Spotlight on:

Each Community a Place for Arts and Youth to Grow

Expressive Arts 4-H Program
Photo: 4-H performers display their costumes during Expressive Arts 4-H premiere.

4-H performers display their costumes during Expressive Arts 4-H premiere.

One county at a time, one community at a time, the Expressive Arts 4-H Program is determined to make arts as widely accessible as possible to youth across New Jersey. This statewide program offers visual, performing, and media arts to youth, grades K-13, in urban, suburban and rural communities in all of New Jersey's 21 counties.

In December 2009, the Expressive Arts 4-H Program of Cooperative Extension, a unit of the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, was established in recognition of the importance of the arts to the social, emotional, cognitive, psychological, and physical development of youth. The mission of the program is to create opportunities for youth to participate in the arts in their communities and on the Rutgers campus.

"Expressive arts activities are central to positive life skill development," said Ellen Williams, Expressive Arts 4-H agent. "Through arts participation, youth develop such life skills as communication, self-esteem, decision making, leadership, goal setting, socialization, and responsible citizenship."

Photo: AmeriCorps worker David Dabney performs an original song for Great Tomato Tasting.

AmeriCorps worker David Dabney performs an original song for Great Tomato Tasting.

The 20th Annual Great Tomato Tasting on September 1 at the Snyder Research Farm in Hunterdon County featured the Expressive Arts 4-H Premiere, which showcased the artistic talents of 4-Hers throughout the state. Performances included rhythmic gymnastics, vocal and instrumental music, Shakespearean monologue, musical skit, and Northern Indian dance. In addition, 4-Hers exhibited creative writing, visual arts, and photography, with the tomato as the subject matter.

The 4-H "learn by doing" approach is carried out in all aspects of expressive arts. Some Expressive Arts 4-H activities taking place across the state include Shakespearean theatre, historic dance/theater, drama, photography, visual arts, fiber arts, anime, puppetry, baton twirling, Latino art and dance, Indian culture, crafts, painting, magic, hip-hop dance, and clogging dance.

Photo: Kids Create campers are framed by one of their creations.

Kids Create campers are framed by one of their creations.

The Expressive Arts 4-H program partners with Rutgers University departments and programs, including the Mason Gross School of the Arts, the Zimmerli Art Museum, the schools of Education and Social Work, as well as outside arts agencies. Collaboration with Mason Gross has included Kids Create summer camp and art instruction offered by visual arts faculty to 4-Hers. In conjunction with the Zimmerli Art Museum's Water Exhibit, Expressive Arts 4-H offers the Rain Barrel Art Education program and school enrichment activities integrating arts and marine science. The Rain Barrel Art Education Program, co-sponsored with the Rutgers Water Resources program, engages youth in experiential learning that promotes water conservation and artistic self-expression. Rain barrel artists conduct hands on workshops in such settings as 4-H environmental clubs and after school programs.

"Each Expressive Arts 4-H program is designed through a community development process. It is tailored to the needs of the participants and is created through dialogue with the Expressive Arts 4-H Agent and respective program coordinator, for example, a teacher, parent, or youth development professional," explained Williams. "Youth engagement in the process is vital."

Photo:4-Hers learn drawing techniques in Mason Gross art studio.

4-Hers learn drawing techniques in Mason Gross art studio.

Among the exciting programs planned for the future are: artist residencies in school classes and after school programs; training in "Roleplaying for Real Life"-improvisational theatre to address personal and social issues; museum and theatre appreciation; and development of a teen campus-based 4-H community outreach troupe.

"I invite people to consider volunteering as Expressive Arts 4-H volunteers," offered Williams. "The arts are a life-changing force in the lives of children and there can be no greater joy than being a volunteer responsible for that impact." Volunteer opportunities include teaching an arts workshop, organizing a special event, assisting with volunteer recruitment, working on promotional material and educational presentations, developing websites, researching an area of the arts, evaluating programs, fundraising, and writing curriculum.  

Photo: Cumberland County Expressive Arts 4-H campers design masks.

Cumberland County Expressive Arts 4-H campers design masks.

"Through the arts, youth find an outlet for self-expression that strengthens their self confidence and self esteem," explained Williams. "Individuals and communities are encouraged to make the Expressive Arts 4-H program a part of their children's lives."

Expressive Arts run the gamut from visual arts such as painting, drawing, and photography; performing arts, including dance, music, drama, and clowning; and the media arts of creative writing and filmmaking.

The public can access the Expressive Arts 4-H program in a variety of ways: through 4-H clubs conducted by trained 4-H volunteers; after school programs of short or long duration; day or overnight camps; special interest programs in schools and community-based settings; school enrichment programs in which arts content is infused into the curriculum; independent projects in which youth are mentored through 4-H arts experiences; and in-service training for staff and volunteers.

To find out how you can access the Expressive Arts 4-H program or to become a volunteer, contact Ellen Williams, Expressive Arts 4-H agent at 732-932-9214, williams@njaes.rutgers.edu.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences