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Arts Programmes

Programmes that engage children in arts and creative activities.

Insufficient evidence of impact


Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5


1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Secondary
  • Tertiary


  • Community
  • Custody
  • Primary school
  • School and college


  • Positive activities
  • Trusted adults

What is it?

Arts programmes include activities such as painting, sculpting, music, drama, and dance. They can be delivered as a single session, or a series of sessions that typically run for between four and 12 weeks. Sessions are often delivered in small groups of six to 12 children but may include one-to-one sessions. Arts programmes may be delivered as a standalone activity or combined with other interventions such as mentoring or education. Combined arts interventions can be used to increase engagement in school. Arts programmes may also use art and music as therapy to address emotional difficulties. 

Delivery settings vary and could include education settings, community centres, and youth custody settings. Activities can be delivered by a range of instructors including professional artists and musicians, art and music teachers, volunteers, and young people. 

  Arts programmes may include:  

  • Music making, listening to and discussing music 
  • Crafts, such as jewellery making 
  • Dance 
  • Theatre and Drama  
  • Making films or podcasts  
  • Creative writing and poetry  
  • Photography  
  • Painting  
  • Sculpture and pottery  
  • Digital arts 

  Arts programmes aim to provide positive experiences and opportunities for self-development, which may promote positive emotions. This may lead to developing a stronger sense of self, and improving relationships with peers, family members, school staff, and people in their local community. These increases in positive emotions and improvements in relationships may lead to a reduction in behavioural difficulties and violence.  

Is it effective? 

The research on arts programmes is very weak. There is insufficient evidence to calculate an impact rating for arts programmes on reducing violence. 

The review summarises evidence from 43 studies. None of these studies measured the impact of arts programmes on reducing violence. 

How secure is the evidence?

Studies were generally small, typically involving around 30 participants. Most of the studies were conducted in secure settings, other settings included community youth services, education settings, and activity camps. 19 of the studies were undertaken in the UK.  

Of the 43 studies, 38 examined how the programmes were implemented and captured feedback from participants. They found that some participants reported feeling positive emotions associated with experiencing the arts programme. These included feelings of hope, self-confidence, courage, pride, and gratitude. Some participants described improved relationships with their family and friends, and a more positive attitude towards learning and skills development.   

How can you implement it well?

Relatable and professional artists  

Facilitators should be skilled artists that children feel they can relate to. They should be able to work with children to produce art and music together and be able to challenge and support children to produce their own work.  

A safe and non-judgemental environment 

Facilitators delivering arts programmes should create a non‐judgemental and safe environment, in which children feel able to express themselves. It can feel risky for some children to try new things and to make art or music. It is important that facilitators manage behaviour and feedback between participants, to safeguard, encourage feelings of belonging in the arts, and ownership of the art they make.   

Accessible and flexible delivery settings 

The research suggests that children value the opportunity to be creative, learn, achieve, and interact with others in positive and relatively informal ways. This provides an alternative to the restrictions they experience in secure or educational settings.  

Relevant to children’s interests 

To increase the engagement of children in the programme, activities should be culturally relevant, for example reflecting the race, ethnicity, national identity, gender, age, and interests of the children. Where possible, children should be given choices about the activities or methods they use, for example providing a range of ways to engage in music making, including writing lyrics, musical composition, DJ-ing, performing and recording, and listening to and discussing music and lyrics.  

How much does it cost? 

On average, the costs of arts programmes are likely to be low. 

Costs are likely to include staffing, which could be professional artists or volunteers that may require training, venue hire, and costs for materials and equipment. Costs will vary depending on the type of programme delivered, the needs of the young people, the number of sessions involved, and the duration of the programme. 

Topic Summary 

  • Arts programmes include activities such as painting, sculpting, music, drama and dance. 
  • Delivery settings vary and could include education settings, community centres, and youth custody settings. 
  • Whilst there are several studies exploring experiences of arts programmes, there are no studies that measure impact on violence.  
  • Some children describe a positive impact of arts interventions on their emotions, self-esteem and relationships with others. 
  • Programmes are more successful when they are delivered in a safe and non-judgemental setting and relevant to children’s interests, for example reflecting the race, ethnicity, age, gender, and interests of the children participating.  

YEF projects and evaluations 

YEF funded a feasibility evaluation of the Building and Understanding of Self (B.U.S) programme delivered by United Borders. B.U.S is a 10-week intervention where 10-17 year olds who are at-risk of involvement in violence make music in a specifically adapted bus that features a recording studio. Young people joined for 2-hour weekly music production sessions, where they also received mentoring support. The programme aimed to reduce serious violence affecting young people and offending. The evaluation is ongoing.  

Education Endowment Foundation  

A summary of the evidence examining the impact of arts programmes on educational outcomes.  

College of Policing Crime Reduction Toolkit  

A summary of the evidence examining the impact of music making on offending.  

National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance  

Resources for arts organisations working in partnership with organisations and people in the criminal justice system.