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First Lady Recognizes Country's Top Creative Youth Development Programs

November 15, 2016

First Lady Recognizes Country's Top Creative Youth Development Programs
Exemplary Programs That Build Young People’s 21st-Century Skills Are Honored at the White House

Washington, DC –For the eighth and final time since assuming her role in the White House in 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama recognized and celebrated 12 young people from across the country today, on behalf of the award-winning creative youth development programs in which they participate.

The children and teens represented the 12 after-school and out-of-school-time programs that received the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for achieving a wide range of positive outcomes, including the development of 21st-century skills, as well as increases in academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment.

Chosen from a pool of 251 nominations and 50 finalists, this year’s creative youth development programs were also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.

“We believe that every single child has boundless promise, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money their parents have,” said Mrs. Obama at the ceremony. “And it is important to our continued greatness to see these kids as ours – not as ‘them,’ not as ‘other,’ but as ours. And that's really the power of programs like these. That's the message that they send to our young people every single day.”

NAHYPA Award winner and First Lady Michelle Obama
Regina Asborno, Acting Director the New York Transit Museum, and 9-year-old Ian Aquino, accept the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama on behalf of Subway Sleuths in a White House ceremony on November 15, 2016. Photo credit: Steven E. Purcell

First presented in 1998, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the signature program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The awards are presented annually in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Awardees Engaging Youth in Diverse Ways

Among the creative youth development programs receiving the 2016 award were the following:

  • One six-week performing arts program helps 11- to 14-year-olds develop their self-awareness and respect for themselves and others through disciplined training in modern, jazz, ballet, and West African dance (AileyCamp Miami, Miami, Fla.).
  • Three programs build skills and confidence in youth by engaging students from lower-income communities in: documentary film production (Baranov Museum Youth History & Film Summer Intensive, Kodiak, Alaska); screen printing (Screen It!, Austin, Texas); and video production, audio engineering, and game coding and design (Next Gen, San Francisco, Calif.).
  • One program takes literacy “on the road” to reach children and their families in 14 lower-income communities, by providing access to books, story time, and hands-on craft activities. A holistic program, it also supplements family nutrition and offers informational resources to parents (The Reading Road Show – Gus Bus, Harrisonburg, Va.).
  • A N.Y. museum offers individualized lesson plans for 7- to 11-year-olds with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as part of a strength-based program that builds on their passion for trains to develop social and communication skills with their peers (Subway Sleuths, Brooklyn, N.Y.).
  • Two programs from Boston, Mass. were recognized, including the longest-running LGBTQ youth theater program in the country, which provides intensive training, artistic and professional skill building, and leadership development to youth from underserved areas (True Colors: Out Youth Theater). The other awardee is a humanities program that prepares youth ages 13 to 19 for college through rigorous workshops centered on culture, social justice, and civic engagement (IBA’s Youth Development Program).
  • An after-school program for urban teens—incorporating an eight-week summer paid-employment experience—offers practical application of the design thinking process in audio and video production, photography, fashion design, and ceramics, among other activities [Teen Arts + Tech Program, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), Grand Rapids, Mich.].
  • An innovative apprenticeship program weaves together workforce development and life skills training in various art disciplines, including media arts, photography, theater, and visual arts (St. Louis ArtWorks, St. Louis, Mo.).

International Spotlight: Cuba

In addition to the domestic creative youth development programs, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba School, representing the field of Creative Youth Development in Cuba, received the International Spotlight Award.

While the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities has recognized other international programs in the past, this was the first time that an award was presented to an organization from Cuba.

In 2015, President Barack Obama announced that the United States was reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, after more than 50 years. Earlier this year, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities led a cultural delegation to Cuba with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Smithsonian Institution. This mission took place one month after the historic March 2016 visit of President and Mrs. Obama to Cuba. As part of the cultural mission, NAHYP Director Traci Slater-Rigaud visited a variety of Cuban creative youth development programs, resulting in this year’s special recognition of the Cuban efforts.

Youth Perform on the East Room Stage

Today’s East Room ceremony included remarks by Jayden Lim, from Tribal Youth Ambassadors, a program of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, in Santa Rosa, Calif. The 15-year-old student is working with other Tribal Youth Ambassadors to communicate Native American voices and

perspectives and create positive learning environments for both Native and non- Native youth. The museum’s program incorporates an issues-based interpretive approach with humanities instruction to help young people explore and share their cultural heritage, cultivate their talents, and find their voices to express their rich history and culture to the wider community.

In addition, the White House ceremony featured a performance by young people from Sphinx Overture, an awardee from Detroit, Mich. Sphinx Overture provides free music education and violins to elementary students, to help close the gap in music education and increase diversity in the musical arts. This program also nurtures the children’s self-esteem and enhances their scholastic aptitude. The group performed the first movement of the String Quartet no. 6 in F-minor, op. 80, Allegro vivace assai, by Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847).

“These amazing programs prove how effective creative youth development can be in changing lives and communities,” said Megan Beyer, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “They’re improving academic achievement and contributing to high school graduation rates, and they’re providing the opportunity for young people to build the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in school and in life.”

The private sponsor for this year’s awards program is the NAMM Foundation, which advances active participation in music making across the life span by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving, and public service programs. A supporting organization of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), the NAMM Foundation is funded by NAMM members through trade association activities and private donations.

In addition to their recognition at the White House, each of the 12 community- based programs will receive $10,000 and communications and capacity-building support from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. For more information about the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, visit or

The 2016 Awardees

AileyCamp Miami
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County Miami, Fla.

Baranov Museum Youth History & Film Summer Intensive
Kodiak Historical Society Kodiak, Alaska

IBA’s Youth Development Program
Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción Boston, Mass.

Next Gen
Bay Area Video Coalition San Francisco, Calif.

Screen It!
Mexic-Arte Museum Austin, Texas

Sphinx Overture
Sphinx Organization Detroit, Mich.

St. Louis ArtWorks
St. Louis, Mo.

Subway Sleuths
New York Transit Museum Brooklyn, N.Y.

Teen Arts + Tech Program
West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) Grand Rapids, Mich.

The Reading Road Show – Gus Bus
Office on Children & Youth, Institute for Innovation in Health & Human Services, James Madison University
Harrisonburg, Va.

Tribal Youth Ambassadors
California Indian Museum and Cultural Center Santa Rosa, Calif.

True Colors: Out Youth Theater
The Theater Offensive Boston, Mass.

International Spotlight Award

Creative Youth Development in Cuba
Represented by Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba School

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