By involving at-risk youth in high-quality arts programming, the county hoped to strengthen the children’s self-esteem by providing a vehicle for them to express themselves in areas like art, music and theater.
It was a way, county human services Director William Browning said, to take children who knew mostly poverty and despair “and show them there is another world.”
“We have really seen tremendous benefit over the years,” he said. “We have actually seen children that were involved in gang activity that became involved in the arts and left that entire lifestyle behind to further their educations towards the arts.”
Officials cited the success of Arts Engage as the county Department of Arts & Culture and the Scranton Area Community Foundation hosted the first in a series of seminars exploring how the arts can be an agent for social change Tuesday at the Electric City Trolley Museum.
The roundtable discussion, involving about three dozen local representatives of the arts community, government, social service agencies and others, focused on using art and culture to address health and wellness challenges. Future sessions will look at how the impact of the arts on the economy and the environment.
Maureen McGuigan, county deputy director of arts and culture, described the roundtable as an opportunity for the participants to learn about arts programs that are already having a positive effect on health and wellness, identify where the most pressing needs are and brainstorm ideas for future collaboration.
“I think everybody here is passionate about the topic,” she said.
Scranton Police Chief Carl Graziano pointed out strong, vibrant communities are a key to keeping crime at bay. The more people get involved, the more likely they are to take pride and ownership in their city and their neighborhoods, and that is where the arts can be a catalyst, he said.
“Arts, culture, music, all of those things — the more that we do, the better the odds that we are raising our resistance to crime in our neighborhoods,” Chief Graziano said.
Bo Hoban, representing the Lackawanna-Susquehanna Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs, brought up the opioid crisis, noting the number of drug overdose deaths in Lackawanna County nearly doubled last year, jumping from 35 in 2014 to 69 in 2015.
When people in the substance abuse field talk about recovery, what they are really talking about is a “life of wellness,” he said. The arts can be one of the alternative pathways to achieving that.
“We really embrace any tools or resources that can help individuals grow in their own recovery,” Mr. Hoban said.
While some districts are cutting their arts programs, the Scranton School District is looking to enhance its offerings, Superintendent Alexis Kirijan, Ed.D., told the group. The district found that students involved in the arts not only do better in math and science, there are also benefits to the students’ behavioral health, she said.
She would like to see more arts programs that engage students in their after-school hours.
“We know they work, we know they play in their communities,” Dr. Kirijan said, “but spreading out the arts throughout the different communities we feel would be very productive for our students.”
The Northeastern Pennsylvania Health Care Foundation, which is administered by Scranton Area Community Foundation, is one of three new local health care foundations with money available to support health and wellness initiatives, said Laura Ducceschi, president and CEO.
She said the arts community needs to position itself to take advantage of that funding stream.
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