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The Arizona Youth Arts Council seeks to shape policy through passion

Photo of young Arizona artist at work
Through the Youth Arts Council, students learn how to analyze how grant funding works throughout Arizona. (File Photos/
Arizona Youth Arts Council opens new door for youth of the community
By Xavier Brathwaite | Special to the Digital Free Press

Arizona’s Youth Arts Council is a program offering young voices a chance to advocate for policy changes within the Phoenix education system. With a panel of 15 students representing their local district, their goal is to enact necessary change for the arts community through policy proposals.

The AZ Youth Arts Council are students ages 14 to 19 who are passionate about the arts.

Through the Youth Arts Council, students learn how to analyze how grant funding works throughout Arizona. During the first-year project, the Youth Arts Council successfully researched and selected local art groups to fund through grants.

Meetings are held every other month and facilitated by the teenagers through Zoom. Discussions are also guided partly by adult administrators. The administrators are there to take notes on topics discussed and policy changes desired within the council.

Margot Wilder, a council member representing Flagstaff, spoke about her Youth Arts Council experience.

“It’s a good environment to share new ideas without feeling judged,” Margot explained. “I’ve never been put in a situation where I felt like my ideas were being heard.”

The Youth Arts Council program provides a professional working environment essential for young people. Through real-world, problem-solving, members of the Youth Arts Council can vocalize their concerns with more initiative and confidence. These unique perspectives allow Arizona’s Art Commission to identify solutions that persuade public interest, officials there say.

Zoë Benavidez joined the council at 14 years old during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of now, she is no longer a council member, but the youth coordinator for the council. Her job is to educate council members on grant funding and spark discussions on inequalities that require the most attention.

“Hearing about the lack of art opportunities around the community allowed me to reflect on a privilege I never really knew I had before,” Zoë explained.

As an artist herself, Zoë says she understands how crucial art education can be for development.

The Youth Arts Council has allowed Zoë to uplift voices within the Tuscon community and the talented artists within her high school. Zoë and other council members have also strived to make art equity and accessibility more available to the youth by pitching solutions to the representatives within the council.

Obstacles for the youth arts community range from lack of funding for art access and the trivialization of art education.

Margot explains how she has seen students become disincentivized after being told “they can’t” do something simply because they lack world experience. Fortunately, the Youth Arts Program seeks to uplift and validate the youth arts community and keep their dreams alive through advocacy.

“Invest in your community,” Zoë said. “You’re not just investing in your community. You’re investing in a community of young people and young artists. That’s the best thing that any government can do because the return on your investment is far greater than anything you could ever imagine.”

By next year, Arizona plans on introducing a $5 million investment into various art programs across the Valley. As Arizona’s largest art investment in history, funds will go towards nonprofit grant organizations and economic support for artists to continue their work.

Editor’s note: Mr. Brathwaite is a journalism student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Communication at Arizona State University.

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