The SummerARTS program at the Community Music Center of Boston is a four week summer program involving performing arts classes for youth ages 4-10, with a Counselors in Training (CIT) program for ages 11-14.The SummerMUSIC program is a four week summer program involving students playing wind and string instruments, plus complementary classes for youth who have finished grades one through eight.

Key Takeaways

  • Providing opportunities to generate new ideas or new approaches is important to fostering creativity, a skill which can be applied to new settings and topics.

  • Staff should create an environment in which youth feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them.

  • Learning from a mentor can enable youth to feel more comfortable trying new approaches to a problem.

  • Celebration and encouragement of youth’s ideas will incentivize their creativity.

Q: In what ways are youth in your program able to express themselves creatively? How do you think this influences their success outside of the program (such as in school)?


SummerARTS: At SummerARTS, our students take classes in drama, art, music, and dance. They are encouraged to explore each art form with their own creative ideas. For example, in drama they take part in improvisations that require them to think on their feet, create characters and problem solve. In music, they experiment with new song lyrics and rhythms. In dance, they create short choreographed pieces, and in art they are each are able to put their own creative spin on how they will approach their projects. In art class, the guidelines and artistic methods are introduced as a starting point, and often end up serving as jump-off points for ideas to branch out and become something different.


For example, the Counselors in Training (CITs) create a play and problem solve how to use the play to weave student performances together into a cohesive piece. Some of our extended day students (ages 4-10) work together to write and perform a short theatre performance piece. They also consider how props and costume pieces might help tell their story.


We begin and end each day with an opening and closing gathering where we all sing together. We purposely make this time interactive by choosing songs that give students choices. For example, there will be opportunities for students to come up with movement to go with the songs or they create new the lyrics. The students seem to love hearing how the lyrics change the feeling or meaning of the song, and I enjoy watching a student beam with delight when the entire program sings out his or her lyric choices.


I would hope the students gain confidence in trying new things during their time at SummerARTS, and I would like to think that means when they go back to school in the fall, they might be more likely to take a creative risk in their classes.


SummerMUSIC: Students are immersed every day in ensembles and classes which enable them to express their musical emotions in a variety of settings. All activities involve students, grade one through college, in cross-generational learning environments, a mentoring system fostered by Venezuela’s groundbreaking el Sistema music education programs. Students play together in both large and small ensembles, learning how to play with others at whatever level of instrumental expertise they possess. Students work with their mentors and teachers to create two concerts, each with a student-oriented theme such as movie music. As students work toward their goals, teachers continue to arrange the music to best bring out the talents and ideas of all the students.


Classes allow students to find other ways to understand and create music, such as rhythm activities and self-programmed computer theory.


Fun activities such as riding on the Boston swan boats help the students create new friendships and ways of creating community. In past summers students have created flags to carry as they traverse from their home base to lunch, recess, or field trips.


All these in-depth activities give them the motivation to study their instruments year-round and to create music that reflects their own creative ideas. It also helps them to develop their minds to understand the world through science and social studies classes, e.g., in new and creative ways.

Q: Can you provide an example of a way in which your staff intentionally fosters creativity? How could this be applied to other programs?


SummerMUSIC: While the staff provides the framework and expertise in designing classes and rehearsals, it is the mentoring of younger students by older student counselors that most importantly fosters creativity. Unique to this program, all counselors play an instrument, so that an advanced high school student might play in an ensemble with a 5th grade student. Sometimes students find themselves uncomfortable in a rehearsal because of lack of experience with reading, articulation or some other technical demand of their instrument. Counselor instrumentalists will take them to another room to find creative ways to overcome their problems, which may just be the result of insecurity. They will have the freedom to explore problem-solving without the onus of “keeping up” with a conductor.


This problem-solving approach to learning with another friend or mentor will help them to understand that if they have a math problem at school that seems impossible, for example, they will have in their arsenal the knowledge that sometimes a solution will come when a variety of approaches are taken. In music this might be using a metronome or changing dynamics (play soft passages loud and loud passages soft). They have also had the experience of their rhythm class to help them understand that sometimes it is best to change activities and look at learning from another context.

Q: In your experience, what comprises an environment that encourages youth to be creative? What has your program done to ensure such an environment is available (for example, exposing youth to different perspectives or experiences)?


SummerARTS: Making sure that you allow room for student choice in your lessons not only helps students feel more connected to the work but encourages them to think creatively. Furthermore, when the teachers allow students to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment, it creates a space conducive to creative thinking. We model and teach acceptance and understanding throughout our program, encouraging students to leave their judgment behind and provide us all with a safe space for creative ideas. There are no mistakes at SummerARTS. Everyone is exploring.


SummerMUSIC: SummerMUSIC approaches music education from a variety of experiences. Students play every day in a small group as well as a large ensemble. They also take part in classes with students not in their small ensemble. These classes are in rhythm, written theory, and ear-training, as well as computer-theory classes. All these experiences with their teachers and mentors encourage students to study music in many different settings, giving them many choices and opportunities to explore their own talents and musical emotions. Students are occasionally rearranged in their ensemble rehearsals and classes to see if another peer group might free them up to think more creatively.


At the end of the summer program students are given “year-books” with pictures from all their activities, both in music as well as the recreational activities. They sign their names in their friends “books” and take them home as a reminder of the joy they have experienced in a creative, musical environment.

Q: Can you give an example of a particularly creative or original idea that one of your students had? How did your program staff react: surprised, encouraging, excited, etc.?


SummerARTS: Working with very small children, we hear a wide range of creative ideas. We welcome and celebrate their choices even if we struggle to see the connection he or she might be making. For example, when we are experimenting with lyric choices during an opening or closing gathering, no matter how silly the choice, we created a culture where the entire program will sing it out with confidence without judgement. A young student may suggest nonsense words to make a rhyme, or words that don’t rhyme at all or fit the rhythmic scheme. In all aspects of SummerARTS, we adopt the convention of saying “yes,” and accept and utilize as many suggestions as possible, regardless of aptness or silliness. That is something I love about SummerARTS; there is a safety in exploring one’s ideas.


Founded in 1910, Community Music Center of Boston is the product of two historic settlement schools that worked primarily with immigrant children – the former Boston Music School Settlement and the South End Music School, which merged in 1968. The Center operates a lively, bustling 8,000 square foot instructional facility in the Boston Center for the Arts, in the heart of Boston’s South End. The Music Center embodies the notion that music skills and social skills go hand in hand. Staff are motivated by a dual commitment – instruction of exceptional artistic quality and broad-based participation.Today, programs serve over 5,500 individuals each week, and collaborate with nearly 35 Boston Public schools, community centers, nursing homes and hospitals. The student body is exceptionally diverse and multicultural, with students ranging from five months to 88 years old.