The Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN) is an interdisciplinary collaborative that provides exceptional arts programming in order to build resiliency and wellness, eliminate recidivism, and transform the juvenile justice system.
AIYN envisions a future where youth are empowered and the systems that serve them are transformed by using arts as a foundational strategy and catalyst for change.
We leverage the reach and expertise of our members to amplify impact, provide thought leadership for the field, and serve as a model for effective collaboration. AIYN strives to “connect the dots” between direct service and systemic change by connecting advocacy to those most impacted, centering arts and art-making as a way to build community, partnership, and resilience in systems-change work, and using the arts to shift how people see each other to increase empathy and solidarity.
Art makes me feel...better than ever. I feel it coming just like the weather but on gloomy days my writing will not slip away.
Student / Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network
AIYN is the only arts collaborative for incarcerated youth in the state of California, and provides structure, coordination, and support to arts organizations serving youth in the Los Angeles (LA) County juvenile justice system. AIYN utilizes arts as a vehicle to heal the youth we work with and change the systems that serve them. Under AIYN, 14 member agencies serve youth in detention in LA County, providing high-quality arts education that includes creative writing, spoken word, visual arts, theater, digital media, dance, and music. In 2015, we piloted the first-ever multidisciplinary arts program for incarcerated youth in LA County. Through this 5-week pilot, arts were provided Monday-Friday at six detention camps, with a demonstration of learning/student performance each Saturday. With AIYN’s coordination of members’ offerings, arts education was provided to over 240 students via strong and varied curriculum. Rotating modules allowed students to experience multiple disciplines including performing arts, writing, visual arts, and music. Pre- and post-evaluations demonstrated increased confidence in reading aloud, increased empathy, willingness and ability to cooperate, and hopefulness about their own future.
This work now extends beyond the 22 Probation-run facilities we serve throughout LA County, to include support for successful youth reentry. AIYN supports implementation and practice of arts as a way to change systems. Nationally, a groundswell of forces is advocating for juvenile justice reform. The arts are emerging as a critical part of the equation — AIYN is at the center of this movement.
At the heart of the AIYN model is the simple, yet powerful notion that art and cultural engagement is a transformative practice. The power of arts exists on multiple levels - from individual healing and expression that comes from accessing ones creativity, to building community and neighborhood cohesion through art projects and art-making practices that foster self-determination and, more broadly, to advancing opportunities for social change and promoting a more just society.
While our work with youth in juvenile justice facilities has been impactful, AIYN members and youth served have, since our inception, expressed a deep desire for connection beyond the in-camp experience. Thus, our diversion/ re-entry programs and services are a direct result of program accomplishments — and limitations. We seek to close this gap in access for the youth we serve.
Boys and girls of color (ages 13 through 18) are vastly overrepresented within the juvenile justice system. The factors that contribute to justice involvement have the capacity to create compounding inequity and barriers throughout each youth’s life: trauma, community violence, gang involvement, and poverty. AIYN uses arts as a healing-centered, strengths-based approach to arts engagement to give youth the outlet and voice needed to process these experiences and use them to heal. AIYN is also modeling an arts-centered community collaborative that can help re-imagine partnerships between community and public agencies, re-direct public dollars to community in a more equitable way, and shift how community based organizations work together.
Areas of Focus
Under AIYN, member agencies serve youth in detention in LA County, providing high-quality arts education that includes creative writing, spoken word, visual arts, theater, dance, digital media, and music programming. By using a network structure, members maintain their current programs, identity, and culture through their own organizations, while also using AIYN as a comprehensive arts platform for serving youth in a more robust, systemic way. AIYN now provides year-round arts engagement to youth in every detention facility in Los Angeles County through our member organizations. Additionally, we have expanded programming to include community sites, housing sites, parks, schools, and reentry support/arts fellowships all with a healing-informed community engagement approach.
AIYN provides regular training for Probation staff, using arts practice to build community, reframe perceptions of young people as creative contributors, and support ongoing change of culture within the system towards a restorative model of care. Additionally, AIYN provides Network-wide training to all our members' teaching artists, ensuring a consistent shared approach across all organizations, as well as sharing expertise on how to build a creative, brave space inside a secure facility. We have provided a variation of this training for communities, as well as other arts organizations working in facilities in different regions. Click here to inquire about our trainings.
AIYN has rapidly established itself as leading the exploration of the intersection of arts and youth justice, and more broadly, connected arts practice and direct service with advocacy at the city and county level, using arts as a way to ensure underserved, marginalized youth and families are heard. Our advocacy work includes championing arts as essential to youth and community wellbeing, as well as using arts as a strategy to engage and include the voices of those most impacted.
AIYN represents an effective collaboration of nonprofits that work cooperatively, instead of competitively. In so doing, our members are modeling a different approach to scaling, and one that can enable community organizations of all sizes to partner effectively with public agencies. We believe arts are central to how these collaboratives can emerge and sustain, and are currently working with several regions who are replicating our model. We have developed materials and trainings to support the emergence of local collaboratives who wish to create their own version. Click here to connect to us for more information.