4-H performing arts: Setting the stage for summer opportunities

Calhoun County’s summer 4-H Creative and Expressive Arts program teaches youth critical life skills.

Each summer, the Michigan State University Extension Calhoun County 4-H Creative and Expressive Arts Club focuses on arts, mentoring, leadership and self-expression. Collaboratively, as the arts troupe works towards performances, they are learning and applying critical life skills.

The 4-H Creative and Expressive Arts program focuses on Albion, Michigan, area youth ages 10 to 18. The summer arts program typically runs four days a week for six weeks. This program takes youth through the process of developing a performance with a community performance as the cap note. This program bridges out-of-school time with the academic year.

4-H members develop and write story lines and create staging using their voices and movement. The students have to follow directions and understand teamwork. The young people have input into their own learning experience with the outcome of producing a show for the public using the combined art disciplines learned at the summer program. The culmination is the youth design and implement the Creative and Expressive Arts program. They guide the development of the final production.

The program fills a gap by providing productive activities for the youth. Many of the participants are from single parent homes and are looking for something fun and engaging to do while out of school. This builds on a history dating back to the mid-1970s. Since then, longtime 4-H and key Albion community members have engaged 4-H as a way to connect and expand opportunities for families through 4-H Exploration Days at MSU, leadership, community engagement and, of course, the arts.

Throughout the summer program, guest instructors are brought in to help teach the elements of dance, singing, writing, acting, lighting/production and set design. These are the same elements applied for the final production and the areas our mentors guide. Instructors are local artists who may be working in one of the arts or participating in a local community theater. Program participants have attended professional theatre performances at MSU’s Wharton Center, followed by a tour of MSU and dinner in a residence hall. All powerful post-secondary experiences.

MSU Extension Calhoun County 4-H program coordinator Kathy Fischer commented, “Participants who have grown up in the Calhoun County 4-H Creative and Expressive Arts program have come back year after year to be instructors. This program had an impact on them growing up and they want to come back to help have an impact on today’s young people. The Calhoun County 4-H Creative and Expressive Arts program not only teaches kids arts skills, but it teaches them skills in leadership, working with a team and relationship building.”

This program provides opportunities for middle and high school students to build their skills in leadership, relationship development, mentorship and employment. This provides middle and high school students with the building blocks to address economic self-sufficiency, healthy family and social relationships, and community involvement. It also provides youth with someone to look up to that is close to their age and a positive youth development with gap time activities for the youth.

A community partner shared how awestruck she was with the power of the program’s young people’s voices; and that the stories were of grit, and social justice. This same community partner, invited the 4-H Club to headline Marshall Middle School’s Martin Luther King Day convocation.

The 2014 Creative Youth Summit commissioned a research study that highlighted arts engagement and impacts. The same connectedness is what MSU Extension 4-H targets. The five themes in the study explored:

  1. Collective Impact for Youth: Connecting creative youth development with local 4-H or afterschool programs.
  2. Community Development: Integrating creative youth development with broader community development efforts such as revitalizing and restoring a theatre.
  3. Social Justice and Social Change: Engaging young people in shaping the world in which they want to live.
  4. Communicating Impact: More clearly defining youth development and more powerfully conveying its impact on young people and their communities.
  5. Funding and Sustainability: Enhancing funding, leadership and field-building structures to increase capacity.

To learn more about the MSU Extension Calhoun County 4-H Creative and Expressive Arts program, contact Kathy Fischer at fisch226@anr.msu.edu.

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