The Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) — created after a surge in teen violence in 2008 to provide mentoring, counseling and employment opportunities to at-risk youth — is moving forward with new funding and a new component: the arts.
Mayor Mike McGinn recently announced the Work Readiness Arts program, which will connect up to 70 youth in central, southeast and southwest Seattle with organizations that will help them gain work experience and life skills through the arts.
Mariko Lockhart, director of SYVPI, said the inclusion of arts is overdue.
“It’s been a piece that has been missing from the beginning,” she said. “In my experience working with youth facing a lot of life challenges, the arts are one of the things that are extremely compelling. It’s definitely a way to engage young people who may not be getting engaged in some of the more traditional activities.”
Existing neighborhood services, called Neighborhood Networks, will be used to connect youth with programs suited to their needs that provide ongoing support once they’ve enrolled.
Funding for SYVPI seemed to hang in the balance in November 2012, when the Seattle City Council questioned its effectiveness. A 2011 SYVPI progress report shows that juvenile court referrals and arrests have trended down in target areas, but councilmembers cited a rise in school disciplinary action. (“Councilmember Clark questions efficacy of program for preventing youth violence” RC, Nov. 14, 2012)
The mayor and community members were largely supportive of the initiative, and the 2013-14 budget allows for the addition of 450 youth to the more than 1,000 it currently serves. Evaluation of the initiative’s impact will continue to be a priority, Lockhart said.
Randy Engstrom, director of the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture (OAC), which is spearheading Work Readiness Arts, believes projects like recording an album or publishing a blog will help youth gain both “hard” and “soft” skills that can prepare them for jobs in creative fields.
“If we don’t include the arts, we’re disqualifying a lot of young people from working in a pretty major part of our economy,” Engstrom said.
The OAC is currently seeking proposals from organizations that can offer appropriate out-of-school summer programming.
“I’m excited that the city sees the value of using arts and culture as a way of investing in our youth and as a way of solving problems within our community,” Engstrom said.