Engagement with the arts has proven social and cognitive value: it improves our mental health, fights depression, connects individuals to community and gives a sense of purpose.

The arts are also fun so they offer a powerful bridge to reach the disengaged. Disadvantaged young people who may have little experience of success or nurturing can find a way forward through visual arts, music, dance or media.

But how do we best utilise the capacity of the arts to ensure young people become decent and productive citizens: able to hold down a job, maintain a relationship or manage money? A graffiti wall or a weekend music festival won’t change a life.

A fine example of a creative program that integrates arts opportunities with life skills is the Rotary Youth Arts Program in inner Melbourne. This year the program, entitled Mobile Minds, offered 19 youngsters, aged 12 to 17, the opportunity to participate in a 14-week course in photography, dance or filmmaking. The courses gave the students a chance to learn skills, connect with mentors and produce work that was celebrated at a graduation ceremony at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) this week.

But the real clincher is what happens after that. The Next Step program which follows offers the students an on-going five year program year attachment to help them transition from school to work. The program includes an offer of a mentor, career guidance, training in how to get a job, money-management, public speaking, driving lessons and first aid. In addition participants can earn up to $500 education credits to help pay for tertiary education and all receive help in gaining their first career job.

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Deborah Stone, Editor artsHub.com.au