Youth Empowerment Through Arts and Humanities: Promoting Empathy, Collaboration, Expression, and Leadership
Youth Empowerment Through Arts and Humanities
Youth empowerment empowers young people to take control of their lives and make positive societal change. This is a continuous process of building confidence, nurturing leadership and developing skills.
This is why UNESCO has multiple youth empowerment projects across the globe to promote and encourage youth participation in their communities.
Empathy has been shown to have a wide range of positive impacts on youth and their families. It has been linked to greater social competence and prosocial behaviour, while it also mitigates for prejudice and enables less externalising and aggressive behaviour (Eisenberg et al., 2006).
This is why it’s so important that youth are able to empathise with each other and that they are given the space to do so. While there are a number of ways that they can do this, art is one of the most powerful.
As such, it can be used to promote a space for empathy and to enable students to learn from each other. This article aims to evaluate the impact of an artistic educational project that uses art to develop empathy, using an ethnographic approach with an analysis of the artwork, field diary and life stories. This enables the construction of processes of empathic pedagogical relationships which allow empowerment dynamics between participants.
Artistic practice provides a platform for empowering youth to collaborate, building community connections and facilitating dialogue around social issues. This is especially important given recent trends toward standardized testing, which have pressured schools to shift resources away from the arts and into academic subjects with higher test scores.
Youth who participate in artistic programs can build relationships with others in their communities and establish mentors. For example, the Gainesville Arts for Healing and Justice Network helps youth develop relationships with local community members who are passionate about violence prevention.
Youth can also collaborate with each other, as they do when working together to create theatre art. For example, volunteers at VOLPOWER, a program that supports young immigrants in South Tyrol, collaborated during theatre-lab sessions to learn about different facets of communication and empowerment by exploring the body’s interaction with space. This prompted them to ask questions about traditional aspects of their own cultures, generating dialogue and strengthening the sense of belonging amongst participants.
Practicing art can be a powerful experience for youth because it provides them with a space to express themselves without fear of judgment. This type of expression can help foster resilience and confidence, which can lead to a sense of self-worth and empowerment.
The arts also encourage young people to take ownership of their actions and a deeper understanding of the impacts of their decisions on others. This can be a significant step in empowering young people to become “systems changers” in response to climate change, as it shifts mindsets and opens up new political horizons.
One example of this is the VOLPOWER volunteers’ theatre art sessions, where they explored different facets of communication and empowerment. Through their artistic journey, the volunteers gained greater awareness of themselves and their surroundings, forming a deep sense of connection with nature and other human beings. Through this, they realized that their small changes can make a big difference in their lives as well as the lives of those around them.
Leadership, as a concept and practice, encompasses the ability of individuals to influence and guide others (Oakland & Falkenberg, 1996). In addition, developing leaders at earlier ages has gained traction in recent years, with the introduction of leadership programmes for undergraduate university students.
Whether it’s a guitar strumming in a dark room or an audience cheering after a drum solo, youth feel empowered as they take part in arts activities. Those feelings are not just about enjoyment and pride, but also a sense of power that comes from the ability to do something meaningful.
Participating in arts programming can also build relationships with people who share similar interests. This can help create a platform for further conversation and organizing around social issues. For example, in Gainesville’s arts-based violence prevention programme, participants have developed connections to other community members and have found mentors. They have also volunteered for other community organisations and projects after the programme ended.