  • Define a set of core findings and recommend a set of action steps that organizations, schools, and the city could take to support youth artistry.
  • Summarize the approach and tools for other communities interested in assessing the strength of the pathways they provide for youth arts mastery.

WolfBrown’s work combined:

  • A review of documents and reports to develop a picture of Boston as a context for youth arts mastery.
  • A review of existing databases (such as the Arts Expansion Project surveys of arts provision in the public schools and Edvestors’ survey of student demand for the arts).
  • Quantitative surveys of the supply of arts learning opportunities in each of the five disciplines studied (visual arts, music, dance, theater and spoken word/hip-hop arts).
  • Qualitative interviews with youth, the staff of youth arts organizations, and individuals who have made it part of their life work to mentor young artists and performers.
  • Analysis of the full set of data to identify major opportunities, or bold strokes, for strengthening the pathways to arts mastery in Boston.
  • The results informed Boston’s first cultural plan in many years and ensured that opportunities for youth featured prominently in the recommendations.

    Consultants: Dennis Palmer Wolf, Thomas Wolf, Jane Culbert, and a team of 5 artist-researchers (Terina-Jasmine Alladin, Dance; Siobhan Brown, Theater; Jennifer Chang, Music; Amber Rose Johnson, Spoken Word/Hip-Hop; Ellen Pierce, Visual Art)

    Completed: 2015

    Category: Arts Education Research and Program Development