Children and the arts

April 14, 2024

Drawing on the work and experiences of The Little Art

Children and the arts


ince the dawn of human civilisation, the arts and culture have been essential for expression, connection and communication. Across time, creative pursuits like writing, music, visual arts and theatre have been essential in forming communities, conserving cultural legacy and promoting a sense of shared identity. Participating in the arts and culture also improves learning by fostering critical thinking, emotional intelligence and creativity. It fosters empathy, self-awareness and personal development, advancing both the society and the individual.

— Images courtesy The Little Art
— Images courtesy The Little Art

In Pakistan, arts remain marginalised, particularly when it comes to children and young people. There is almost no representation of arts for children or by children. There are negative effects on society when children and young people are ignored. Their marginalisation feeds a vicious cycle of disempowerment, making it more difficult for them to stand up for their rights and direct their lives in the future. The act of ignoring their viewpoints ignores their original ideas and creative fixes for challenging issues. They take this refusal and grow with it. This takes away their self-confidence and they learn to give up easily. This omission puts future generations’ well-being and the viability of society at risk by resulting in policies and actions that inadequately address their needs.

Building a more inclusive, resilient and prosperous society for all depends on accepting children and young people as active participants in changing our environment. This is not just the morally right thing to do, it is also crucial.

Cognitive, emotional and social development of children and young people is greatly aided by the arts. Engaging in artistic pursuits including dance, theatre, music and visual arts fosters imagination, creativity and problem-solving abilities. Through creative expression, children develop their confidence and self-worth while learning how to express their ideas and feelings clearly. Interacting with different kinds of art exposes them to a range of cultures, viewpoints and experiences. This promotes empathy and cross-cultural understanding. Children and young adults who receive arts education not only develop their artistic abilities but also become well-rounded individuals who can navigate complex environments in their future lives.

The Little Art is a non-profit based in Pakistan. It was founded in 2007 with a simple mission – to empower children and young people through the arts. We felt the need to stick with a simple mission as the problem was deep rooted and complex. We understood that parents had a very skimpy understanding about the benefits of the arts on their children’s development. There were no organisations or projects that focused on the importance of arts for children and young people. Schools had little chance to take part in regional or national art exhibitions, which meant that young artists had few places to show off their originality.

There was no presentation of art made by professionals for children and youth, such as films in cinemas or theatre for young audiences. In response to these gaps, The Little Art led with a clear mission to fill the void, providing avenues for artistic expression, education and appreciation for children and youth, ultimately enriching their lives and nurturing their creative potential.

In Pakistan, access is quite polarised. Not all children have the means for the arts for a number of reasons. The Little Art is a non-profit organisation, hence reaching out to all children and people is part of its mission. Because our mission guarantees that all children, regardless of their background, should have the chance to access and benefit from artistic expression, inclusion in our practice is crucial. We believe that every child should have the opportunity to experience the transformational power of art since it is a potent instrument for self-expression, creativity and emotional development.

Over the years, The Little Art created a number of projects in various art forms that have been running for over 17 years now. The Lahore International Children’s Film Festival, which opened its doors in 2007, brought child-friendly moviegoing experiences to Pakistan, thereby spearheading a cultural revolution in its own way. The festival, which showcased finest films created by, for and about children, grew across the country to reach 50,000 children and young people annually in 6 cities across Pakistan. It has also given Pakistani children a stage on which to make and present their own short films.

ArtBeat - National Child Art Competition and Exhibitions was established in 2011. It has since grown to become an important venue for showcasing young people’s artwork in art galleries throughout Pakistan. It has worked with 150,000 young artists and has organised more than 40 shows in its fifteen years of existence, becoming known as one of Pakistan’s leading art initiatives with the backing of well-known artists, galleries and educational institutions.

The Little Art created engaging theatre for children and young people as part of the Tamasha – Performing Arts for Young Audiences initiative. It also brought the Tamasha Festival for Performing Arts to Lahore twice, fostering cross-cultural engagement with attendees from around 20 nations and founded ASSITEJ Pakistan to lead the festival as a collaborative project.

Notwithstanding the difficulties brought about by Covid-19, The Little Art made a strong comeback and opened Aangun, the Centre for Learning and Culture. Situated in Model Town, it functions as a dynamic setting for artistic production and exhibition, organising events, seminars and performances. In the mornings, Aangun operates a free early childhood education programme that provides impoverished children access to a curriculum centred on the arts.

It is always difficult to gauge the impact of arts and culture on an individual after a particular artistic experience. We believe that the impact of The Little Art’s work in Pakistan has been substantial and far-reaching from various perspectives. Engaging directly with over one million children and young people as audience members, artists and creators, the organisation has cultivated a generation that values and appreciates the arts.

Through its programmes, The Little Art has facilitated a systematic change in behaviours among youth, influencing their perceptions about issues such as career choices, gender and voice and agency. A significant number of children have earned prizes and accolades for their artistic achievements, demonstrating the tangible success of the organisation’s initiatives in nurturing talent and fostering creativity among Pakistan’s youth.

The Little Art’s work has left a lasting imprint on the cultural landscape of Pakistan. It continues to enrich the lives of thousands of children and young people.

The writer is the founder of The Little Art. He can be reached at

Children and the arts